Meet Mr. Paul Konar, hunger strike strongman

21 05 2008

Take a look at Mr. Paul. This man is 53 years old and has survived on nothing but water for eight days. Could he be any stronger?

I asked him where he gets his strength from.

“It’s God’s gift,” he said. “From 1981 to 1987 I lived in Qatar and was a boxer. I loved this. Not to hurt people, but feel your strength — it’s a great feeling. That strength never left me. It’s God’s gift.”

“This is something we will do to the end,” he said, nodding toward a pair of tents where six new hunger strikers had joined the original five. “We aren’t doing this for ourselves. We need the system to change. If this weren’t about changing the system, there would be no reason to do all of this.”

He continued the theme at the rally:

“People come up to us and ask us: ‘Are you doing this for green cards? Are you doing this to stay in the country?’ What is our fight really about? It is about the workers who will come after us. They need a stable base so they can some and live better than we did. They’re the ones we’re fighting for.”

Afterward, about 50 workers lined up to march on Capitol Hill and confront two US senators who had been pushing for a back-door expansion of the H2B guest worker program that was used to exploit these workers.

The group, which included five of the hunger strikers, marched to Capitol Hill. The post-event press release tells the rest of the story:

NEW ORLEANS WORKERS’ CENTER FOR RACIAL JUSTICE

www.neworleansworkerjustice.org

*** FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE ***

Indian hunger strikers confront US Congress over H2B guest worker program expansion

Call for hearings into abuses as first hunger striker hospitalized on Day Eight of fast

WASHINGTON, DC – On Wednesday, May 21, Indian hunger strikers representing over 550 of their countrymen—all of them survivors of a labor trafficking ring within the H2B guest worker visa program—challenged Sens. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and Judd Gregg (R-NH) to visit the hunger strikers and confront the abuses of the H2B guest worker visa program the senators seek to expand.

Seven of the hunger strikers and about 20 supporters visited the offices of Mikulski and Gregg on Capitol Hill Wednesday afternoon, shortly after one of the hunger strikers, Christopher Glory, was taken to George Washington University Hospital with dangerously low blood pressure. (See photos at http://www.flickr.com/photos/nolaworkerscenter)

“I’m not going to stop my hunger strike,” former H2B worker Paul Konar told Alex Csicsek, Sen. Mikulski’s top legislative aide in charge of immigration policy. “Every one of us may wind up in a hospital bed, but this program has to change.”

Konar is one of over 550 Indian workers who were lured to the United States in late 2006 with false promises of green cards and work-based permanent residency—for which they paid up to $20,000 apiece—and instead received temporary, 10-month H2B visas and worked at Signal under deplorable conditions.

“Senators Mikulski and Gregg are pushing for expansion of the H2B program without taking a hard look at the realities of the guest worker visa program,” said Saket Soni, director of the New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice. “Companies like Signal hollowing out key American industries and replacing well-paid US workers with exploitable, temporary guest workers. We invite the senators to come learn the truth from the workers who have lived it.”

After facing constant threats of deportation from Signal and armed force when they attempted to organize, the Indian workers escaped the company’s Gulf Coast labor camps in March 2008 and reported the company and its recruiters to the Department of Justice Criminal Anti-Trafficking Division.

They have since been re-traumatized by covert surveillance by Immigration authorities, and on May 14, they launched a water-only hunger strike demanding protected status so they can participate in the ongoing Department of Justice investigation against the traffickers, a Congressional investigation into abuses of the guest worker program, and Indian pressure on the US to protect future workers.

Six more workers joined the hunger strike after a rally at the Capitol Hill Reflecting Pool on Wednesday, bringing the total number of hunger strikers to eleven.

“The Indian workers’ story is emblematic of the way that so-called guest worker programs are actually indentured worker programs,” said Sarita Gupta, Executive Director of Jobs with Justice. “Expanding the H2B visa program would be a disaster both for the American workers it locks out and the foreign workers it locks in.”

Speaking at the rally were New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice director Saket Soni, hunger striker Paul Konar, Father Gerald Nagle of the Franciscan Brotherhood, and Free the Slaves president Kevin Bales.

Jobs With Justice affiliates in Washington, DC; Providence, RI; Buffalo, NY; and Richmond, VA also announced out 24-hour solidarity fasts on Wednesday in support of the workers.

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.

CONTACT: Stephen Boykewich, Media Director, New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice

Mobile: 504-655-0876; email: spboykewich@gmail.com

www.neworleansworkerjustice.org

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2 responses

22 05 2008
Susan Riesel

You are all genuine heroes. How can we help? the people of northern California support you. This is a true human rights struggle right to stop the slavery right here in the U.S. Thank you so much for all your hard work and courage. Susan Riesel Vice President Humboldt All Faith Partnership

11 01 2010
Tinu

This is never going to be a failure.You have undergone all this sufferings not to fail but to win.Mr.Paul Konar is my father.All our prayers are with you.

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