I am very pleased with the continued interest in my weekly newspaper column. Thank you so much to the Cambodian readers for your provocative questions that inspire some great dialogue. Please continue to send me your questions at AskAMBToddPP@state.gov.
Last Monday, the United States observed “Labor Day” to recognize the contributions of the American worker to the strength and prosperity of the U.S. economy. One question that I would like to answer is, “What significance does Labor Day pose to the American people?” Americans celebrate Labor Day as a reminder of the vital role the labor movement has made, and will continue to make, in the continuity of the nation’s economic prosperity, high standard of living, and growth potential for future generations. The United States first celebrated Labor Day in 1894, a year marked by general strikes and deep social and economic instability. In an attempt to bring recognition to the social and economic contribution of the American laborer, the U.S. federal government created a special day to honor all workers on the first Monday of September. In the late 19th century, American workers faced many challenges similar to those experienced by Cambodian workers today: a rising cost of living, great social and technical change in the work force, and the perception of an elite business class out of touch with the needs of the workers. Today, Cambodia’s labor movement focuses on improving working conditions and increasing compensation.
The labor movement defined the new expectations of wages and working conditions in America. Some have argued that the movement created the vast middle class that powers the American economy today. In contrast, others say that American industry created the middle class because as business explored innovation to improve productivity, the ensuing profits allowed business to pay higher wages. There is truth to both arguments, and just as increased profits do not automatically lead to increased wages, increased labor demands do not automatically create more economic stability for a company. There must be a compromise and consensus to achieve solutions. Labor and business are interdependent and need each other to create innovative and successful businesses. Former U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, a very pro-business leader, stated in 1955:
Organized labor and those who have gone before in the union movement have helped make a unique contribution to the general welfare of the Republic–the development of the American philosophy of labor. This philosophy, if adopted globally, could bring about a world, prosperous, at peace, sharing the fruits of the earth with justice to all men.
American history has shown that a strong labor movement combined with an empowered middle class is absolutely essential to a functioning democracy. When a working population is at or near poverty, it does not have the means to fully engage in the democratic process. The people do not have the time, energy, or the money to fully take part in the political and social dialogue. Without input from a strong labor force, a nation cannot reach its creative and economic potential.
By working towards a balance between the needs of labor and business, the United States has achieved a degree of social peace that many thought would not be possible. The stability became a model for other nations around the world. This balance is not static, but constantly changes with the evolving demands of business and workers. Above all, social and economic peace was, and will be, maintained through a respect for the needs of others and belief in the rule of law.
Here’s another question I’d like to answer this week: “What does the United States think about drug trafficking in Cambodia?” Recent reports of drug busts and ongoing drug cases have generated a significant amount of attention. Earlier this year, a Cambodian provincial court convicted the former police chief of the National Authority for Combating Drugs and his subordinate for a myriad of drug-related crimes. Over a week ago, the Royal Government of Cambodia took a major step towards bringing to justice the individuals responsible for smuggling narcotics into Cambodia. This recent arrest of some senior-level officials demonstrates an earnest determination by Cambodian authorities to crack down on organizations that contribute to the narcotics crisis that affects not only Cambodia, but all nations. The Embassy of the United States of America commends these actions that honor the rule of law.
Several years ago as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, I oversaw global programs to promote best practices for the rule of law, police training, and counternarcotics efforts in some of the most volatile regions of the world, including Iraq, Afghanistan, and Colombia. The cascading impact of the illegal drug trade on national society, the family, and the individual are profound and complicated – from direct criminal activities, money laundering, use of firearms, to the impact on families, and finally to the individual who struggles with the addiction, shame, and other physical and emotional damage. Cambodia can be proud of its efforts and its success in the arrest and prosecution of drug traffickers, particularly those who took advantage of their official positions for personal gain.
Regrettably, there are no easy solutions. The fight against this global problem requires the efforts of not only governments but also individual citizens and non-governmental organizations (NGO) to support those addicted, affirm those entrusted with anti-narcotics enforcement, and to hold accountable those who are breaking the law. Through this coordinated effort, people who suffer from addictions can be encouraged to seek help as a means to improve their lives and thus cut the demand side of the trade. Citizens and NGOs can also insist that government officials enforce the laws, support humane addiction treatment programs, and prosecute those who break the law. By doing so, we can all do our part to undercut the illegal drug trade.
Once again, thank you all for reading my column and creating a thoughtful dialogue. Keep your questions coming in Khmer or in English at AskAMBToddPP@state.gov and follow my blog at http://blogs.usembassy.gov/todd.
William E. Todd is U.S. Ambassador to the Kingdom of Cambodia