We were thrilled to have two more vital allies join the workers in the fight against guest worker program abuses: Coalición de Derechos Humanos (Human Rights Coalition) and the South Asian Network. Their statement speaks for itself:
Groups Demand Justice for Guest Workers on Day 12 of Hunger Strike in Front of the White House
Call on U.S. Congress and State Legislatures to Halt Expansion of
Legalized Slavery Under Guest Worker Programs
(Tucson, AZ and Los Angeles, CA) – The Coalición de Derechos Humanos (DH) and the South Asian Network (SAN) joined hundreds of immigrant rights, human rights and labor organizations across the country in expressing resounding support for immigrant workers from India currently on a hunger strike in front of the White House. They called on the U.S. Congress and state legislatures to investigate the slave-like conditions to which employers routinely subject guest workers and to immediately halt the expansion of all guest worker visa programs.
Now on the 12th day of their hunger strike, these guest workers were lured from India by Signal International, a Northrop-Grumman subcontractor, which promised them green cards and decent wages only to subsequently force them into indentured servitude, effectively imprisoning them at a Gulf Coast shipyard. The workers escaped the Signal labor camp in March 2008 and recently won an important victory in getting the U.S. Department of Justice to open an investigation into Signal’s involvement in an international labor trafficking ring. However, the workers are now having to fight to stay in the country to participate in the investigation. Since beginning their hunger strike on May 14, four of the hunger strikers have been hospitalized. (Video, photos and updates of the hunger strike are available at http://www.neworleansworkerjustice.org/).
“We are proud to stand with these courageous hunger strikers who have marched in the footsteps of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. from Mississippi to the White House, placing themselves and their families at great risk, to tell Congress the terrible truth about the U.S. guest worker program,” said Violeta Domínguez, a board member of DH, based in Tucson, AZ, and former organizer of Mexican ex-Braceros, or guest workers, who are still awaiting payment of their back wages more than four decades after the U.S. Bracero program ended, in 1965. Violations of the most basic worker protections and corrupt labor recruitment practices have been widespread in both past and current guest worker programs. Guest workers who report serious injuries on the job, or speak out when they go unpaid are often threatened with firing and deportation by employers.
“Instead of continuing to blindly support guest worker programs, members of Congress and state legislators from both political parties have a responsibility to hear directly from the experts on this issue — the Signal hunger strikers and the hundreds of thousands of other guest workers who have survived incredible brutality on the job,” Domínguez added.
The groups condemned two proposals currently in the Arizona legislature that would create the first-ever state-run guest worker program. Earlier this year, Arizona became the first state to enact an employer sanctions law, which effectively makes holding a job a criminal act, and has erected the country’s toughest state-run policing apparatus to arrest immigrants. Consequently, many immigrant workers have fled Arizona, leaving crops unharvested and jobs unfilled. Pointing out the irony in Arizona now attempting to attract immigrant workers, the groups called the state guest worker bills “exceptionally hypocritical.”
Hamid Khan, director of SAN, based in Los Angeles, CA, declared, “Like the sweeping ICE raids terrorizing immigrant families across the country, guest worker programs are intended to keep immigrant workers disempowered. Guest workers face relentless intimidation, surveillance and policing by their corporate employers under these programs, whether they are from India or Latin America, whether they build ships or pick strawberries.”
Khan continued, “The millions of immigrants who bravely marched in the streets during the last two years demanded full worker rights and human rights and real legalization, not corporate-led schemes to crush wages and bodies. The only thing guest worker programs legalize is modern-day slavery.”
The groups further called attention to the fact that Northrop Grumman has recently won numerous lucrative contracts from the Department of Homeland Security under SBInet, a multi-billion dollar government-corporate partnership to privatize all border enforcement operations.
“Our compañeros on hunger strike in front of the White House, together with their family members who are fasting back in India, have set an extraordinary example for workers everywhere by standing up to Signal and Northrop Grumman, one of the biggest military contractors in the world. We know Northrop Grumman here on the border well since they are part of the gang of corporate profiteers building up the surveillance and policing infrastructure in our communities to round up and imprison immigrants on a massive scale,” said Isabel García, co-chair of DH. “Be it here in Tucson, or on the Gulf Coast, or in Iraq, U.S. policy on guest worker programs, immigration and military intervention are allowing these corporations to make billions of dollars off of human suffering.”
To make a donation to the hunger strikers and to learn more about the Alliance of Guest Workers for Dignity, an affiliate of the New Orleans Workers Center for Racial Justice, visit: www.neworleansworkerjustice.org and http://nolaworkerscenter.wordpress.com