"What is the point of worker rights if these simply aren't enforced?" I've been asked this question in many different forms on multiple occasions, usually while conducting workshops for worker activists, and most frequently in relation to Convention rights established by the International Labour Organization (ILO). My usual response was to ask how many people in the room actually obeyed the speed limit while driving (typically nobody) and then get discussion going as to why certain laws are generally obeyed and others not. What becomes very clear is how social values have a direct bearing on the who, what, when, where, why and how of rights and their enforcement. And this perspective has an immediate and powerful effect. For a right to mean something it must be understood and claimed as a norm through human agency, part of the 'rules of the game'. Just as words reify meaning through which we socially construct our reality, rights underpin institutions. When a right looses its meaning, the institution upon which it is built risks becoming less than the sum of its parts. Since many societies distinguish between those who do, and those who do not enjoy worker rights (often identified as 'formal' and 'informal' work), an inherent contradiction exists within that institution, which this blog seeks to explore.
Having recently completed an MSc in Development Management at the UK's Open University, a process that allowed me to reflect upon my experiences working as a worker rights activist and later as a programme director for a small international NGO, I am looking for the best ways in which to continue my engagement with the world of development and specifically how to help struggling communities in claiming their equitable share of economic development. Through blogging, my aim is to publicly set out my opinions, thoughts and views, and to invite comments, questions, as well as highlight areas for further exploration and discussion. In so doing, I hope to start a conversation with as broad a range of people as possible, in the hope of 'turning together', from the Latin roots of com "with, together" and versare "to turn". In discussing worker rights, there is a potential that these blogs may be used by those who do not share my values, or that my work may directly or indirectly harm the process of improving worker rights. So to increase the opportunities for conflict to be constructive and so transformative, my next posting aims to explore the ethical framework I intend to use.
In addition to the theory, through this blog I also want to explore the practical aspects of getting back to the coalface - that is becoming directly and personally involved with people who are struggling for their rights and what mutual and co-dependent learning is taking place. This has three basic, yet interrelated dimensions: with and for whom, in what organisational context, and where and when? The first question has a straightforward answer - for the time being, I would like to continue working with migrant workers in Morocco. There are some organisational forms that facilitate this, such as continuing as an independent (and auto-financed) consultant, or setting up a charitable organisation (which would require considerable new learning) to raise funds. The questions where and when are directly linked to the issues arising from the second and the solutions found.