In the Shadow of Obama's Refugee Summit and U.N., Global Labor Movement and Immigrant Leaders Speak Out

As world leaders met in the U.N. General Assembly and the Obama administration's Leaders’ Summit to make a new commitment to address mass movements of refugees and migrants, labor and immigrant leaders gathered by the United Nations to call on governments to promote dignity and decent work for those on the move.

Global unions for building and woodworkers, education and public services called for government action to protect workers’ rights and include workers’ voices, instead of cozying up to corporate interests and pursing privatization schemes in response to displacement.

Speakers rejected the anti-immigrant, xenophobic sentiments that are on the rise in Europe and the United States, stoked by opportunistic politicians, and called for solidarity and collective action to achieve higher standards for refugees, migrants and all working people

Immigrant rights leaders from DRUM, Alianza Americas and the Global Coalition on Migration focused on the importance of organizing and mobilizing to force action in addressing the root causes of forced migration, including disastrous trade and economic policies, a lack of decent work, climate change, instability and conflict. They called for an end to the criminalization and detention of refugee and immigrant families and to expand protections for those who might not qualify as “refugees,” but still fear to return home.

Pointing to the Trump Tower across the street, AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Tefere Gebre stressed the need to move away from the hate and fear of men like Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and create a path forward that preserves America’s rich tradition of welcoming refugees and migrants. That path forward, he made clear, is not continuing the shameful practice of detaining and rejecting asylum seekers from Central America, but to focus U.S policy on creating good jobs, protecting workers and communities, and ending support for corporate-driven trade agreements, both in the region and throughout the world.

While world leader continue to put forward vague political declarations and pay lip service to responding justly to the greatest refugee crisis since World War II, civil society and trade unions presented an alternative vision to protect rights and promote sustainable development and an inclusive future. Let’s hope they listen.

For more on the AFL-CIO’s global refugee and migration advocacy in the United Nations, read Gebre’s address to world leaders this week.