Sunday, May 01, 2011


It’s May Day, not Lei Day—time to cure Hawaii’s slave labor problem

"Slavery and human trafficking are alive and well in the United States"--New York Times

by Larry Geller

Nationwide there has long been a campaign to weaken the meaning of May Day, or to assign it to a celebration held overseas rather than in the USA. But it is very much a part of the American labor movement, and is needed more than ever today. Especially in Hawaii, host to the largest human trafficking lawsuit in the country’s history, and to another that is the largest human trafficking case that the EEOC has ever put forward.

The cases filed in Hawaii, Washington State and Alabama were the subject of the editorial in today’s New York Times:

The United States urgently needs to strengthen protections for guest workers who are lied to by recruiters and tied to employers with too much power to exploit them. Today’s shackles are the threats of deportation and financial ruin. They might as well be iron.

Workers in the new lawsuits may win some money and be eligible for special visas for trafficking victims. But they are only a handful of workers — both documented and undocumented — stranded in a system that accepts their labor but fails to prevent their exploitation.

[New York Times, Standing Up for Guest Workers, May 1, 2011]

America also needs an attitude adjustment with regard to immigration. Hidden in the ellipses in the above snip is this, referring to the EEOC Alabama action:

Sworn testimony in a separate civil lawsuit against Signal International charged that rather than protecting the Indian workers, immigration officials coached the company on how to silence and deport them.

Hawaii’s plantations could not have existed had they paid fair wages. The current criminal and civil lawsuits barely touch on a sad history that we cannot sweep under the carpet with superficialities like renaming May Day to Lei Day. Labor here has suffered immensely.

Hawaii is considered a strong union state, and of course that came by necessity. If there were not already unions, they would have to be invented here. As to the farm labor situation, only seven farms have been implicated so far in the various lawsuits. By the time the cases play out, the number of farms could easily double.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons license.


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