Celebrating the United Nations’ Promise of International Democracy

On this day in 1945, the Charter of the United Nations entered into force and with it, the world’s most meaningful and lasting opportunity to build a global democratic institution, in which all countries could have an equal voice.

Today, we celebrate this founding vision. In the midst of the largest refugee crisis on record, ethnic cleansing in Burma (Myanmar), conflict in Syria and elsewhere, and increasing global devastation due to climate change, the need to realize the United Nations’ promise is greater than ever. UUSC is calling on the U.S. government and all world nations to strengthen international democratic institutions and resist the siren call of nationalism and chauvinism which threatens our collective future.

A Shared Vision

UUSC was founded in 1939 to help refugees secretly evacuate from Europe as fascist regimes were driving millions of people into exile and laying the groundwork for the Holocaust and World War II. The founding of the United Nations in 1945 was meant to ensure that war, genocide, and forced displacement could never again take place on such a scale. UUSC has shared these values and worked with and through U.N. institutions and instruments to advance human rights ever since.

That legacy of collaboration continues today. From November 7 to 12, UUSC is traveling to Bonn, Germany for the 23rd Conference of the Parties (“COP23”). This annual convening, hosted by the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), keeps track of global progress on implementing compacts to reduce carbon emissions and mitigate climate change. The most important of these compacts is the Paris Accords, which 195 Parties to the Convention have signed and 168 have ratified, and from which the United States has disappointingly decided to withdraw.

Leveling the Playing Field

This year’s COP also marks the first time that a small Pacific Island nation, Fiji, will be presiding over the Convention. Fiji’s leadership at this meeting provides an especially important opportunity to amplify the voices of people who are experiencing the worst effects of human-induced climate change. COP23 will be a critical moment for UUSC’s partners in the Pacific and all those on the frontlines of the impact of climate change to confront the U.S. government for its ambiguous and immoral position on this critical issue.

“The people of the Pacific islands are impacted every day by the decisions that larger, industrialized nations and financial institutions make. But they have very little power and leverage when it comes to diplomatic negotiations,” says Salote Soqo, senior program leader for environmental justice and climate action. “The United Nations is one of the very few spaces where countries can enter on a somewhat level playing field, which makes Fiji’s presidency quite significant.”

Steps Backward

When the United States fails to honor its international commitments, it abandons its democratic values. The Trump administration’s plan to exit the Paris Agreement is only one example of how the United States has worked to undermine global cooperation, especially during times of increased xenophobia and isolationist rhetoric. Last week, the administration also announced its intention to withdraw from UNESCO, the U.N. cultural heritage agency. The White House’s previous budget proposals have likewise threatened devastating cuts to core U.N. institutions. Especially egregious, the Trump administration recently slashed its refugee quota to only 45,000 – the smallest share of the international resettlement obligation the United States has shouldered since its Refugee Program began in 1980.

International democracy means being accountable to the people all over the world who are impacted by one country’s decisions, regardless of where any person resides. The United States’ obligations as a world leader include supporting the global response to the refugee crisis, ending policies that actively contribute to climate change, and supporting adaptive strategies for communities on the frontlines of these crises that honor the dignity and agency of the people involved.

Expanding the Bounds of the Possible

The promise of the United Nations was that no national or governmental self-interest would come before the shared needs of the human community. Seventy-two years later, that promise survives. While the United Nations faces many obstacles to achieving its original vision, it remains the planet’s best hope for finding shared solutions that honor the needs and capacities of all Earth’s inhabitants, not just the most powerful.

UUSC and our partners still believe in the possibility of finding those solutions. “Our partners don’t use the term ‘climate refugee,’ for instance,” says Soqo, “because they know that there is still time to change what is happening to the planet. Doing so requires fundamental transformations to neoliberalism and colonialism and the other oppressive structures in which we relate to one another. But that doesn’t make it impossible.” On United Nations Day, we honor this wider vision of the possible. And we remember that the only way to get there is together.

Rights Reading

Our weekly roundup of what we’re reading: a few select articles from the front lines of human rights that we don’t want you to miss. This week, we are highlighting ways to get involved in the #May1Strike, the Nepal Earthquake anniversary, and the anniversary of the Rana Plaza Factory Collapse.

 Immigration rights demonstrators rally in downtown Los Angeles 11 years ago.

How to Join the ‘Day Without Immigrants’ on May Day, Ariana Rosas Cardenas, The Nation, April 28, 2017 

 “When workers, immigrants, women, Muslims, black and brown, indigenous, queer and trans communities face exploitation, criminalization, incarceration, deportation, violence and harassment, we strike.”

