Are Worker Rights Human Rights?

Richard P. McIntyre
In a global economy, workers must assert their collective rights as workers in order to win human rights as individuals


The movement's victories since WWII have come at a cost, however. The emphasis on individual rights erodes collective rights—the rights that disadvantaged peoples need to assert their most basic human rights. This is particularly true for workers, McIntyre argues. By reintroducing Marxian and Institutional analysis, he reveals the class relations and power structures that determine the position of workers in the global economy. The best hope for achieving workers' rights, he concludes, lies in grassroots labor organizations that claim the right of association and collective bargaining.

At last, an economist offers a vision for human rights that takes both moral questions and class relations seriously.

Richard P. McIntyre is Director of the University Honors Program and Professor of Economics at the University of Rhode Island.

Praise / Awards

  • "In a much-needed intervention, Ric McIntyre recasts the debate about globalization and labor rights and speeds us to the heart of the matter: the battle between transnational corporations who distance themselves from responsibility for the fate of workers, and labor activists who seek to reestablish bonds of accountability and moral obligation. The stakes in this struggle are enormous and Dr. McIntyre provides crucial insight into the economic and political dynamics that define it."
    —Scott Nova, Executive Director, Worker Rights Consortium, Washington D.C.

  • "An important, timely, and needed contribution to our understanding of worker rights."
    —Patrick McHugh, Associate Professor of Management Science, George Washington University

  • "An important contribution to the interdisciplinary study of labor. McIntyre's book will challenge the debate over labor rights on all fronts."
    —Michael Hillard, Professor of Economics, University of Southern Maine

  • "Ric McIntyre convincingly shows how local actions, regulations changes, and international norms can combine to establish collective rights for workers."
    —Gilles Raveaud, Assistant Professor in Economics, University of Saint-Denis, France, and co-founder of the "post-autistic economics movement"

  • "Ric McIntyre's book is a timely examination of our modern 'sweating system' and some of the efforts to combat the effects of its 'grab it while you can' ethos on workers through a reinvigorated system of workers' rights. He makes two important contributions with this volume. First, he analyzes the 'sweating system' as an intentional business strategy over the past three decades, now used both by international corporations and local outsourcers to increase the social distance between employer and worker, and to diminish any sense of corporate responsibility for the welfare of their employees. Second, he employs the insights of contemporary heterodox economics, specifically the insights from Marxist, Institutionalist, and Postmodern economists, to understand how the shifting of social norms and conventions have allowed corporations to 'enshrine exploitation of labor,' and to develop an analytical foundation for workers' rights as a counterweight to the voluminous literature on property rights. McIntyre's book is essential reading for all workers who hope for greater dignity in the workplace and greater fairness in society."
    —Janet Knoedler, Associate Professor of Economics, Bucknell University

  • "This book presents an insightful, powerful corrective to the contemporary debate over worker rights. McIntyre identifies the limitations of thinking of worker rights as individualized human rights, and challenges us instead to examine how rights are defined through conventional thinking and class interest. The product is rich and compelling: McIntyre's investigation demands of us that we be far more attentive to the contradictory effects of 'rights talk.' I recommend this book enthusiastically to all those who advocate for a just economic order the world over."
    —George DeMartino, Associate Professor of Political Economy, The Joseph Korbel School of International Studies, University of Denver

  • "McIntyre presents a powerful case for moral and ethical considerations in discussions about globalized trade and labor."
    —R.L. Holger, Colorado State University, Choice

  • "Are Worker Rights Human Rights? is a compelling essay on one of the great questions of the day. It is written accessibly for a broad audience of activists, undergraduates, and interested citizens. It also is a reminder of the importance of understanding the contradictory impacts of even the best of ideas and proposals, of the power of history and class interests, and most importantly, of the need for activists to be equipped with insight as well as passion."
    —Michael G. Hillard, University of Southern Maine

  • "McIntyre's intervention represents an important contribution in the emergent scholarship surrounding the growth and effects of constructing workers' rights as human rights. He has identified a significant gap in the theoretical underpinnings of labour rights discourse and has worked to fill that void. His nuanced approach recognizes the limitations of rights discourse, but he is unwilling to simply ignore it as a potential tool to improve the lives of workers. He ultimately answeres his original question-'Are Worker Rights Human Rights?'- with a qualified yes, and provides a convincing argument to that end."
    —Bradley Walchuk, York University 

Look Inside

Copyright © 2008, University of Michigan. All rights reserved.

News, Reviews, Interviews

Read: Review Globalization and Labor Standards

Read: Article The Good Cigar | 2/4/2009

Read: Article University of Rhode Island News | 12/8/2008

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 232pp.
  • 1 figure & 5 tables.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Hardcover
  • 2008
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-07042-8

Add to Cart
  • $94.95 U.S.

  • Paper
  • 2008
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-05042-0

Add to Cart
  • $27.95 U.S.



  • worker rights, labor standards, economics of conventions, institutional economics, marxian political economy, international labor organization, US foreign labor policy, workers rights consortium, wal-mart, globalization