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February 18, 2009

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Ravitch is right in stating that "the right to form and join a union is one of the rights enumerated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights." However, as is often the case, things are not as simple as they appear on the surface.

The UDHR is, as the name states, a "declaration," not a treaty. It is, therefore, not legally binding on any of its signators. However, two adjuncts to the 1948 UDHR are legally binding on its parties. They are the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESC.)

The U.S. signed the ICCPR in the 1960s and finally got around to ratifying it in 1992 albeit with 5 "reservations," 5 understandings," and 4 "declarations," the collective effect of which was to make most of the ICCPR not binding on the U.S. Worse, while the U.S. signed the ICESC, which contains elaborates more than the UDHR, the right to work and to join labor unions, the Senate has never ratified it. Thus, the U.S. is not legally a party to the ICESC and it's not, therefore, binding on us.

The next time someone complains about how the U.S. is violating "human rights," -- torture, unions, health care, etc. -- remind them that, while morally they're on solid ground, legally, they're not.

In Oregon districts such as Corbett (Highly regarded in several national publications), Lake Oswego, Riverdale, Beaverton and a host of others around the state deliver high quality education. All, with the possible exception of Riverdale, employ union teachers. The root of public education excellence, mediocrity or ineptitude is centered in the way each district is managed and whether local collective bargaining agreements have grown too costly and inflexible to permit various districts to be functional or force them to be dysfunctional.

In PPS wheb minority student advocates point out that low income schools have far fewer experienced teachers than wealthier schools, they do so to show that more money is going to the affluent schools in the form of higher salaries for those teachers with higher seniority. Younger teachers who really want to teach in low income schools are often a better fit and more effective. However, PPS union seniority rules require that more effective younger teachers must go first when layoffs occur or that a more senior "burnout" teacher can bump his way back into a low income school when his welcome is worn out in one of the "better" neighborhood schools.

What I write here is always concerned primarily with the morality of social and political policy. Universal health care as a 'right' is a case in point.

Re: "The next time someone complains about how the U.S. is violating 'human rights,' -- torture, unions, health care, etc. -- remind them that, while morally they're on solid ground, legally, they're not."

The same could be said of the Nazis' violations (although even they had universal health care).

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