This year’s May Day, an annual worker’s day strike held on International Worker’s Day, is expected to have the biggest turnout in over 10 years. Not only are immigrants and workers participating, but Native Americans, refugees, LGBTQ, and people of color are all joining to protest the Trump administration’s threats and attacks on minority communities.

Hundreds and thousands will be missing work, school, and shopping to show the impacts these combined communities and movements can have and to defy the hate and criminalization they are facing. This article highlights different events that are happening all across the United States.

Together with the Unitarian Universalist Association, UUSC has launched a joint campaign, Love Resists, to resist hate and create more welcoming communities. We’ve posted some more ways you can participate in May 1 events here!

Nepal’s earthquake disaster: Two years and $4.1bn later, Narayan Adhikari, Al Jazeera, April 24, 2017

It has been two years since the Nepal Earthquake, and only 5% of the houses that were destroyed have been rebuilt. The Nepal Earthquake destroyed close to 824,000 homes, which means over 800,000 families are still waiting for their homes to be rebuilt. Despite over $4 billion being donated and pledged for reconstruction efforts, only 12% of these funds have been used. A lack of government coordination and understanding, low participation among local groups, and overall lack of transparency have all contributed to slow recovery.

The article emphasizes that “the international community can bring about more lasting change by directing their support towards citizens and local organisations committed to solving the root problems of corruption and lack of information.”

UUSC is proud to be part of this international community that brings lasting change. We work with grassroots partners that are empowering survivors and protecting their rights as they rebuild their homes and lives. Read more about our work with two of these organizations!

It Has Been Four Years Since the Rana Plaza Factory Collapse—How Much Has Changed?, Michelle Chen, The Nation, April 24, 2017

Four years ago, Bangladesh’s Rana Plaza factory collapsed, killing more than 1,000 workers and fueling an outrage for labor reform needs in the garment industry. Despite this outrage, labor reforms have been slow to make. After hundreds went on strike at one of the manufacturing centers in Ashulia, labor activists and factory workers have been fired and accused of various acts by the same government that promised reforms and protections four years ago.

Wage theft and proper working conditions are some of the basic demands workers are asking for. Activists and workers that speak out are being punished, and at the end of the day, workers feel that large companies are only looking to make a profit. These workers currently only making $67 a month, and the raise they were asking for is still far below a livable wage.

International pressure has allowed for some regulations and improved working conditions, but without continued public pressure, workers are losing their right to organize – a detrimental effect on equal rights and protections. Without the ability to organize, there is also no structure to hold owners and bosses accountable.

The Good Buy, UUSC’s online store, recently published a blog with resources on how you can get involved in the Fashion Revolution campaign, a new movement to wake up people to the continued injustice in the garment industry.

A Positive Step from Tyson but Workers Wait to Celebrate

A worker at a poultry factory

For too long poultry workers employed by Tyson have endured harsh working conditions and grave worker violations. After years of standing up to the industry giant, the workers received welcome news this week. On Wendesday, Tyson announced a number of changes that aim to improve the pay, benefits, and work conditions for their employees across the country—a possible step in the right direction following years of advocacy and pressure from UUSC’s partner, Northwest Arkansas Worker Justice Center (NWAWJC), in collaboration with UUSC, Oxfam America, and a broad coalition of allies.

The changes, which will start being implemented later this year, are intended to improve work conditions for Tyson’s more than 97,000 employees in the United States who work in food plants in 24 states across the country. In particular, the changes are designed to ensure that poultry workers are given a voice in the company, and that they benefit from improved safety, compensation, and transparency—all things the poultry workers care deeply about, and have been fighting for, for years. In the words of Magaly Licolli, the Executive Director of NWAWJC, “Tyson’s new commitments mean a lot for all poultry workers. Every day we hear horrible stories of what happens inside poultry plants, and these commitments give poultry workers hope for the future of their campaign to continue pushing other poultry companies to follow. We’ll still encourage workers to keep monitoring these changes and to tell us what’s going on inside the plants. Definitely, this is a new phase of the campaign. It is not the end, but the continuation of the fight to ensure these changes are real for all Tyson’s processing workers.”

A Step in the Right Direction, but More Work to be Done

While NWAWJC and its allies recognize that the announcement of these changes may be a first step in the right direction, they also emphasize that the struggle is not over. Magaly Licolli emphasizes, “Given the corporation’s history of serious health and safety violations and its lack of accountability to workers’ rights, NWAWJC will be ready to hold Tyson accountable to their commitments to workers’ rights the moment they waiver.” It is now time to stand with NWAWJC and ramp up the pressure on Tyson to ensure that these changes are implemented and that conditions for workers are improved as a result.

