Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Concept of the Fundamental Human Right

Right now my state has taken front stage in the news as thousands of people protest outside our capital.  The issue revolves around our governor's proposal to remove collective bargaining as a right of most unionized state workers, which includes public school teachers.  Given the loud and heated rhetoric on the subject, one is led to believe that this "right" to "collectively bargain" -in this case for health care and other fringes on the state level - is an inherent, fundamental human right.  In doing some brief internet research I discovered that such a belief indeed exists, but it appears to be something connected more with Europe and the UN, than with the US as such.  Obviously, some of the largest corporations in the US lack any provision for collective bargaining: Walmart, IBM, McDonalds, to name a few.  Now given the premise of collective bargaining as a fundamental human right, one would feel compelled to therefore condemn these companies as in grave moral danger.  Which is where this issue impacts this blog.  I do not normally deal with national political issues since my focus is mainly theological in nature.  However, the issue of fundamental human rights brings up questions of ethics, and ethics is a topic of which the church takes interest.  I do not wish here to enter into the political nature of the debate, as such.  The questions at this level concern economics and legislative protocol.  Whether the governor should open up the issue to a public referendum or utilize his own powers independent of public debate is not my concern.  My concern is whether the right of workers to collectively bargain as a union rises to the level of a fundamental human right equal to other rights such as those protecting people from violence, abuse and exploitation.  Does the government have the right itself to impose limits on benefits to its own workers such as other businesses do?  Or is the government morally obligated to provide the right for its workers to participate in determining these benefits?  Notice I said "morally obligated."  Interesting to note is an article written by Roy Adams of McMaster University in Canada in 1999.  His conclusion is that collective bargaining is a fundamental human right and that opposing this is a moral "violation."  I suspect that many protesting outside the Wisconsin capital right now would agree.  Yet I am not so sure.  A Christian, while appreciating his national rights and giving thanks to God for his freedom, is still primarily concerned for his responsibility to his neighbor in love, not his rights.  Considering that many who are protesting feel they are fighting for the rights of others, does such a Christian ethic come to bear?  Furthermore, is the right to bargain with one's employer for one's benefits a "right" for which a Christian will also violate his responsibility to his vocation in order to protect that right?  I ask this as several schools in my state have shut down because their teachers did not show up, and where several state senators left the state to avoid being compelled by the state police to do their job.  Or are these questions the concern at all of people of faith? 

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