Patrice Riemens on Tue, 11 Mar 2008 19:14:38 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Globalisation Rulez? 100 Indian shipyard workers walk out in Missisipi

Globalisation of the workforce always been a bit abstract to you? Here
a concrete instance of it...

from SAJA Forum/bwo Goanet

HUMAN RIGHTS: Over 100 Indian shipyard workers stage walk out in Mississippi

For several months I've been seeing mention of a job opening for a
Malayalam-and-Hindi speaking paralegal at the Southern Poverty Law
Center, in Alabama. I couldn't imagine what the exact need was, but
much as I tried, I couldn't get a full answer from the people at SPLC.
Clearly, there was some sort of litigation in the works and they
didn't want to tip their hand. All they could say was that there an
"increasing number of Indian guestworkers seeking assistance from our
office with labor trafficking and exploitation as part of a larger
trend that involves recruiting workers from farther away and charging
increased recruitment fees."

Today, we appear to have our answer. Over a hundred Indian H2B workers
at a shipyard in Pascagoula, Mississippi staged a walkout this
morning. The shipyard is run by Signal International, and the workers
contend they've been lured into a human trafficking ring created by
the company in the aftermath of Katrina, which resulted in a severe
worker shortage. They plan to "report themselves to the Department of
Justice as victims of trafficking, and demand federal prosecution of

The walkout was covered by WLOX-TV (click to see a small image of
the walkout), and describes workers symbolically throwing their
hardhats over a fence (picture from flickr) and then singing "We
Shall Overcome" in their "native language." It quotes Saket Soni of
the New Orleans Workers' Center for Racial Justice, who served as an
interpreter for the workers:

    They talk of living "like pigs in a cage" in a company-run "work

    "I've been a guest worker all my life. I've never seen these kinds
of conditions," said the interpreter, "We lived 24 people to a room.
And for this, the company deducted $1,050 a month from our paychecks."

The workers say they paid $20,000 each in order to come to America.
One of the workers, Sabulal Vijayan (a Malayali, presumably), tried to
organize his fellow workers last year and was fired. He then attempted

Here's more from a press release sent to me by Stephen Boykewich, who
works with Soni at the New Orleans Workers' Center for Racial Justice:

    "The chain began in 2006 when recruiters in New Orleans and
Bombay, together with Signal, a Northrop Grumman subcontractor,
used the post-Katrina labor shortage in the Gulf Coast to create a
trafficking racket within the guest worker program that President
George W. Bush wants to expand.

    "Each of us paid $15,000 to $20,000. They promised us green cards
and permanent residency, and instead gave us ten-month visas and made
us live like animals in company trailers, 24 to a room," said former
Signal employee Sabulal Vijayan. "We were trapped between an ocean of
debt at home and constant threats of deportation from our bosses in

    When the workers began to organize last year, Signal sent armed
guards to detain and fire the organizers. A year later, Signal workers
are taking action to protect future workers.

    "The recruiters who defrauded us are collecting money from other
workers right now with the same false promises. We are speaking out to
protect them," said Vijayan, who has testified before a Congressional
subcommittee investigating post-Katrina labor violations on the Gulf

    "The US State Department calls it 'a repulsive crime' when
recruiters and employers in other parts of the world bind guest
workers with crushing debts and threats of deportation," said Saket
Soni, director of the New Orleans Workers' Center for Racial Justice.
"his is precisely what is happening on the gulf Coast."

    The actions will continue through the weekend and next week, so
there will be strong opportunities for coverage after tomorrow...

Signal has denied the charges and issued a statement in which it says
it spent over $7 million to house the workers.

WLOX-TV appears to be the only media outlet to have covered the
walkout. For more information, contact Stephen Boykewich at
504-655-0876. Or email him at spboykewich[at]

Here's are some of the media outlets who picked up on the story after
reading this post:

    * ABC News: "Revolt in Mississippi - Indian Workers Claim 'Slave
    * The Hindustan Times: "Indians treated 'like pigs' in US" (from their
front page)
    * The Times of India
    * Newindpress

Posted by Arun Venugopal at 08:16 PM in Human Rights

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