Support Justice for Migrant Workers

by Paul Garver

Free Kike and Zilly

When a repressive government wants to stifle organizing of migrant workers, it first strikes at those key leaders that are most effective in defending their rights..   

Talking Union posts last year pointed out how the Chinese government was closing migrant workers centers and jailing their volunteers to stifle the wave of organizing among internal migrant workers in China.

Now it appears that migrant worker organizers in Vermont are being targeted by the new Trump administration policies through ICE.

Please respond as quickly as possible to this plea from Migrant Justice. To sign the petition to

Demand the release of detained human rights leaders Kike and Zully!

Go to Migrant Justice website at:  http://migrantjustice.net/free-enrique-and-zully

Enrique “Kike” Balcazar, is a seasoned human rights leader in Vermont. Kike has lived in the state since 2011, when he became one of the many migrant dairy workers who make Vermont’s iconic dairy industry possible. He joined Migrant Justice in 2012, and soon became a spokesperson for his community, helping to lead the successful campaign for driver’s licenses for all Vermont residents. Kike has represented migrant workers at numerous national gatherings and coalitions, including the national Food Chain Workers Alliance, the Northeast Organic Farming Association’s recent convention, and in the Cosecha National Assembly in Boston. He has received an invitation to speak at Harvard University on April 1st.  Kike leads the nationally-acclaimed Milk with Dignity campaign, and is part of the Vermont Attorney General’s task force on immigration. Kike’s infectious smile has cheered all of us who have had the fortune to interact with him.

Zully Palacios is an active member of Migrant Justice. Zully has participated in Migrant Justice Assemblies, learning about the reality that dairy farmworkers face in Vermont. She has been an active member since 2015, leading presentations, participating in activities of an immigrant women’s group, and designing know-your-rights information for the immigrant community. Zully participated in the campaign to secure a commitment from Ben & Jerry’s to join the Milk with Dignity Program. Her work for human rights includes joining meetings and trainings about the rights of workers and immigrants at the national level. In November, Zully went to New York for the Food Chain Workers Alliance’s Justice in the Food Chain Training, and in February, Zully participated in the Cosecha National Assembly in Boston.

On Friday, March 17, Enrique and Zully were leaving the Migrant Justice office in Burlington, when Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents targeted and arrested them. They are now in detention awaiting a court date. Neither has a criminal record. Their targeting appears to be political retaliation for their effective work in defending the human rights of workers and immigrants in this country.

Please sign to send the following letter to ICE Boston Field Office Director Todd Thurlow demanding the immediate release of Enrique and Zully, and calling for their deportation proceedings to be terminated!

Field Office Director Todd Thurlow

DHS/ICE/ERO

Boston Field Office

1000 District Ave

Burlington MA 01802

Director Thurlow:

I am writing to ask you to please grant Prosecutorial Discretion to Jose Enrique Balcazar Sanchez (birth date: 03/09/1993) and Zully Palacios (05/14/1993).

Mr. Balcazar is a seasoned community leader and spokesperson. He has lived in Vermont since 2011, where he is known for his advocacy to improve living and working conditions for all farm workers, particularly migrant workers. Enrique has lived in Vergennes, Burlington and South Burlington, where he has developed strong ties with his neighbors and peers. Mr. Balcazar has shown tremendous solidarity and integrity by traveling the state to listen to farmworkers’ problems, then sharing them with government and corporate leaders to develop solutions. He currently sits on the Vermont Attorney General’s task force on immigration, leads the Milk with Dignity campaign, and led Migrant Justice’s successful campaign to win access to driver’s licenses for all Vermonters.

Ms. Palacios is not a threat to the public or to her community. Rather, she is an outstanding community activist and human rights defender. ICE should not be spending resources keeping Ms. Palacios detained. She is an important figure in her community and her continued detention does harm not only to Ms. Palacios but to the farmworker movement for human rights of which she is a respected and beloved member.

I trust that this request will be promptly considered and that Mr. Balcazar and Ms. Palacios will soon be released.

 

“We, The Workers”: Documentary Shows Tide Turn Against Chinese Labor Activism

China Digital Times

The conviction last September of three prominent labor activists for “gathering crowds to disturb social order” may have marked the final end of an era of “pragmatic authoritarianism” toward labor organization. The shift towards a harder line was captured by director Wen Hai in his new documentary “We, The Workers,” which appeared earlier this month at the International Festival Rotterdam. James Griffiths highlighted the film at CNN last week:

While much has been written about and , Wen’s film offers rare insight into how such collective action is planned and organized, and how hard NGO employees try to stay within the moving goalposts of what activism is permissible in China.

