spent the past five days meeting people and learning the conventions, practices, international agreements and organizations, etc that are consequential to the duties of a Labor Officer. Part of my portfolio when I arrive in Kingston will be labor issues, which includes reporting on labor conditions in the countries, the government's compliance in enforcing international labor standards (as agreed upon within the International Labour Organization), major strikes or organized labor movements, etc. The US foreign affairs community is interested in labor issues on several fronts, and the "Decent Work" agenda is supported by the government, the business community, and of course the national labor unions.
Today we had meetings and heard presentations at the Solidarity Center, where the focus was on the international labor movement, especially how labor activists in the US were not only forging and maintaining bonds with communities of workers in other countries but how they American unions are supporting and helping to develop labor movements in countries where labor standards are not well enforced.
China was always an interesting caveat in these discussions, since the government controlled union is one of the world’s largest and because it is illegal to form private unions. While this poses challenges to the broader community of workers seeking solidarity with the workers of China, that is not to say that labor plays a small role in the country. On the contrary, despite the controlled nature of much of China’s news media, labor activists that I talked to today said how prominently workers issues, working standards, and worker actions against unacceptable work conditions were featured in Chinese media.
Even Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping remarked recently on the importance of labor unions in the country – see “China’s labor unions play unique role: Vice President” in The People’s Daily, a national English Language news source from China.