Indian slave pipefitters long march to Washington, and a book about modern U.S. slavery

Updates on-> Slavery: Alive and well in USA Pt.2, Indian pipefitters abused in H2B Visa scam, main stream media picks up story full year after facts are released (3/13/08)

From: The International Trade Union Confederation (3/19?/08)

Indian Workers Trafficked to US

Brussels, 18 March 2008: The ITUC has today called on the US and Indian Governments to take action on behalf of nearly a hundred Indian workers who on 10 March protested the trafficking practices they suffered when they were recruited in India only to be exploited on a shipyard in Pascagoula, Mississippi.

The workers are demanding that the U.S. Department of Justice open a criminal investigation against their traffickers and that it act to ensure that future workers and their families do not face the same modern-day slavery. Reportedly, on the same day a law suit was filed on behalf of about 500 Indian dock workers. The 82-page complaint accuses Signal International, a marine construction company, and American and Indian recruiters Malvern Burnett and Dewan Consultants respectively, of subjecting over 500 Indian workers to forced labour, trafficking, fraud and civil rights violations. Full Story

From The Financial Express (3/19/08)
Washington, March 19: More than 100 Indian workers, who alleged that they faced "slave-like treatment" in a Mississippi shipyard after being "tricked" into coming to the US, have began a march from New Orleans to Washington to meet Indian Ambassador Ronen Sen in their search for justice.

The protesters, who alleged that the Indian government failed to protect them, are expected to reach Washington DC on March 26.

"We write in response to your seven-day-long silence, followed by a 97-word letter that adds insult to the workers' injury as survivors of human trafficking. Apparently 18 months of human trafficking merited less than 100 words from you," the workers have said in a letter to Ambassador Sen.

"You leave us no choice but to launch a satyagraha so that the truth will come to light and justice will be served," they added.

"My doors are always open to any of my fellow citizens of India," Sen had said in a letter to Saket Soni of the Alliance of Guest Workers for Dignity.

"I am willing to receive you and other Indian workers at my office at a mutually convenient date and time to see how legitimate grievances and concerns could be met," Sen had said in the March 17 letter making also the point that a report submitted by senior Indian officials on the matter is being examined.

The Indian workers have made a number of demands including asking the Ambassador to pressurize the State Department to restrict travel to India for their employer Signal Internationals US recruiters.

They also want India to put pressure on the US government to halt any expansion of the guest worker program until both governments have adopted an agreement that reflects the interests of workers, as well as Companies and recruiters.

"These workers received a harsh education in the caste system of the United States," said Soni, also Director of the New Orleans Workers' Center for Racial Justice.

"The Indian government must look these workers in their face and decide: On what terms is India willing to send its citizens to become indentured servants in the United States?" he said in a statement.

The workers quit their job in a Mississippi shipyard and sued the employer demanding "tens of millions of dollars" in damages for allegedly bringing them to the US on a false promise of permanent residency and forcing them to work under inhuman conditions.
The Next Book I'm Gonna Purchase
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From the pages of Alter-Net: Slavery Is Alive and Well in the U.S. (11/07/08) Excerpted

What do you call it when those who cross the Mexican-U.S. border get charged thousands of dollars for a ride to a job where their employer makes them pay rent for unspeakably bad living conditions and board for the food they can only buy at the company store and where that employer patrols with dogs, trucks and thugs so the workers can't leave?

John Bowe calls it slavery. And it's happening in the United States right now, he says. Bowe's newest book, Nobodies: Modern American Slave Labor and the Dark Side of the Global Economy, makes the case using three specific cases and geographical areas to show just how much workers in the U.S. get undermined and hurt by these practices.
Interview with author by Suzi Steffen, AlterNet. Same article, excerpted
SS: Do you see American unions helping in this fight for ending slavery? What could they do, and why should they do it?

JB: Well, the unions have caught up and gotten much smarter in the last 10 years. At first they'd be thinking anti-immigrant, and now, it's better for them to focus on, "If you're in this country, and you're working, this is how much you're supposed to be paid," and enforce the labor laws.

But unions have gotten a bad name, and money and corporations have done a lot to give them a bad name. Perhaps it will be tough going for unions until the economic inequality in the U.S. and around the globe gets worse, but eventually it will get bad enough so unions will look like a good idea again. The reason I wrote my book was to help people choose between the imperfections and current uncoolness of unions -- and the endpoint of the current trend towards inequality. Would you rather be in a union? Or would you rather be unpaid entirely and treated far worse?

SS: The middle section of your book concerns the bizarre abuse of "training" programs, in this case for a group of welders from India. What other abuses have you heard about of this program, and how can the government or ordinary citizens help stop this abuse?

JB: Guest worker problems are bad, period. Go all the way back to the colonies and indentured servants from Germany, in which there was tons of abuse, up to the Bracero Program and the people brought to cut sugar cane. There's just always abuse. Guest worker programs don't work. I'm much more liberal than many people on the issue of admitting foreigners to become legal citizens of the U.S., but I'm probably much more conservative than most people I know about illegal immigration. Enforcement against employers who hire illegal citizens should be funded to the fullest possible levels. You can't have a fair or democratic society without the rule of law, and in my opinion, laws formed around the idea that we're all equal are wonderful. Don't have these halfway citizens. Having people around who have half rights leads to abuse.

SS: You mention that people have a hard time calling coerced work "slavery." Why is that?

JB: Because it hasn't happened to them. I had a hard time at first, I just didn't get what was the essence of slavery. It is a very complicated subject; thousands of people are earning their living writing about it. But really, it's as creative as any form of art. There are so many different tortures, punishments, rules; so many ways of convincing the slave this is the correct order of things. Someone else has control over you.

Some people said to me, "We're all slaves to consumer ideology," but you can't go throwing terms around. "Slavery" doesn't mean "suffering," or working at a job that's a bummer, or depressing or whatever. It means someone is hurting you or threatening to hurt you or your family, and they are forcing you to work, and you can't leave.

SS: How should media folks be responding to your work and to the conditions of inequality we see all around us?

JB: There's a fable where the king hired people to go out and circulate among the people and find out what was going on -- that's how journalism in a free country should work. But instead we're blinded by Britney getting fat, and we don't hear anything about regular life -- and no one really cares about it. Journalism about the poor is always done in this boo-hoo way. You have to go out and write about poor people, yes, but you have to be really good at it to make people find it interesting. No one wants to be sorry for people.

So get off your ass and get off your desk and get out there. Forget about the internet. Forget about other media. Go out into the real world. Go to places you don't know, talk to people you don't understand, whom you fear. Ask them what the world looks like through their eyes. Start from there. Surprise yourself.

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