- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 20, 2003

In the six-decade history of the United Nations, there have been many betrayals of the U.N. Charter by the U.N. membership. None are as glaringly disgraceful as the continued and unchallenged membership of Communist China in the International Labor Organization, an important U.N. agency charged with protecting workers either from tyrannical governments or unscrupulous employers.

Communist China has been violating ILO principles for more than a half-century but remains a member. In the days of apartheid, South Africa was expelled from the ILO. So why is Communist China, which ignores the ILO charter, immune from expulsion — or, at least, suspension until it cleans up its act?

The question arises because of a front page New York Times story Dec. 7 by Joseph Kahn about a leading Chinese toymaker, Kin Ki Industrial. The Chinese company produces a child’s drawing toy, Etch A Sketch, which until three years ago was manufactured in Bryan, Ohio. To keep the price down to $10, the U.S. company three years ago moved production to Shenzhen, a small town just north of Hong Kong. One hundred American workers lost their jobs.

“Today the same toy is made not just for lower wages,” says the Times, “but also under significantly harsher working conditions. Kin Ki’s workers, in fact, are struggling to obtain rights that their American predecessors at Ohio Art won early in the last century, though the workers are without the aid of independent unions, which remain illegal in China.”

“… Without the aid of independent unions, which remain illegal in China,” is a factual charge that should have the ILO leadership up in arms. They have known since 1949, when Mao Tse-tung imposed communism on the Chinese people, that free trade unions are illegal and that workers who try to organize such unions are imprisoned if not worse. Not only are such unions illegal. But in 1982 the right to strike was removed from the Chinese Constitution. The official All-China Federation of Trade Unions is a puppet of the Chinese Communist Party.

But there are further violations of workers’ rights — rights to which the Kin Ki workers are entitled. The so-called legal minimum wage is 33 cents an hour in Shenzhen but the workers are paid 24 cents an hour. The workers are forced to work seven 12-hour days, 84 hours a week, which is above the legal maximum in China without paying overtime.

Very well, globalization has its victims and beneficiaries. Were it not for the success of well-paid workers in Western industrial societies, Chinese workers by the millions would be unemployed and underemployed. So what hurts families in Bryan, Ohio, helps families in Shenzhen, China.

However, that’s a separate issue from Communist China’s continued membership in the ILO. One can argue that many member states in the U.N. contravene U.N. Charter provisions without penalty. True, but the U.N. was organized by nation-states on the basis of power politics. But the ILO, whose history antedates the U.N. by a quarter-century, was organized on moral principles, to protect workers, to fight child labor, to encourage freedom of organization and the building of free trade unions. Communist China has failed on all these obligations.

A report by the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, a world organization of national trade union centers including the AFL-CIO, says China punishes “all workers advocating respect for workers’ rights, or attempting to organize independent trade unions outside the official structure of the All-China Federation of Trade Unions.”

The All-China Federation, says the ICFTU complaint, “is an instrument of the ruling party and the state, used as a means to exercise control and surveillance over workers.”

Back in 1975 then Secretary of State Henry Kissinger said in words as true today as they were then:

“The ILO Conference for some years now has shown an appallingly selective concern in the applications of the ILO’s basic conventions on freedom of association and forced labor. It pursues the violation of human rights in some member states. It grants immunity from such citation to others. This seriously undermines the credibility of the ILO’s support of freedom of association, which is central to its tripartite structure and strengthens the proposition that these human rights are not universally applicable, but rather are subject to different interpretations for states with different political systems.”

Arnold Beichman, a Hoover Institution research fellow, is a columnist for The Washington Times.

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