Readout: US Department of Labor hosts Summit for Democracy highlighting the importance of unions in upholding democratic rights
WASHINGTON – U.S. Department of Labor Deputy Undersecretary for International Labor Affairs Thea Lee hosted representatives from the U.S. Department of State and worker organization leaders today for the discussion, “No Democracy Without Unions: Labor Movements as Defenders of Democratic Rights.” This event, held at the department’s Frances Perkins Building headquarters in Washington, was part of the Summit for Democracy and the Multilateral Partnership for Organizing, Worker Empowerment and Rights.
In keynote remarks, Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy and Human Rights at the State Department Uzra Zeya spoke about U.S. government efforts to strengthen unions and safeguard democracy, particularly by meeting with trade unions to hear directly from workers, defending trade unionists from discrimination, building union capacity, and working with likeminded partners to build coalitions.
The event convened a panel focusing on unions as essential components of democratic societies, which included Executive Director of the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity Kalpona Akter, Department of State Special Representative for International Labor Affairs Kelly Fay Rodríguez, President of the National Education Association Becky Pringle, and President of the Trade Union Confederation of the Americas and Secretary-Treasurer of the AFL-CIO Fred Redmond.
“Even within ostensibly stable democracies, economic and social exclusion can force working families to the margins of civic and political life,” said Deputy Undersecretary for International Labor Affairs Thea Lee. “Persistent inequity and unequal opportunity can undermine a fundamental promise of democracy—that all citizens should share in progress. Just as they’ve done for over a century, democratic labor movements today offer collective voice to workers standing up against disenfranchisement, racism, sexism, and xenophobia and advocating for their seat at the table.”
During the event, participants also heard video testimony from labor leaders who remain under threat, including Confederation of Trade Unions Myanmar President Maung Maung, and Salidarnast union leader Lizaveta Merliak in Belarus.