Elsa Wilson, BS '06
Solidarity Center, Washington, DC
In the Spring 2005 semester, I had the opportunity to participate in an internship at the International Center for Labor Solidarity in Washington, D.C. The solidarity center is affiliated with the AFL-CIO and strives to promote workers’ rights worldwide. The center has field offices in 27 nations, each helping to bring together local labor groups and coordinate their efforts. The field offices provide labor groups with technical and legal counseling and share the experiences of labor groups in other nations. The solidarity center provides funding and personnel for training sessions that educate the local labor leaders on a variety of topics ranging from human trafficking to AIDS prevention. The main objective of the center’s work is to create self-sufficient, successful labor movements in each of the countries it works in.
“The solidarity center’s headquarters, located in downtown Washington, D.C., is divided into regional offices—the Americas, China, Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and global—each of which coordinates the efforts of its field representatives and develops regionally specific programming. I worked in the global office as a research assistant, and my work focused primarily on updating the solidarity center’s publication Justice for All: A Guide to Workers’ Rights in the Global Economy. Justice for All, originally published in 2002, is a soup to nuts guidebook to understanding, defending, and promoting workers’ rights. Justice for All includes ILO standards, specific trade pacts, and strategies for promoting corporate accountability. During the Bush administration, many free trade acts were pushed through under the 2002 Trade Act, which granted the president trade promotion authority. I reviewed each of the FTAs and analyzed the effect each would have on workers’ rights in the region. My analysis will be included in the Justice for All update to be published in 2006.
“While the majority of my course work at the ILR School is focused on the U.S. labor movement, working at the solidarity center allowed me to view the labor movement in a global context. Virtually all production contracts for the U.S. market are being won by overseas manufacturers that seem to be able to lower production costs every day. These producers operate in countries with labor laws that are either weak in concept or strong on paper and have virtually no enforcement capability. Workers’ rights abuses occur on a frighteningly large scale. Workers are paid wages that are so low they barely allow for subsistence. Simply signing a union card in many manufacturing nations not only leads to termination but frequently results in violence. Until labor groups can gather the strength necessary to effect legislative change on a domestic, regional, or global basis, we will be faced with a race to the bottom.
“I believe that the U.S. labor movement, along with groups like the solidarity center and their partners, have a critical role to play in creating a globally accepted and enforced set of workers’ rights. The failing U.S. labor movement could potentially gain strength by reaching out to disadvantaged manufacturing nations, although this does not seem likely in light of recent events at the AFL-CIO.
“I would like to thank the ILR Alumni Association for making it possible for me to participate in this internship. It was an invaluable experience that will play an important role in shaping my future career.”
- Elsa Wilson, BS '06