Labour Studies Index

Updated: 2022-05-16

Mapping the Boundaries of Human Rights at Work: Questioning How the ILO Defines Labor Rights and Social Justice

Document type Article
Author Hilgert, Jeff
Journal Labor Studies Journal
Volume 34
Date 2009 03 1
ISSN 0160-449X
Pages 21-38


Over the past twenty years, International Labour Standards have been cited increasingly as the authoritative, worldwide body of jurisprudence on workers' rights as human rights. Continuing the debate on what constitutes labor rights, the author contrasts the definition of workers' rights under international human rights standards with U.S. labor history's notion of “pure and simple unionism,” examining the boundaries of rights defined by international standards in a comparative historical context. The standards examined include workers' right to organize; coercive employer speech; access to employer premises; nonmajority representation; the right to strike, picket, and boycott; union security clauses; the scope of bargaining; government enforcement; and the legal doctrine of employer association rights. Aligning U.S. labor relations law with international human rights standards would in part be a social advancement, but significant aspects of the standards advocate pure and simple unionism more than the original National Labor Relations Act, raising questions about how labor movements should use international standards as advocacy tools and public policy goals.