Tyson, headquartered in Springdale, Arkansas, is the largest poultry company in the country, with 30% of its estimated $37 billion in annual sales coming from its chicken products. However, the profits have come at a high cost born by the low-wage men and women they employ who have reported significant worker rights violations over the years. As documented in a 2016 report of working conditions in Arkansas’s poultry plants produced by NWAWJC, with support from UUSC, The Food Labor Research Center, and the University of California Santa Cruz, poultry workers in the state faced a wide range of dangerous and difficult working conditions. Of the poultry workers surveyed for the report:

  • 62% had experienced wage theft
  • 91% did not have access to earned sick leave
  • 51% reported experiencing discrimination
  • 44% reported experiencing verbal or sexual harassment

UUSC’s researcher, Amber Moulton noted, “NWAWJC’s report, based on a survey of 500 Arkansas poultry workers, provides hard evidence of discrimination, inhumane and unsafe working conditions, and unlawful wage and hour violations. We are thrilled that the report has contributed to this important step by Tyson and hope to see continued improvements in the future.”

A series of factors appears to have contributed to this change from Tyson, which had otherwise resisted efforts to improve working conditions. In particular, in December 2016, Tyson underwent a shakeup of their leadership which resulted in Tom Hayes being named Tyson’s new CEO. It appears that this change of leadership reflected the pressure that Tyson was feeling as a result of NWAWJC’s advocacy, and the advocacy of their allies, including UUSC’s state-wide poultry report.

UUSC has partnered with NWAWJC, through support for their research report and advocacy conducted outside Tyson’s February 2016 shareholder meeting, in order to support their efforts to organize the workers in Arkansas’ poultry industry, many of whom are low-wage Latinx and Marshallese workers. UUSC is proud to stand with NWAWJC in advocating for improved conditions at Tyson. As Licolli added, “UUSC has been a key partner in this campaign, they’ve been supporting the work of the Center for several years now, and we appreciate all the efforts they’ve made to support the poultry campaign.”

With May Day quickly approaching, there are a number of local actions taking place, that will provide an opportunity to advocate for worker rights. Food Chain Workers Alliance (FCWA), is helping to organize a national general strike, in which NWAWJC and UUSC partner, Rural Community Workers Alliance, will be participating. For more information on how you can participate visit the May 1 general strike website.

UUSC Condemns Repeal of Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces Order

In recent weeks, workplace rules protecting against discrimination targeting LGBTQ communities, as well as wage theft, have been rolled back. Most recently, through the repeal of the “Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces” order, these efforts to roll back workplace rights have targeted women’s rights to equal pay and to be free from sexual harassment in the workplace. The “Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces” order, which applied to companies with federal contracts, required wage transparency to ensure that women were paid equally, and banned forced arbitration clauses for sexual harassment, which are often used to prevent sexual harassment claims from reaching the courts and entering public record. With characteristic disregard for human rights and what is just, the administration has repealed these protections for women in the workplace just days before Equal Pay Day, which marks the day each year when women’s earnings catch up to what their male counterparts earned the previous year. UUSC stands in opposition to retrogressive policies and actions, such as the repeal of the “Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces” order, that move us further from a world which is free from oppression and injustice, where human rights are a reality for all.

Learn more about the importance of equal pay for women and men and how you can take action to support women and working families with our partners here.

Rights Reading

Our weekly roundup of what we’re reading: a few select articles from the front lines of human rights that we don’t want you to miss. This week we are following the launch of “Beyond the Moment: Uniting Movements from April 4 to May Day.

 April 4, 2017 marks both the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s historic “Beyond Vietnam” speech and his assassination one year later. Beyond the Moment is a campaign organized by a coalition of more than 50 grassroots organizations called “The Majority,” which includes Fight for $15, NAACP, Mijente, Black Youth Project, the Indigenous Environmental Network, and many others. BTM honors the 50th anniversary of King historic speech by bringing diverse movements together in an intersectional struggle for economic, racial, and transnational justice—all leading up to mass mobilizations less than a month later on “May Day” or International Workers Day, May 1.

When Martin Luther King Came Out Against Vietnam, New York Times, April 4, 2017

“I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today — my own government.”

Tuesday marked the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s landmark speech, “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence,” in which he first spoke publicly against the war in Vietnam. In this article, David J. Garrow provides an in-depth look at the circumstances surrounding the speech, including the Times’ own condemnation.

