With the recent rise to prominence of human rights history, discussions about workers’ rights have moved off the shop floor and onto the international stage. This panel will investigate the relationship between labor rights and human rights, with a specific interest in the ways that groups of workers and governments understood and articulated this relationship and used these definitions to their advantage. We will explore the ways in which labor groups negotiated the meaning of their rights through transnational networks of workers and activists. Through papers that cover the broad swath of the 20th century and look at instances where labor rights were at stake in Mexico, the U.S., and East Germany, we hope to initiate a conversation about the similarities and differences between the way that these ideas developed across time and space.
As is evidenced by the rapidly increasing number of books, conference themes, and journal articles devoted to the topic (including the upcoming Spring 2011 issue of the International Labor and Working Class History Journal), the intersection between labor rights and human rights is a subject that has captured the attention of a wide variety of historians and is gaining higher profile. The questions raised in this panel will be of interest to historians focused on labor, human rights, foreign relations, Communism and the Cold War, and even religion. Together, these three papers will offer an idea of where the next generation of labor historians might take the discipline – away from the locals and towards the global. This panel will allow a much wider audience to enter conversations that have traditionally been restricted to the pages of labor history and add a new valence to the emerging subfield of human rights history.