Thursday, January 2, 2014

Snowden case is at the soul of America

On Facebook today, a friend (you know who you are) posted on my wall that some of the labor rights denied to Chinese workers are also regularly denied to American workers. Unfortunately true.

Soon after reading this post, I read the New York Times' editorial that ambitiously kicked off the new year by demanding amnesty for Edward Snowden, the NSA whistleblower now self-exiled in Russia.

How, you ask, is Snowden related to labor rights defense?

While my friend was correct to point out that the working class in the U.S. and China--two very capitalist countries--may have more similarities than differences, there is one critical difference: the amount of freedom one has to defend one's own rights. 

Workers in China cannot legally organize outside of government-controlled unions, and labor activists who try to organize workers too aggressively will most likely be surveilled, harassed, or worse.

Therein lies the significance of the Snowden case. That public discourse has, in the span of less than 12 months, made it a distinct possibility that Snowden could receive amnesty is a testament to the strength of free speech in the U.S. The Snowden case has led to large segments of the American public mobilizing and speaking out in the defense of privacy and free speech itself. 

American workers utilize these same freedoms to defend themselves. For example, see the recent nationwide restaurant workers' movement.   

So this is the long answer to my friend's legitimate comment: in comparing U.S. and Chinese workers, while its true that the rights of workers (and many other groups) are violated daily in the U.S., at least Americans have fewer barriers to fighting back.

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