While King’s conscience had been tormented for years by the U.S. actions in Southeast Asia, he was under great pressure to remain silent. Some civil rights activists worried that the speech would alienate the Johnson administration (which it did). Even liberal allies and publications that had been sympathetic to civil rights blanched at Dr. King’s powerful denunciation of imperialism and militarism.

King knew that his speech would invite controversy, but he delivered it anyway, recognizing that his role in speaking truth to power, even – or perhaps especially – when that truth is difficult to hear. As King is quoted in this article, “[By speaking out,] I was politically unwise but morally wise.”

Fifty years later, when the U.S. is currently trying to ban refugees from Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Libya, and other countries where its own policies have fueled conflicts and led to civilian casualties that drive forced displacement, Dr. King’s decision to “break silence” – like his message that injustice at home is inseparable from injustice abroad – could scarcely be more relevant.

MLK’s Revolutionary Speech, “Beyond Vietnam,” Turned 50. Here’s How It’s Relevant to Our Current Crazy, Colorlines, April 4, 2017

One of the criticisms leveled against King following the speech was that, supposedly, a civil rights leader had no business commenting on international events. What did the struggle for Black equality in the United States have to do with the war in Vietnam? From the pulpit of the Riverside Church in Manhattan, however, Dr. King affirmed – in words of heartbreaking poignancy – that the freedom struggle in the United States, in fact, had everything to do with the struggle against war, exploitation, and imperialism overseas. King warned against the deadly union of the “giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism,” and declared that the only solution was a “genuine revolution of values” that would oppose all three. His belief in the interdependence of all justice struggles foreshadows the concept of intersectionality.

“King knew that the war and the Civil Rights Movement were part of a common struggle against imperialism, colonization, and capitalism.”

The radicalism of this message has often been obscured by anodyne popular depictions of King as a peacemaker and bridge-builder. Here, Colorlines’ Editorial Director Akiba Solomon interviews Rev. Osagyefo Sekou, a visiting scholar at the Martin Luther King Papers at Stanford University and a key figure in the Black Lives Matter Movement.

Rev. Sekou aims to recover the image of King as someone who was also fiercely committed to struggles for economic justice, transnational freedom, and racial liberation. As he says in this interview, “there are three pillars of the radical gospel of Martin Luther King Jr. that we should not allow holiday remembrances to Whitewash: democratic socialism, transnational anti-imperialism, and Black prophetic Christianity.”

Meet the New Social Change Coalition: ‘The Majority’, The Nation, March 31, 2017

In this article, Collier Meyerson provides an introduction to and overview of Beyond the Moment, an exciting new, intersectional campaign launched by a broad coalition of grassroots organizations to respond to a “minority whose values are rooted in white supremacy, division, and hatred.”

The organizations making up The Majority, the coalition behind Beyond the Moment run the gamut of progressive movements from the fight for fair wages to the struggle to protect indigenous land to resisting deportation and the criminalization of communities of color. “It’s also part of a long-term strategy to build a world where people can live in dignity and where we can situate people at the margins to have power,” said Patrisse Cullors, one of the three founders of BLM. Just as Dr. King’s vision of the beloved community carried him from the civil rights struggle in the Jim Crow South and the Poor People’s Campaign, to solidarity actions with the sanitation workers’ strike in Memphis, The Majority emphasizes that all struggles for justice are interlinked.

The “Beyond the Moment” approach is an intentional change from more siloed, “issue-oriented” advocacy campaigns of the past. It is grounded in the belief that our diverse movements for justice and equality will either stand or fall together, and that protection or sanctuary for one community means little until all of us can live with dignity and freedom. As Mijente organizer Marisa Franco states, “We can’t say, ‘hey don’t let ICE on your campus’ and not call out over-policing of people of color on college campuses. We can’t celebrate local police who might consider not working with ICE but who over-police and won’t make those same proclamations for other communities of color.”

Other articles highlighting “Beyond the Moment” we recommend:

Equality Requires an Intersectional Approach: Equal Pay Day 2017

Sixty-seven percent. According to a new and soon to be released report by the Los Angeles Black Worker Center, the median wage black women earn is a mere 67 percent of what white men earn and only 81 percent of what white women earn. This April 4th, which marks Equal Pay Day in the United States, UUSC stands with women, in particular women of color, in calling for policies that honor equal pay for equal work. By coming together to work at the intersection of gender, race, and worker rights, we can continue to make progress to end the wage gap, and there’s no better time to get started than today.
graphic on Black and Hispanic women's incomeEqual Pay Day marks the day each year when women’s earnings catch up to what their male counterparts earned the previous year. According to the National Partnership for Women and Families, “women in the United States are paid 80 cents for every dollar paid to men, amounting to an annual gender wage gap of $10,470.” The Economic Policy Institute’s (EPI) data on the gender wage gap breaks the data down further: the median hourly wage for white men in 2016 was $21.29 and for white women was $17.25, while black women earned a median of $13.90, and Hispanic women earned a median of $12.27.