[…] According to Manfred Elfstrom, an expert on China movements at Cornell University, for a long time such groups were tolerated by the government and even occasionally encouraged by local authorities. This all changed in 2015, he said, when “the crackdowns have gotten increasingly severe.”

The sudden shift in attitude caught even Wen off guard. “During the early process, I didn’t realize that it would be a danger and risk for me … to make such a film,” he said.

[… E]ven though the activists work within the law, they often aren’t protected by it. During filming, organizer Peng Jiayong was abducted and savagely beaten, ending up in hospital. Since 2015, dozens of other activists and lawyers have been detained, arrested and harassed.

[…] Wen is optimistic. “Even though now the situation and crackdown is very depressing, in the long term, ’ agency, their ability to defend their rights, and the awakening of their human consciousness is improving,” he said. [Source]

The activists imprisoned last September were accused, in a video shared on Sina Weibo by the Communist Youth League and Global Times, of cooperating with foreign plans to tip China into instability and revolution. In the CNN report, Wen offers a sharply different perspective based on his past work in the Middle East and North Africa, arguing that independent organizations and other civil society groups could offer a vital bulwark against chaos and catalyst for positive social change. “(Peng) Jiayong and the other NGO workers,” he says, “are a very constructive power in rebuilding our society.”

On Twitter, Griffiths described “We, The Workers” as “one of the most inspiring films I’ve seen in years, testament to [the] power of solidarity and resistance.” The trailer:

https://www.youtube-nocookie.com/embed/ndY1294mVDk?rel=0

South China Morning Post’s Clarence Tsui recently described Wen’s various brushes with the Chinese security apparatus, his eventual exile in Hong Kong, and his recent collaborations with activist and “We, The Workers” producer and with artist Ai Weiwei.

Continue reading

Puzder Withdraws!

 

Si Se Puede! We have great news to share with you. News has just broken that Trump’s unqualified, anti-worker nominee to be U.S. Labor Secretary, Andy Puzder, has withdrawn his nomination in the face of growing opposition by senators from both parties.

We hope he chooses for his next nominee someone who believes in enforcing and abiding by the nation’s labor laws.

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CNN: Andrew Puzder withdraws as a labor secretary nominee

(CNN) Andrew Puzder has withdrawn as President Donald Trump’s choice for labor secretary, a source close to Puzder and a senior administration official said.

The decision came as Senate Republicans told the White House he was losing support, a senior GOP source said, adding there were four firm Republican no votes and possibly up to 12.

Puzder needs at least 50 votes to pass with the tie-breaking vote of Vice President Mike Pence, and Republicans only hold control of 52 seats.

Puzder, the CEO of the company that owns the Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. fast food chains, has faced fierce opposition mostly from Democrats in part related to his position on labor issues as well as the fact that he employed an undocumented housekeeper. Continue reading

Labor Strategy in the Age of Trump

by Rand Wilson

King’s strategic advice to striking Memphis sanitation workers is still useful for workers todaymlk-imag

Photo: UFCW (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Adapted from remarks by Rand Wilson on January 16 at the Capital District Area Labor Federation’s 20th Annual MLK Labor Celebration in Albany, New York. In the nearby town of Waterford, 700 workers are on strike at Momentive Performance Materials, while in Green Island, dozens have been locked out at a Honeywell aerospace plant for more than nine months. This article is reposted from Labor Notes.

Toward the end of his life, Martin Luther King Jr.’s thinking about poverty evolved from racial equality to more of a class perspective. He proposed a Poor People’s Campaign to challenge the government to end poverty and a broad coalition to support it.

But building a coalition to back his program for economic justice proved more difficult than he imagined. It made his funders and even his closest advisors nervous. A proposed national march on Washington had to be postponed, and King was growing frustrated.

Sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee, had been trying to get organized and win recognition from the city for years without success. After two workers were crushed to death in one of the garbage trucks, a majority of workers struck on February 12, 1968, for union recognition and a contract.

The strike had been going on for over a month with growing frustration. Incidents of violence were increasing, mostly provoked by the racist and brutal Memphis police.

King recognized that the strike provided an opportunity to demonstrate how the civil rights and economic justice movements could come together at the local level. He proposed bringing the Poor People’s Campaign to Memphis.

