Letter from African American activists in solidarity with Mexican guest workers
|Letter from African American activists in solidarity with Mexican guest workers organizing against slave-like conditions
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
WE ARE WRITING TO ask you to contribute to a strike fund for thirty Mexican "guest workers" who are courageously organizing against the slave-like conditions in the strawberry fields of Amite, Louisiana. Their boss has seized their passports, is paying them sometimes as little as $2 an hour, and has threatened them with deportation if they stretch or use the bathroom.
On Valentine's Day, workers walked off the fields to reclaim their dignity. In solidarity, a delegation of African Americans attempted to conduct a citizen's arrest of their boss, Charles "Bimbo" Relan, because he is violating the federal laws that define slavery, peonage, human trafficking, and servitude in the United States. We read him his rights, and told him he was violating the laws our ancestors fought for. Bimbo struck back: he was forced to return the passports but fired the workers and illegally evicted them. The workers are continuing their fight. And they need our support.
The workers are members of the Alliance of Guest Workers for Dignity, a Gulf-Coast wide organization led by guest workers who have arrived to work in horrific conditions after Hurricane Katrina.
For coverage of the unfolding drama in Amite on Valentine's Day go to:
The thirty men come from the indigenous community of San Luis Potosin, in Mexico, to work for Bimbo's Best Produce, Inc. US trade agreements have destroyed their economy and forced these men to become cheap, exploitable workers. Recruiters in Mexico promised them the American dream, with one catch: they'd have to pay almost a thousand dollars in recruitement fees. They paid, and were brought to Amite, Louisiana on H2A visas in a bus that dropped them off at a Walmart in the middle of the night last winter. Then they found out that all the promises recruiters had made them were false: steady jobs, decent wages, good conditions - none of it was true. They realized they had been trafficked to the fields of Amite.
Relan confiscated their passports to hold them in his fields. He forced them to work for sometimes as little as $2 an hour. Strawberries are back-breaking work - they men were bent down over bushes for hours. When they stopped to stretch, Bimbo yelled that he would deport them back to Mexico. They weren't given water, or allowed to use the bathroom. Under US law, these men can only work for Bimbo. Guest workers can only work for one employer. So they had a choice: work under slave-like conditions, or go back to Mexico to joblessness and poverty.
So they decided to organize. The workers invited us to a meeting and described their conditions. We told them: as African Americans we recognize what you're describing, and we are with you. The next day the workers walked off the plantation to demand their dignity. We charged their boss with federal crimes. He returned their passports, but told them he would not change the working conditons. Just before midnight on Valentine's Day, the workers went on strike, refusing to return to the degrading treatment in his fields.
The workers now need your support to continue in their struggle. In the coming days, they will pressure the FBI, the Department of Justice, and governments of the US and Mexico to take action. Bimbo, meanwhile, has fired them, evicted them, and intimidated them. The workers are now in hiding, in New Orleans.
Please make a contribution to the strike fund we are organizing for these workers. You can make checks out to: National Immigration Law Center and can be mailed to: National Immigration Law Center, 3535 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 2850 Los Angeles, CA, 90010.
The Alliance of Guest Workers for Dignity is a project of the New Orleans Workers' Center for Racial Justice. For more information about the campaign you can contact Saket Soni, Director, New Orleans Workers' Center for Racial Justice, at 504 881 6610.
Ted Quant, labor activist and teacher, New Orleans
Damien Ramos, organizer in the homeless community, New Orleans
Gerald Lenoir, Coordinator, Black Alliance for Just Immigration
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