JwJ members send 8,766 letters to Congress!

31 05 2008

The support of our allies at Jobs With Justice has been invaluable from long before the hunger strike began. They’ve spread the word nationwide, spoke at rallies in DC, brought supporters out by the dozens, held solidarity actions around the country, arranged viewings of a film about the workers, and much more.

But today we had a report on their effort to win Congressional support for the workers’ cause that was amazing even by their standards. As of Thursday night, JwJ members in more than 40 cities had sent 8,766 letters to US Congressmen urging them to sign on to Congressman Dennis Kucinich’s letter to the Department of Justice. The letter asks for what the hunger strikers have been asking for: continued presence in the US for the workers so they can participate in an investigation to bring the traffickers to justice.

Let’s say that one more time.

8,766 letters.

There’s no better coda to that then JwJ’s own action alert:


The workers are asking Jobs with Justice and other national allies for two specific actions to help them win the strike.

1) Visit, call, and pressure your Representatives and Senators until they agree to sign onto the Kucinich letter.

2) Hold visible, public protest actions at the Federal Building in your city demanding that the Department of Justice respond to the workers, grant them continued presence, and investigate their case. These actions around the country will happen in conjunction with a massive public action at the Department of Justice in Washington DC on June 11.


Day 17 – Paul stuns the doctors

30 05 2008

For all the amazement and inspiration that Paul Konar has brought his fellow workers, hunger strikers and supporters, his more than two weeks on a fast for justice have also brought concern. As of Wednesday — his 54th birthday — he had gone 15 days without food. Many workers urged him to go to the hospital for a blood test and full checkup.

“No, no, I know what happens if I get a blood test,” Paul said. “You’ll all start talking about potassium and kidneys and you’ll tell me I have no choice but to stop.”

Then yesterday, Day 16, Paul hurt his back badly enough to be convinced to go the hospital. There was a great relief all around: The doctors would do a full checkup and tell him his health was in jeopardy and he had no choice but to end his hunger strike immediately.

Here, courtesy of Slate.com, is what’s supposed to happen to hunger strikers:

Fasting becomes dangerous after just three to five days, at which point the body begins breaking down fat in order to produce energy. When the liver is reduced to breaking down fat (in lieu of the usual glucose), it produces ketone bodies, a toxic byproduct. These can be excreted through the urine, and a particular variety known as acetone can be expelled through the lungs. (Acetone makes a person’s breath smell like pears.) Ketone bodies can also be oxidized by the brain in order to make the fuel it needs. But when ketone bodies become too numerous in the bloodstream, they can cause ketoacidosis, a potentially lethal condition that afflicts some diabetics.

That’s not the way it turned out.

The doctors at George Washington University Hospital were astonished that Paul hadn’t eaten for 16 days. His blood tests were normal. He was in excellent health.

The doctors can’t explain it, but Paul can.

“It’s God’s gift,” he said.

Day 16 – Free the slaves!

29 05 2008

Back on Day Eight of the hunger strike, May 21, we were proud to have the support of Kevin Bales, leading expert on modern-day slavery and co-founder of Free the Slaves. Kevin called the workers heroes for stepping up and standing against an injustice that this most powerful country in the world seems unable to confront.”

We just received the full text of his powerful statement that day, which is below:

Thank you for the opportunity to say a few words.

Let me draw you a picture of a perfect world – of an America where those who come to shoulder our most dirty, demeaning and dangerous jobs have some protection.

It is an American where our temporary workers have an official guarantee of good working conditions. Where hours, wages, living conditions, medical benefits, and payment for lost time and injury are required and regulated. It is an America where workers are entitled to legal services; where a worker is guaranteed three-quarters of the hours in his or her contract.

Is this a dream? Is this some crazy utopia? Is this some bleeding heart fantasy? No. This is the law.

This is the law, in spite of which, these workers here today, and thousands more like them are abused every day in America.

Maybe this is a new law and we need to learn how to enforce it? No. This guestworker law and its H-2 visa is 65 years old this year. And it seems to be doddering and collapsing in its old age – more abuses, more trafficking, more slavery riding on its back than ever before.

In 2005, 32,000 workers had H-2A visas – and abuse and enslavement crept into our fields of oranges and apples to feed on these workers; into our fields of apples in Maine and fields of pineapples in Hawaii; into the cattle herds on Rocky Mountain hillsides, and into the low, devastated bayous and streets of New Orleans and the Mississippi coastline.

Imagine! A federal program that opens the door to slavery.

