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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]


Paul Lafargue, 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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6266 news items

Fort Wayne Journal Gazette
Tue, 22 Jul 2014 17:24:49 -0700

Tuesday, the council voted 6-3 along party lines to keep a right-to-work ordinance for police officers and firefighters. Mayor Tom Henry vetoed the ordinance – which allows firefighters and officers to opt out of being in their respective unions ...
Tue, 22 Jul 2014 18:07:30 -0700

City council overrides mayor's veto on “right to work” ordinance. 9:07 pm. Fort Wayne City Council members have voted to override Mayor Tom Henry's veto of an ordinance that would affect public safety workers' right… Matt Moeller and family ...

Fox News

Fox News
Fri, 04 Jul 2014 06:49:38 -0700

Independence Day is my personal favorite holiday of the year, the day we celebrate our freedom from tyranny and oppression and the basic and self-evident right of American citizens to live free. That isn't the case in most other places in the world ...

Inside Indiana Business (press release)

Fort Wayne Journal Gazette
Sat, 19 Jul 2014 00:03:17 -0700

Mayor Tom Henry, surrounded by police officers and two city councilmen, stamped his veto Friday to a right-to-work ordinance affecting city police that City Council passed 6-2 last week. The ordinance states that the city could not make membership in a ...
National Review Online
Wed, 16 Jul 2014 10:37:30 -0700

Today, my colleagues in the labor team at CEI released the second installment in our three-part series, “The High Cost of Big Labor,” that looks at how the 24 states with right-to-work laws, which give workers the right to not join unions or pay union ...

International Business Times

Washington Post (blog)
Mon, 30 Jun 2014 03:01:29 -0700

The Supreme Court on Monday is expected to issue a ruling that could affect whether public-employee unions can automatically deduct fees from non-union workers. Despite dealing with civil servants, the case will have little impact on federal-employees ...
Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies
Fri, 18 Jul 2014 19:15:00 -0700

In other words, they recognise the right to work under fair and reasonable conditions. They do not take the more radical step of recognising a right to opt out of work completely, nor to have that right protected by the state. But maybe they should ...


Tue, 15 Jul 2014 13:23:36 -0700

Several late June decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court could affect the labor union movement, but by far the most significant was its June 30 decision in a case called Harris v. Quinn. The 5-4 decision in Harris v Quinn split along partisan lines, with ...

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