Indian trafficking survivors to launch hunger strike

13 05 2008

NEW ORLEANS WORKERS’ CENTER FOR RACIAL JUSTICE

www.neworleansworkerjustice.org

*** FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE ***

Indian labor trafficking survivors to launch hunger strike in view of the White House

Demand legal protections under US law, Congressional hearings

WASHINGTON, DC – On Wednesday, May 14th, at 10 a.m., a group of Indian guest workers who broke an 18-month US-Indian labor trafficking chain earlier this year will launch a hunger strike to demand the right to participate in a criminal trafficking investigation into their former employer, Northrop Grumman subcontractor Signal International, and US and Indian recruiters.

They are also demanding Congressional hearings into abuses of the guest worker visa program in the US Gulf Coast, as well as concrete action from the Indian government to protect future Indian workers.

The water-only hunger strike will begin in Lafayette Park, in view of the White House, with six of the more than 500 workers who were brought to the United States in late 2006 and early 2007 via a labor trafficking scheme within the H2B guest worker visa program—a story that received widespread coverage earlier this year in the New York Times, AP, NPR, ABC and BBC. Approximately 30 more workers will join the hunger strike in two waves on May 21 and May 28.

“We escaped Signal’s labor camps and went straight to the Department of Justice, and yet we are being treated like criminals, living under the threat of deportation every day,” said former Signal worker Muruganantham Kandhasami. “In the tradition of Mahatma Gandhi, we will risk our lives for the right to participate in an investigation that will bring the real criminals to justice: Signal and the recruiters.”

The workers are demanding that they be granted Continued Presence under the US Trafficking Victims Protection Act so that they can participate in an ongoing investigation into their case by the Department of Justice.

“The bravery of these workers amazes me,” said civil rights veteran Hollis Watkins, a former member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. “The dangers they faced at the hands of Signal remind me of the dogs they set on us during the Civil Rights struggle in the 1950s.”

Metal Trades Department AFL-CIO president Ron Ault said: “In exposing the grim truth of the US guest worker visa program, these workers are fighting for the rights of American workers too. The guest worker program is a disaster for foreign workers like these who wind up trapped and exploited, and for the American workers who get locked out of jobs.”

The hunger strike will begin Wednesday with a press event including supporters from US labor unions and civil rights organizations. The workers are members of the Indian Workers’ Congress and the Alliance of Guest Workers for Dignity, affiliates of the New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice.

Follow the hunger strike on our text and photo blog: www.neworleansworkerjustice.org.

WHAT: Launch of hunger strike by Indian labor trafficking survivors
WHEN: 10 a.m. Wednesday, May 14th, 2008
WHERE: Lafayette Park, 16th Street and Pennsylvania Ave, north of White House
CONTACT: Stephen Boykewich, Media Director, NOWCRJ

504-655-0876, spboykewich@gmail.com

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