What these numbers show, is not only is there a gendered wage gap but, as the Joint Economic Committee of the U.S. Congress (JEC) and multiple others have pointed out: the intersection of race and gender deepens existing inequality that women in the United States face. This is not an accident or an oversight, it is a symptom of structural issues regarding how women are treated and compensated in the workplace.

How the Gender Wage Gap Plays Out

Multiple causes underlie the wage gap, many of which have been explored by economists, activists, and academics. One reason includes challenges that women face because of where they work. The National Women’s Law Center explains, “Women are underrepresented in higher-paying jobs that are often dominated by men, and overrepresented in low-paying jobs—women are two-thirds of workers in occupations that typically pay $10.50 or less per hour…like home health aide, child care worker, and maid and housekeeping cleaner.” JEC also notes the dynamic that race plays, “Hispanic and African-American women… are more likely than white women to hold jobs that offer fewer hours and are more likely to work part-time involuntarily” and they are also “less likely to have access to benefits such as paid sick leave, paid family leave and flexible work schedules.”

Workplace policies and low federal wages perpetuate the pay gap. As UUSC’s former partner Restaurant Opportunities Center United found,
66 percent
of women they interviewed in the restaurant industry reported being subjected to sexual teasing, jokes, remarks, or questions from customers.” Overall, 63 percent of women ignored the harassment from guests, in part as a result of the power dynamic between servers and customers, given the restaurant industry’s pervasive use of a tipped minimum wage. Higher wages could thus go a long way towards increasing
pay as well as reducing harassment women face in the restaurant industry.

Relatedly, women also face the “motherhood penalty.” Research has “consistently shown that women with children are paid less than womenwomen earn less than men at every education level graphicwithout children and men with or without children.” A recent Forbes article describes how the penalty goes even further than wage inequity, “new moms are often perceived to have lower competence and commitment, and they face higher professional expectations and a lower chance of hiring and promotion.”

Many efforts have also been made to try and account for how other factors affect wages, such as the area of industry or level of education. However, controlling for these does not explain away the wage gap, and in some cases, the findings are counterintuitive. EPI found that when education is taken into account, the wage gap actually increases as women earn advanced degrees. 

Looking Forward

If we want to eliminate the wage gap in the future and achieve equal pay for equal work, there are clear policy options that can be advanced, such as enacting fair pay protections and raising the minimum wage. Legislation like the Fair Pay Act and Paycheck Fairness Act would address wage disparities and make it easier to for parties to demonstrate that discrimination has occurred. The Center for American Progress reports that women comprised “approximately two-thirds of minimum-wage workers in 2012,” despite the fact that “nearly two-thirds of mothers are breadwinners or co-breadwinners for their families.” That’s an annual salary of less than $16,000. Increasing the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour would boost wages for about 15 million women.

Finally, paid family leave and access to child care have both been making headlines in recent months, due in part to the discussion of these issues by the Trump administration. However, the policies being discussed are woefully inadequate and we must work toward a national paid family and medical leave standard for women and men, including adoptive parents, same-sex couples, and non-birthing parents.” Additionally, the Tax Policy Center found that under Trump’s child care plan “more than 70 percent of the total tax benefits would go to families with income above $100,000, and more than 25 percent to families with income above $200,000.” Policies like these will do little for the average worker in the United States.

Programs that help people pursue claims of wage discrimination or ensure that they can take leave after welcoming a new child into their family are critical, particularly to women working in minimum wage jobs or jobs with irregular hours. Further, programs that address things at the structural level, like increasing the Federal minimum wage, also work to remove the bias of interpersonal decisions.

Take Action

While the current political context makes closing the wage gap feel like a long shot, there is hope. Across the country, intersectional organizing is taking place, as workers and their allies are coming together to advocate and move movements forward that work for racial justice, gender justice, and worker rights. Any solutions that strive to close the wage gap must look beyond a sole focus on gender justice, and should include a push for racial justice.

On May Day (May 1), UUSC’s partner Food Chain Workers Alliance is helping to organize a general strike demanding respect for worker rights, and gender and racial justice, and to call for a world where the most marginalized working families live with dignity, safety, and power. Another UUSC partner, Rural Community Workers Alliance is also participating. We hope you will join them to support women and working families.