12/16/2009 02:08 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Today's Struggles: In Honor of International Human Rights Day

The history of America is our common struggle for a more perfect union, to resolve the contradictions between the promise of America and our gaps in human rights. America did not become great because we feared change. America became great because regular and average people fought to make America better and to extend the blessings of freedom and justice and human rights to everyone.

--People like Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison and the abolitionists who struggled to end slavery ultimately at the cost of 600,000 lives in the Civil War and

--Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony and the suffragettes who marched and fought for women's right to vote and changed politics in America forever and

--The early populists and progressives who fought monopoly capital and the robber barons and

--Our forebears in the labor movement who fought to lift millions of workers and their families from poverty and

The Civil Rights Movement which freed an entire nation from bigotry and prejudice and racism--even though that struggle remains incomplete.

Our generation today has our own human rights crisis to resolve--to restore the freedom to form unions and bargain collectively. This is our generation's responsibility, our turn to stand up and be counted, our opportunity to contribute to the greatness of America. We will never have the chance again. It comes only once in a generation.

Let us resolve on International Human Rights Day in 2009 that we will meet our generation's challenge. International Human Rights Day commemorates on Dec. 10 every year the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. Happening in the wake of World War II, the Declaration laid out the rights of all people in a world free of Nazism and Fascism just because of our common humanity and the dignity due all human beings.

Unfortunately those human rights committed to writing in 1948 are still unfulfilled--not only in totalitarian regimes but also here in the United States.

We have a human rights crisis in America's workplaces and in America's homes, clinics, and hospitals. The now 61 year old Universal Declaration of Human Rights calls for the freedom to form unions and bargain collectively and for adequate healthcare as well as other basic human freedoms. In 2000 Human Rights Watch published a 300 page book documenting that the United States in out of compliance with international human rights standards for failing to protect the right of our own people to freely organize union and bargain collectively.

America can no longer look for human rights violations all over the world while we ignore our own human rights crisis.

In a very real way the legislative fights today for universal healthcare and for the Employee Free Choice Act are our generation's struggle to fulfill the legacy of those who struggled before us to resolve the contradiction between America's promise and the gaps in human rights. These are not simply legislative fights but historic struggles to make America better.