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CONTACT: New Orleans Workers' Center for Racial Justice
Number of Indian Hunger Strikers More Than Doubles on Day Eight; First Hospitalization Expected
Indian Families, 4 US Cities Fast In Solidarity As Workers Appeal to US Congress
WASHINGTON, DC - May 21 - On Wednesday, May 21, at 12 noon EST, a hunger strike for justice on behalf of 550 Indian labor trafficking survivors will gain a new surge of strength as six more hunger strikers join the initial five at the steps of US Congress. Workers' families in India and a network of supporters in four American cities will also hold a 24-hour solidarity fast in support of the workers.
The hunger strike, which is aimed in part at gaining continued presence in the US for the workers to participate in a criminal investigation against the US-Indian trafficking ring, also took on a new urgency as the health of one of the original five hunger strikers took a dramatic turn for the worse on Tuesday.
Hunger striker Christopher Glory's blood pressure dropped dangerously low late Tuesday, leading a doctor monitoring the group to warn that he should be promptly hospitalized if his condition does not improve to avoid the risk of his slipping into a coma. Supporters were monitoring him closely Tuesday night.
The other hunger strikers continued to be in high spirits as Day Seven of the fast ended, the first to be spent at the foot of the US Capitol Building. "We believe in our cause. We will fight for justice to the end," said hunger striker Paul Konar.
Meanwhile, workers' families prepared to launch a Wednesday solidarity fast in Cochin in front of the office of Minister for Overseas Indian Affairs Vyalar Ravi. US labor rights group Jobs With Justice also rallied members in four US cities—Washington, DC; Providence, RI; Buffalo, NY; and Richmond, VA—to hold a one-day fast in support of the workers.
"We are proud to support these brave Indian workers," said Sarita Gupta, Executive Director of Jobs with Justice. "Their story is emblematic of the way that so-called guest worker programs are actually indentured worker programs."
The hunger strikers were among more than 550 Indian welders and pipe fitters who paid up to $20,000 apiece for false promises of green cards and work-based permanent residency in the United States. Instead they received 10-month temporary H2B guest worker visas starting in late 2006 and worked at marine construction company Signal International under deplorable conditions.
After spending the first three days in view of the White House in Lafayette Park, the hunger strikers moved on Saturday, May 17, to the Mahatma Gandhi statue in front of the Indian Embassy. Hundreds of American visitors who lined up outside the embassy that day for the first-ever Official Indian Cultural Day spoke to the workers and expressed shock that their own government had abandoned them in their fight to protect future workers. (See photos at www.flickr.com/photos/nolaworkerscenter)
After the rally on Wednesday, a delegation of workers will challenge two US senators who want to expand the H2B guest worker visa program to visit the hunger strikers and confront the abuses of the program.
"We are inviting US Congress to take a hard look at the realities of the guest worker visa program," said Saket Soni, director of the New Orleans Workers' Center for Racial Justice. "Companies like Signal are using the program to replace well-paid US workers with exploitable, temporary guest workers. We invite the senators to come learn the truth from the workers who have lived it."
The workers are members of the Indian Workers' Congress and the Alliance of Guest Workers for Dignity, affiliates of the New Orleans Workers' Center for Racial Justice.
Follow the hunger strike on our text and photo blog: www.neworleansworkerjustice.org.
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WHAT: Indian guest workers deliver invitations to Congressional leaders
WHEN: 12 p.m. Wednesday, May 21, 2008
WHERE: Capitol Reflecting Pool (3rd St between Maryland and Pennsylvania Ave, NW), Washington, DC