The list of abuses is long, we’ve all heard them: beatings, hunger, fraud, terror, crippling debt on the families back home, and even enslavement.

How can our laws be so easily broken, with such great damage to human beings?

The answer is simple and the answer is clear – our government chooses not to enforce its own law. The criminals know this and have a field day, laughing in our faces.

Recently, in the Arriaga Case, a judge riled to support the workers, yet the Department of Labor stated they would continue a policy of non-enforcement.

This is a law against deceit, fraud, and coercion – and our policy is “non-enforcement”?

This is a law against abuse, brutality, and violence – and our policy is “non-enforcement”?

This is a law against debt-bondage, peonage, and slavery – and our policy is “non-enforcement”?

This is not the America I love and believe in. This is not the country my ancestors came to, destitute, desperate, and hungry for work. This is not the policy of a country that believes in the dignity of every person – no matter what their color; no matter what their language; no matter where they come from.

The workers here today are heroes. They are heroes for stepping up and standing against an injustice that this most powerful country in the world seems unable to confront. These men may be poor, but each one of them today is very rich in moral power.

I say to them – be strong and clear with the people on Congress as you visit them today. You are not asking for special treatment; you are not asking for special favors; you are asking only for simple justice under a standing law. It is your right, under the law.

Today, the confrontation between justice and injustice is compressed to this spot – our Capitol.

Sixty-five years is a long time to wait for justice. But today you workers are here, and together we are on the move. The road ahead is not a smooth one, but together we are on the move.

How long will it take? Not long, because a law ignored can be lifted up. How long? Not long, because as Martin Luther King says “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice” And the truth, your truth, the truth of your lives, will lead us there.

Day 15 Pt. 2 – Happy Birthday Paul Konar!

29 05 2008

The hunger strike strongman celebrated his birthday in All Souls Unitarian Church tonight with an amazing show of support and solidarity for him and all the workers fighting for justice against Signal International and its recruiters.

Friends and allies from Jobs with justice, SAALT and other groups were there as Paul said what he wanted most of all:

“If I have a birthday wish, it is this: That the US government allow us to remain in this country until the end of the investigation against Signal International and all the people named in the lawsuit against those who exploited us. This is my prayer. All of you who are with me now, stay with me, and I will continue till the end.

A great friend and supporter of the hunger striker, Vijay Anand, asked Paul for his response to a “so-called community leader in DC who says Gandhi’s way doesn’t work any more — one Gandhi is not enough.”

“In my view,” Paul said, “Gandhi was an exceptional man, a man who could rise up and organize all of India. We’re not going to see someone like that again. Even if the whole world sat down to pray for his soul and thank him, it wouldn’t be enough.”

“As for what Vijay Anaand is talking about, those who say, ‘Stop your fast,’ the prayers of our families are with us on this hunger strike, of our churches. In the Convent of St. Alfonse, 140 nuns are praying for us. Their prayers are our food.

“If you ask me to stop this hunger strike, I’ll receive your advice with respect, but it’s our decision, and I’m not about to leave this strike.

“There’s a saying: People who have courage die only once. People without courage live a long time but die every day.”

Day 15 – Happy Birthday Paul Konar!

28 05 2008

Thank you all for the extraordinary outpouring of support for Paul and all the hunger strikers! Your messages will be read out at the party — stay tuned for photos and more!

Day 13 – birthday call!

26 05 2008

Of all the extraordinary strength and bravery shown by the Indian labor trafficking survivors now on Day 13 of a hunger strike for justice in Washington, DC, no one has been more inspiring than Mr. Paul Konar. Paul is a 53 year-old father of three daughters who supported a large extended family in his home state of Kerala before he — like more than 550 of his countrymen — was cheated out of $20,000 with false promises of an American Dream and received a temporary 10-month guest worker visa instead.

He is also our “hunger strike strongman,” the only worker who started the fast on May 14 and has not been forced to stop by hospitalization. He is stronger on Day 13 than he was on Day 2.

On Wednesday, May 28, Paul turns 54. “I want a bottle of water with a birthday candle on top,” Paul said. “Everyone else should have a great party, and I will stay on the hunger strike with God’s help.” Please take a moment to write Paul a birthday greeting and message of support at hungerstrikestrongman@gmail.com. All the messages will be printed out and read at a reception for him on Wednesday evening.

You can also make a donation in honor of Paul to the hunger strike fund by visiting our contribution page.

Thank you for all of your support!

Day 12 – Coalición de Derechos Humanos and the South Asian Network stand up for hunger strikers

25 05 2008

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 https://nolaworkerscenter.wordpress.com