Sunday, September 9, 2007

MIRA! and the Struggles of Guest Workers in Pascagoula, MS.

One of my first stops on my Summer travels in the South was Pascagoula MS., were I meet with members of MIRA! (The Mississippi Immigrant Rights Alliance). MIRA! Organizer Socorro Leos was kind enough to spend a day talking with me about the struggles of workers in Pascagoula, post-Hurricane Katrina. Socorro is herself an immigrant worker who was displaced by the storm and has been struggling with city officials to allow her to continue to live in this bustling industrial city. Pascagoula was the site of a major successful strike by members of IBEW at the Northrop Grumman Shipyards this past Spring. But the port city has also become famous for producing some of the most egregious cases of the exploitation of guest workers (H2B program workers) in recent years. The numbers of guest workers in the shipyards and docks of the Gulf Coast has dramatically increased post-Katrina, and so has the level of disregard for these worker's basic human rights. A recent attempt by Indian guest workers at Signal international, a subcontractor of Northrop Grumman, to protest their retched living conditions resulted in the attempted firing and forced deportation of a number of these workers and the attempted suicide of one of the fired workers. These workers had basically been tricked by recruiters with promises that they would be placed in high skilled, high paying jobs, and have the opportunity to become permanent residents in the U.S. Instead they received wages below industry standards and were forced to level in metal sheds, packed in like sardines – as many as 20 to a room the size of a small trailer. They were allowed only limited access to the world outside company grounds and were detained by armed guards of the company when they complained about their living conditions. Luckily, through the efforts of MIRA! and other organizations, these workers were allowed to leave Signal, without facing deportation.

Above you can see the small windowless metal boxes, "tool sheds" as Socorro calls them, that guest workers at Signal International are forced to live. You can also see a photo of Socorro and one of the injured guest workers who is currently fighting for compensation for his workplace injury. His case is procedding very slowly as the company refuses to take any responsibilty.

In this following audio, you will here Socorro describe to me her own struggles to survive in Pascagoula, as well as the struggles faced by H2B workers, as she drives me around town to see the various facilities at which these workers work and live. You will also hear in the background the steady sound of falling rain on Socorro's car window and the distant sound of Mexican music emanating from her car stereo…

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