By Greg Lebedev and John Sweeney
It is essential that workers and businesses have the right to organize freely to pursue their own interests in the marketplace and in the halls of government.
Business and labor often disagree on what's best for our nation. But on one big idea we agree: The best way to create public policy is through a vigorous give-and-take between elected representatives and citizen groups. This is an indispensable element of American democracy. But it is lacking in too many other countries.
In January, Freedom House identified growing barriers to civic engagement by freely organized groups as a major feature in a global decline in democracy. To counter this trend, the Center for International Private Enterprise helps businesses and the AFL-CIO's Solidarity Center helps workers to assert and defend their freedom of association. This right is crucial for building democracies that deliver for all segments of the population.
For example, thanks to advocacy by business associations to change national laws, women in Pakistan are beginning to form their own associations without male sponsorship. And in Egypt, advocates of non-government-controlled unions among a group of regional tax collectors gained the first official recognition (since 1952) of an independent union, which negotiated long-necessary salary increases.
The United Nations General Assembly designated Sept. 15 as the International Day of Democracy, stating that "democracy is a universal value based on the freely-expressed will of people to determine their own political, economic, social and cultural systems, and their full participation in all aspects of life." We share this conviction, and we believe that all nations are best served when businesses and workers can freely and vigorously organize and advocate on behalf of their constituents in the marketplace of ideas and in the halls of government.
Moreover, we agree that sustainable economic growth strengthens democracy. We have seen time and again that shared prosperity leads to democratic stability and peace, values that are in America's national interest. Strengthening freedom of association in all countries is a big step in that direction.
Mr. Lebedev serves as chairman of the Center for International Private Enterprise, an affiliate of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Mr. Sweeney serves as chairman of Solidarity Center, affiliated with the AFL-CIO.
Reprinted with the authors' permission from the Wall Street Journal
, September 17, 2010