On May 10, at the opening of the Excluded Workers Congress’ International Conference on the Human Right to Organize, the NGA had its official launch event, featuring powerful testimonies from NGA member, and the signing of a historic partnership agreement between NGA and the AFL-CIO, marking a new era of solidarity between U.S. workers and foreign guestworkers.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka remarks (excerpts)
Today, the AFl-CIO is proud to be signing partnership agreements with the National Domestic Workers’ Union and the National Guestworker Alliance.
We’re signing these partnership agreements because we can’t rely on the law alone if want to fight for the inclusion of all workers, and we can’t win these battles alone. We have to fight together and take collective action, whether in the streets, at city hall, or at the international labor assembly.
We extend our hand to all organizations here and around the world who are part of the struggle and acting in solidarity. Brothers and sisters, we are all one. When we come together, stand together, and fight together, we will win together.
Remarks by NGA members Daniel Castellanos and Aby Raju
My name is Daniel Castellanos. I am from Peru. I came as a guestworker to the United States after Hurricane Katrina Because a recruiter came to my home and sold me American dreams. 200 of us plunged our families into debt to buy false promises.
They brought us to New Orleans. They forced us to live in a hotel destroyed by the hurricane. They fitted the rooms with bunkbeds and turned the hotel into a labor camp. We worked in horrific conditions. We were tied to our employer. The law does not allow us to work for anyone else. If we escape from the exploitation of our employer we are criminals. What does that sound like to you?
They told us we could not organize, because they would fire us. They told us if we organize they will deport us. We were a captive workforce. They told us we do not have the right to organize. But we could not give up our dignity, so we organized anyway.
My name is Aby Raju. I am a welder. I am from India. After Hurricane Katrina,
a marine company sent recruiters to my country and promised green cards and good jobs. We paid 20,000 dollars. I left my family in India and came because this is the best way I can care for them. But all the promises were false. They brought us to live in labor camps in the South of the United States on company property in a company town.
We were under surveillance, first by the company, then by immigration.
They told us we could not organize, but we held secret meetings. We built our unity.
We organized. We faced retaliation. We went on strike. We escaped from the labor camps. Immigration said we were criminals, but we did not hide. We conducted marches and hunger strikes. We fought a three year campaign, because no one can take away our dignity and our right to organize.
Last year, through the strength of our struggle, we won legal status in this country.
This year, after four years of separation, we won reunification with our families.
This is my wife, and this is my son. They are here with me because we organized when they said we cannot organize.
Today, on the strength of these victories, I am proud to announce—are you ready? Today we are launching the National Guestworker Alliance, the national voice of guestworkers in the United States.
We will transform every workplace, turning exploitation into collective dignity. We will transform the terms of migration in this country to gain first class citizenship.
We will be protagonists in the struggle to expand the right to organize. We will reverse the legacy of retaliation against workers who organize.
I am a member of a workers’ center. I am a member of the labor movement in America. And today I am proud to announce the National Guestworker Alliance is signing a partnership agreement with the AFL-CIO, because US workers and guestworkers have the same dreams for their children, and to achieve those dreams we need to build a strong labor movement.
Together we will build a 21st century labor movement!