Ruchira Paul on the strikes by workers recruited by creepy post-Katrina gastarbeiter programs:
During our vacation a week ago, my daughter and I stopped by at the New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice. The organization is an advocacy group for workers involved in the reconstruction of New Orleans after the devastation of Katrina. The vast rebuilding effort led the US government to permit recruitment of foreign laborers who were accorded “guest worker” status for the duration of their employment but apparently not the same rights and protection that domestic workers are guaranteed under US labor laws. Lacking safeguards, the foreign workers are ripe targets for exploitation and abuse by contractors.
The Louisiana guest workers group includes citizens of several countries. Among them are a few hundred welders and pipe-fitters from India who were recruited by Signal International, a Marine & Fabrication Company, apparently with the lure of lucrative jobs and immigrant visas. The promise proved to be false and the Indian workers have done the unthinkable – they have launched a strike on foreign soil, demanding justice from the host nation and advocacy from their own embassy spokespersons.
Hundreds of Indian workers will return to DC next week to launch an indefinite hunger strike to demand the federal government investigate the guest worker program and abuse of post-Katrina Gulf Coast workers. Next week’s launch follows a nationwide tour by the workers – sponsored by the New Orleans Worker Center for Racial Justice (NOWCRJ) with support from Jobs with Justice – in March and April that included stops in DC. In late 2006, the workers mortgaged their futures – and $20,000 – on false promises of fortune and green cards by recruiters from marine construction company Signal International.