Expand the Strike

King first went to meet with the strikers in Memphis on March 18. He spoke to 1,500 workers and supporters. King was well received, and the crowd’s mood was militant and eager for action.

King said, “If America doesn’t use her vast resource of wealth to end poverty and make it possible for all of God’s children to have the basic necessities of life, she too is going to hell.” And he went on to describe how their strike was part of new direction for the civil rights movement:

Now our struggle is for genuine equality, which means economic equality. It isn’t enough to integrate lunch counters. What does it profit a man to be able to eat at an integrated lunch counter if he doesn’t earn enough to buy a hamburger and a cup of coffee?

As the crowd cheered, King saw an opportunity to grow the movement by expanding the strike. He called for a general strike in the city of Memphis! Plans were made and a strike date was set. The tactical escalation was highly controversial.

Unfortunately, due to a freak snowstorm, the strike was called off. Amid growing threats to his life, King hurriedly left Memphis. However, he was not to be deterred and vowed to return.

King returned to Memphis on April 3, 1968, to support the strike again. At a rally with strikers and area clergy he gave his “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech—one of his most famous, and fatefully his last. This is the speech where King predicted his own assassination. (Hear it HERE.)

However, the main subject of the speech was winning the sanitation strike. King advised they should use the power of the boycott, urging that the movement should “always anchor our external direct action with the power of economic withdrawal”:

We don’t have to argue with anybody. We don’t have to curse and go around acting bad with our words. We don’t need any bricks and bottles, we don’t need any Molotov cocktails, we just need to go around to these stores, and to these massive industries in our country, and say, “God sent us by here, to say to you that you’re not treating his children right. And we’ve come by here to ask you to make the first item on your agenda fair treatment, where God’s children are concerned. Now, if you are not prepared to do that, we do have an agenda that we must follow. And our agenda calls for withdrawing economic support from you.

Making Our Pain Their Pain

When workers go on strike, it almost immediately involves personal sacrifice. As the weeks and months go by, that sacrifice becomes real pain inflicted on the strikers and their families. King’s quote from his last speech is particularly relevant to most every strike situation:

Up to now, only the garbage men have been feeling pain; now we must redistribute the pain. We are choosing these companies because they haven’t been fair in their hiring policies; and we are choosing them because they can begin the process of saying they are going to support the needs and the rights of these men who are on strike. And then they can move on downtown and tell Mayor Loeb to do what is right.

King knew the importance of keeping spirits up and sticking together. He said, “We’ve got to give ourselves to this struggle until the end. Nothing would be more tragic than to stop at this point, in Memphis. We’ve got to see it through.”

’Dangerous Unselfishness’

To the clergy and other civil rights supporters, King delivered a powerful message of solidarity: “And when we have our march, you need to be there. Be concerned about your brother. You may not be on strike. But either we go up together, or we go down together.”

Near the end of the speech, King used the “Good Samaritan” parable from the Bible to implore everyone to make even greater sacrifices to help the workers win. He concluded with words that have an uncanny relevance to our time:

Let us develop a kind of dangerous unselfishness… Let us rise up tonight with a greater readiness. Let us stand with a greater determination. And let us move on in these powerful days, these days of challenge, to make America what it ought to be. We have an opportunity to make America a better nation.

King’s strategic advice to the striking Memphis sanitation workers is still useful for workers seeking to improve their lives with direct action today:

  • Once on strike, expand the struggle beyond the immediate company to its corporate allies and suppliers.
  • Use boycotts and economic action to involve supporters.
  • Transform the pain inflicted on strikers to pain inflicted on executives, board members, and investors.
  • Be prepared to stay in the struggle one day longer with “dangerous unselfishness.”
  • And perhaps most importantly, place the struggle in a larger context that challenges elected officials and government at every level to make America a better nation!

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Was a Democratic Socialist

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.by Peter Dreier

As we celebrate his birthday, it is easy to forget that Rev. Martin Luther King was a democratic socialist.

In 1964, accepting the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, he observed that the United States could learn much from Scandinavian “democratic socialism.” He often talked about the need to confront “class issues,” which he described as “the gulf between the haves and the have-nots.”

In 1966 King confided to his staff:

“You can’t talk about solving the economic problem of the Negro without talking about billions of dollars. You can’t talk about ending the slums without first saying profit must be taken out of slums. You’re really tampering and getting on dangerous ground because you are messing with folk then. You are messing with captains of industry. Now this means that we are treading in difficult water, because it really means that we are saying that something is wrong with capitalism. There must be a better distribution of wealth, and maybe America must move toward a democratic socialism.”

