H-2B Workers Launch Hunger Strike
Workers allege they were lured to the U.S. under false pretenses.
From ImmigrationProf Blog
May 12, 2008
[Indian Guest Workers, Survivors of Labor Trafficking Launching
Hunger Strike in Front of White House to Demand Protection Under the
Trafficking Victims Protection Act]
On Wednesday, May 14th, a group of Indian guest workers
who broke an 18-month US-Indian labor trafficking chain earlier this
year launched a hunger strike to demand that the US government grant
them Continued Presence in the United States under the Trafficking
Victims Protection Act to participate in an ongoing Department of
Justice investigation into alleged labor trafficking by Northrop
Grumman subcontractor Signal International and US and Indian recruiters.
More details at
A group of five Indian workers have launched a hunger strike in
front of the White House demanding a US Congressional investigation
into their “exploitation” by American companies.
The five workers who began the “water only” protest at Lafayette
Park opposite the US presidential mansion Wednesday were among more
than 500 Indian welders and pipe fitters who allegedly paid up to
$20,000 apiece for false promises of green cards and work-based
permanent residency in the US.
Seeking “justice from their former employer Signal International and
Indian and US recruiters”, the workers union claimed the support of the
American Federation of Labourers-Congress of Industrial Organizations
“The AFL-CIO and its 10 million members are proud to support the
hunger strike by these Signal workers, and their campaign to shed light
on the abuses of the US Government’s H2B guest worker programme,” Jon
Hiatt, general counsel for the AFL-CIO, was quoted as saying.
“We know the US is a powerful country, and we know that Signal is a
powerful company. That is why we are asking the Indian government to
support us as we stand here with our lives shattered,” said hunger
striker Muruganantham Kandhasami.
The protesters will move to the statue of Mahatma Gandhi in front of
the Indian Embassy here Saturday. On May 21, 15 more hunger strikers
will join the fast, followed by another 15 on May 28, the organisers
“If we, the workers of India, can have the courage to talk to US
Congressmen and US federal authorities, then surely the Indian
government can do the same so that no other Indian worker suffers as we
did,” the workers’ statement said.
“The Indian government needs to show the kind of courage with the US
that it showed in labour talks with Malaysia and Bahrain,” said Sony
Sulekha, who is on hunger strike. “If we could sit down and talk with
the US Congressmen, we believe our leaders can too.”
“This hunger strike is a last resort,” said Saket Soni, a worker’s
advocate who directs the New Orleans Workers’ Centre for Racial Justice.
The workers are demanding that Indian parliamentarians press their
US counterparts for a Congressional investigation into abuses in the US
guest worker visa programme.
They also want the ministries of foreign affairs and overseas Indian
affairs to press the US State Department to secure the workers’ right
to participate in a human trafficking investigation into Signal
International and its American and Indian recruiters.
“Indian envoy to the US Ronen Sen offered the workers only symbolic
reassurances and apologies for protocol. Now they are risking their
lives in the hope that the Indian government will find the courage to
pressure the US government to grant them dignity, and protect future
workers,” Soni said referring to a meeting with the envoy in March.
They had among other things demanded a Central Bureau of
Investigation (CBI) probe into their case. Sen gave the workers a
patient hearing and promised to take up their grievances but only
though appropriate and established channels.
Coming to Washington, after a nine-day satyagraha, or “journey for
justice” from New Orleans, the workers had in March taken their protest
to the White House where they raised slogans and tore up photocopies of
their H-2B visas in a symbolic rejection of the guest worker programme.