Friday, March 4, 2011

Carry the Constitution - and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights!

Mao had his Little Red Book, Ghaddafi has his Little Green Book, and we have our Constitution, which comes in many colors, but is read by relatively far fewer citizens. Recently, Tea Party candidates and representatives have taken to carrying the Constitution, claiming that it provides for certain things that they wish to enact, or that it bans things that their opponents have enacted.

From their constant references to it, one might assume it is a lengthy, complicated document. The fact is, the Constitution would not take the average person more than an hour to read.  As the battle for workers’ rights heats up for the first time in decades, it is worth knowing that the Constitution says nothing about socialism, an idea still waiting for a name when it was written, it says nothing about work.

Nothing at all.

The Constitution is about who rules, how rulers are elected, the limits on their pay, and what they may rule about. Treaties are singled out as being the purview of the Congress.  Article X states that “issues not delegated to the the United States nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people”.

It deals in detail with the court system and establishes habeus corpus. Twentieth century amendments, deal with the direct election of Senators, the prohibition of liquor, repeal of prohibition, women’s suffrage, the terms of the President and Congress, Limitation of presidents to two terms, voting in the District of Columbia, poll taxes, presidential disability and succession, suffrage for eighteen year-olds, and congressional salaries.

That’s the closest the Constitution comes to discussing labor rights.

May I suggest that future mass rallies hold aloft vividly colored copies of the Constitution, and that signs and speakers point out what it does not contain.

Although much jurisprudence has aded to the complexity of this recipe for minimal government, and anyone can interpret its original articles, the phrase: “issues not delegated to the the United States nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people”, would seem to leave the matter of how to organize work, to the people.

And the people can turn for guidance to another document, drafted by an international panel that included Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of the recently deceased President Franklin Roosevelt, and approved by the General Assembly of the united Nations in 1948. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights spells out all the protections to which individuals are entitled, regardless of the country in which they live.

They include:
Article 20:
1) Everyone has the right to peaceful assembly and association.
2) No one may be compelled to belong to an association.

Article 22
Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security, and is entitled to realization through national effort and international cooperation and in accordance with the organization and resources of each State, of the economic social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality.

Article 23
1) Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and comfortable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.
2) Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.
3) Everyone who works has the right to just and favorable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.
4) Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.

Article 24
Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including a reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.

Article 25
1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being o himself and of his family, including food, clothing, hosing and medical care and necessary social service and the right to security in the vent of unemployment, sickness disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
2) Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance.  All children whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.

Americans should consider updating the Constitution, and and meanwhile, evaluate legislation according to the same principles as the rest of the world, even if the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which the United States subscribes, sounds like socialism.

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