In holding these views, King followed in the footsteps of many prominent, influential Americans whose views and activism changed the country for the better. In the 1890s, a socialist Baptist minister, Francis Bellamy, wrote “The Pledge of Allegiance” and a socialist poet, Katherine Lee Bates, penned “America the Beautiful.” King was part of a proud tradition that includes such important 20th century figures as Jane Addams, Eugene Debs, Florence Kelley, John Dewey, Upton Sinclair, Helen Keller, W.E.B. DuBois, Albert Einstein, A. Philip Randolph, Bayard Rustin, and Walter Reuther.

Today, America’s most prominent democratic socialist is Senator Bernie Sanders, a candidate for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination. Like King, Sanders says that the U.S. should learn from Sweden, Norway and Denmark — countries with greater equality, a higher standard of living for working families, better schools, free universities, less poverty, a cleaner environment, higher voter turnout, stronger unions, universal health insurance, and a much wider safety net. Sounds anti-business? Forbes magazine ranked Denmark as the #1 country for business. The United States ranked #18. Continue reading

Strangers Among Us

by Paul Garver

  • atkinsbookcoverimage

Some 200 million workers across the globe migrate across national borders searching for work.

At least 40 million migrants do not have documents allowing them to live or work in their host countries, while millions of others are “guest workers” bound to their employers and subject to expulsion if they are fired.

In the neoliberal global economic order, capital flows freely across the borders that constrain workers.   Whether “guest workers” or undocumented, migrants are among the most vulnerable and exploited people who do the indispensable tasks of feeding and caring for other people.

Like refugees, migrants are often blamed for a host of economic and social ills in the countries that depend on their agricultural, construction or domestic labor.  Politicians looking to score political points from their own xenophobic domestic constituencies find migrants and refugees tempting prey for vicious slanders. Donald Trump is a notorious perpetrator but is far from being the first chauvinist demagogue in the world.

Mexican native Diego Reyes, Sr. works the tobacco and vegetable fields in Sanford, NC.  He is a member of a relatively successful migrant worker organization, the Farm Labor Organizing Committee [FLOC].  As translated by his son Diego Reyes, Jr., a seminarian working for FLOC, he describes a reality all too often experienced by migrant workers in the USA and around the world.

It’s not only in Sanford [N.C.} but everywhere, all this propaganda against immigrants. People feel they’re stealing their jobs, that immigrants are bad people, drug mules, and criminals. It dehumanizes people. It’s not the stealing of jobs. The people came here because of the policies the U.S. implemented in the world.”

The Strangers Among Us: Tales from a Global Migrant Worker Movement documents the harsh conditions faced by migrant workers in Asia, Europe and North America.  Editor Joseph Atkins, a professor at the University of Mississippi, traveled with his wife to such far-flung locales as Singapore, Taipei, Hong Kong, Beijing, and Buenos Aires, where he interviewed key activists supporting migrant worker organizing.  He also solicited contributing chapters from activists and scholars in the UK, Israel, China, Japan and India.  The result is a moving and kaleidoscopic survey of the social justice movements that are helping migrant workers organize throughout the world.

Here are a few examples of the innovative approaches taken by migrant workers and their supporters in various world regions illustrated in this compact and compelling book.
Continue reading

Fight for $15 Protests Launched

by Paul Garver

central-square-protest

Massachusetts State Sen. Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton) was among three dozen demonstrators arrested on Tuesday in Cambridge, participants in one of three planned minimum wage protests in Massachusetts as part of a national “Fight for $15 Day of Action.”

In a statement, Eldridge wrote that he was arrested for civil disobedience while participating in the protest.

“I was arrested this morning in Cambridge for civil disobedience when I took to the streets alongside fast food and airport workers who are asking for a $15 minimum wage,” wrote Eldridge on his blog.”I’m very proud of the brave workers for having the courage to stand up to billionaire corporations and to fight for what they deserve.”

The protesters blocked traffic on Mass. Ave. in Central Square Cambridge early A.M. as part of the early wave of national actions on 29th November.supporting a $15 minimum wage.

[Ed. note: I am proud that Jamie Eldridge is the State Senator from my town. He is a leader of Progressive Democrats, a Sanders delegate and active in organizing to found an Our Revolution organization in Massachusetts.]