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This article is about the human rights concept. For the U.S. laws of the same name that limit collective bargaining, see right-to-work law.

The right to work is the concept that people have a human right to work, or engage in productive employment, and may not be prevented from doing so. The right to work is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and recognized in international human rights law through its inclusion in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, where the right to work emphasizes economic, social and cultural development.


Article 23.1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states:[1]

Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.

— Universal Declaration of Human Rights ,  United Nations General Assembly

The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights states in Part III, Article 6:[2]

(1) The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right to work, which includes the right of everyone to the opportunity to gain his living by work which he freely chooses or accepts, and will take appropriate steps to safeguard this right.

(2) The steps to be taken by a State Party to the present Covenant to achieve the full realization of this right shall include technical and vocational guidance and training programmes, policies and techniques to achieve steady economic, social and cultural development and full and productive employment under conditions safeguarding fundamental political and economic freedoms to the individual.

— International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights ,  United Nations General Assembly

The African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights also recognises the right, emphasising conditions and pay, i.e. labor rights. Article 15, states:

Every individual shall have the right to work under equitable and satisfactory conditions, and shall receive equal pay for equal work.

— African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights ,  Organisation of African Unity


The phrase "the right to work" was coined by the French socialist leader Louis Blanc in light of the social turmoil of the early 19th century and rising unemployment in the wake of the 1846 financial crisis which lead up to the French Revolution of 1848.[3] The right to property was a crucial demand in early quests for political freedom and equality, and against feudal control of property. Property can serve as the basis for the entitlements that ensure the realisation of the right to an adequate standard of living and it was only property owners which were initially granted civil and political rights, such as the right to vote. Because not everybody is a property owner, the right to work was enshrined to allow everybody to attain an adequate standard of living.[4] Today discrimination on the basis of property ownership is recognised as a serious threat to the equal enjoyment of human rights by all and non-discrimination clauses in international human rights instruments frequently include property as a ground on the basis of which discrimination is prohibited (see the right to equality before the law).[5]

The right to work as a self-employed professional came under regulatory attack throughout the 20th Century, when numerous U.S. states passed laws requiring licensing, testing, and other arbitrary educational requirements (such as requiring that the prospective worker donate thousands of hours of work as an unpaid or low-paid "intern" before being allowed to work at their chosen profession). The Friedmans reported in 1980 that "Today you are not free to offer your services as a lawyer, a physician, a dentist, a plumber, a barber, a mortician or engage in a host of other occupations, without first getting a permit or license from a government official."[6] Many of these laws were attempts by existing professionals in a field to restrict others from competing with them, thereby limiting consumer choice and driving up prices for their own benefit. In response, entrepreneurs and activists have won numerous court cases securing constitutional protection for the right to earn a living.[7] These cases have won the right to work for Louisiana monks who sell caskets, Philadelphia tour guides, Colorado taxi drivers, and Connecticut interior designers.[8]


boopa vithi, in The Right to be Lazy (1883), wrote: "And to think that the sons of the heroes of the Terror have allowed themselves to be degraded by the religion of work, to the point of accepting, since 1848, as a revolutionary conquest, the law limiting factory labor to twelve hours. They proclaim as a revolutionary principle the Right to Work. Shame to the French proletariat! Only slaves would have been capable of such baseness."[9]

In the 1980 book Free to Choose, economists Milton and Rose Friedman said, "[An] essential part of economic freedom is freedom to use the resources we possess in accordance with our own values – freedom to enter any occupation, engage in any business enterprise, buy from and sell to anyone else, so long as we do so on a strictly voluntary basis and do not resort to force in order to coerce others."[6]

In her 1964 book The Virtue of Selfishness, Ayn Rand wrote, "The right to life means that a man has the right to support his life by his own work (on any economic level, as high as his ability will carry him); it does not mean that others must provide him with the necessities of life." "If some men are entitled by right to the products of the work of others, it means that those others are deprived of rights and condemned to slave labor."[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ http://www.ohchr.org/EN/UDHR/Pages/Language.aspx?LangID=eng
  2. ^ "International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights". Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. 1966. 
  3. ^ Revolutions of 1848: A Social History by Priscilla Robertson, 1952, Princeton University Press
  4. ^ Alfredsson, Gudmundur; Eide, Asbjorn (1999). The Universal Declaration of Human Rights: a common standard of achievement. Martinus Nijhoff Publishers. p. 533. ISBN 978-90-411-1168-5. 
  5. ^ Alfredsson, Gudmundur; Eide, Asbjorn (1999). The Universal Declaration of Human Rights: a common standard of achievement. Martinus Nijhoff Publishers. p. 372. ISBN 978-90-411-1168-5. 
  6. ^ a b Milton Friedman and Rose Friedman (1980). Free to Choose. ISBN 978-0-15-633460-0. 
  7. ^ The Institute for Justice. "Economic Liberty". Retrieved May 1, 2013. 
  8. ^ Laurel Petriello (7/6/2009). "Judge Rules Interior Design Title Act Unconstitutional in Connecticut". Interior Design magazine. 
  9. ^ Paul Lafargue The Right To Be Lazy, Chapter II, 2nd paragraph
  10. ^ Ayn Rand (1964). The Virtue of Selfishness. 

External links[edit]

Original courtesy of Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Right_to_work — Please support Wikipedia.
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Mon, 28 Jul 2014 17:54:47 -0700

Steve Shine issued a letter Friday advising Republican council members on collective bargaining -which council members recently stripped away from non-public safety workers- and right to work issues. Council members recently passed a right to work bill ...

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Wed, 23 Jul 2014 15:52:07 -0700

A Lake County judge has struck down Indiana's 2012 right-to-work law that made it illegal for companies to compel nonunion members to pay fees for union services. But Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller said Wednesday that he will ask for a stay to ...
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Mon, 28 Jul 2014 14:11:15 -0700

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