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Human Rights and Labor Solidarity
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Human Rights and Labor Solidarity
Trade Unions in the Global Economy

Susan L. Kang

336 pages | 6 x 9
Cloth 2012 | ISBN 9780812244106 | $75.00s | Outside the Americas £60.00
Ebook editions are available from selected online vendors
A volume in the series Pennsylvania Studies in Human Rights
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"Whether international human and labor rights instruments have any 'teeth' or influence is an important question in debates on globalization, labor policy, and economic development strategies. Susan L. Kang provides a solid account of the ways they do and the ways they don't through instructive case studies from countries on three continents. A valuable addition to the human rights, labor rights, and globalization literature."—Lance Compa, Cornell University

"The declining power of trade unions in developed market economies is a well-recognized trend. The purpose of this book is to assess the usefulness of international human rights law as a means of slowing or reversing this trend. The author's conclusion, based on three well-researched and carefully analyzed case studies, is that the invocation by trade unions of the limited enforcement mechanisms available to them under international human rights instruments can materially assist their efforts to protect the rights recognized in those instruments, but this strategy is likely to succeed only when domestic political considerations outside the unions' control put pressure on a government to comply with the obligations in question."—Philip L. Harvey, Rutgers School of Law—Camden

Faced with the economic pressures of globalization, many countries have sought to curb the fundamental right of workers to join trade unions and engage in collective action. In response, trade unions in developed countries have strategically used their own governments' commitments to human rights as a basis for resistance. Since the protection of human rights remains an important normative principle in global affairs, democratic countries cannot merely ignore their human rights obligations and must balance their international commitments with their desire to remain economically competitive and attractive to investors.

Human Rights and Labor Solidarity analyzes trade unions' campaigns to link local labor rights disputes to international human rights frameworks, thereby creating external scrutiny of governments. As a result of these campaigns, states engage in what political scientist Susan L. Kang terms a normative negotiation process, in which governments, trade unions, and international organizations construct and challenge a broader understanding of international labor rights norms to determine whether the conditions underlying these disputes constitute human rights violations. In three empirically rich case studies covering South Korea, the United Kingdom, and Canada, Kang demonstrates that this normative negotiation process was more successful in creating stronger protections for trade unions' rights when such changes complemented a government's other political interests. She finds that states tend not to respect stronger economically oriented human rights obligations due to the normative power of such rights alone. Instead, trade union transnational activism, coupled with sufficient political motivations, such as direct economic costs or strong rule of law obligations, contributed to changes in favor of workers' rights.

Susan L. Kang teaches political science at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York.

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