query: Looking for support for organizing in New Bedford after massive raid

colist at comm-org.wisc.edu colist at comm-org.wisc.edu
Mon Apr 16 10:17:51 CDT 2007

[ed:  thanks to Robb for continuing the discussion.]

From: Robb Smith <robt_w_smith at yahoo.com>

I am the Research Director for Community Labor United, a partnership of
seven unions and ten base-building community organizations in Boston,
Massachusetts.  CLU works on joint community/labor campaigns to
increase the power of both sectors in the Greater Boston area.  We
recently released a statement on immigration that was provoked by the
New Bedford raid.  I have included it in-text below.  If you would like
a Word version of it, you can download it at www.massclu.org.  It was
recently published by a community newspaper in Boston.

Robb Smith

CLU's Statement on Immigration
How is it that a raid by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)
Agency in the City of New Bedford, 60 miles away, has shaken so many
Boston residents, native-born and immigrant?  Media coverage of the
March 6th raid has focused on ICE’s inhumane treatment of detained
immigrant workers, and we also condemn that treatment. We are proud of
the unionized social workers who stood up on behalf of the workers
targeted for deportation.  But we want to call attention, further, to
concerns about the New Bedford raid that we have not seen addressed in
the media, and to the raid’s long-term impact on our local communities
and unions.   

Community Labor United (CLU) is a partnership of seven Boston-area,
labor unions and ten community organizations that represent thousands
of low and moderate income people from the Greater Boston area.  CLU
represents Greater Boston residents of all ethnicities, ages and
backgrounds, including groups upholding worker wages and rights, as
well as groups addressing housing, health, environmental justice,
violence prevention and human rights.   

We have experienced the March 6, 2007 raid on the Michael Bianco Inc.
factory as not only an unnecessary assault on a group of exploited
immigrant workers and their families but also as a threat to all
working people, regardless of immigration status.  The criminalization
of this segment of the Massachusetts workforce undermines our ability
to organize in our workplaces and communities, to work together for
decent wages, working and living conditions, and to uphold our civil
and human rights.  We believe this because:    

The workers at the Michael Bianco factory, mostly women from Guatemala
and El Salvador, were arrested while trying to provide for their
families as any hard-working parent would.  They risked their lives
coming to the U.S. because they could not earn a living in their home
countries, largely due to trade agreements initiated by the United
States and wars in which the U.S. intervened.  Most native-born
Americans have immigrant ancestors who came to the U.S. from Ireland,
Italy and elsewhere for similar reasons—war, hunger and unemployment.
Some came with papers and many without--but at a time when there were
few restrictions on immigration.  We ask: Why are these immigrant
workers from Central America being criminalized and punished? 

Workers in the Michael Bianco factory reported substandard wages and
working conditions; being docked pay or suspended for going to the
bathroom; health and safety law violations; non-payment of overtime and
other abuses.  These stories are all too familiar; we know firsthand
that immigrant workers in and around Boston are being abused in many
industries, from construction and cleaning to restaurants.  We ask: In
2007, why are people working under conditions that were unacceptable
100 years ago? 

The City of New Bedford and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts provided
this company with over $50,000 in property tax breaks and even larger
state tax breaks.  Through a $138 million Department of Defense
contract, the Federal government has used our tax money to fund Michael
Bianco’s expansion.  We ask: Why have our local, state and federal
governments used our public dollars to exploit these workers without
any accountability or public outcry? 

The U.S. has a long and sad history of racial fear dividing
native-born, slave and immigrant workers.  Chinese, Irish, Mexican and
African-American workers were excluded from many different parts of the
workforce.  Employers have often used migrant and immigrant workers to
break strikes and undercut wages.  The New Bedford raid by federal
agents, supported by state and local agencies, was the latest in a long
history of attempts to criminalize and scapegoat one group of workers,
and to force their families into the shadows of society.  Divisions
over race and immigration have undercut wages and living standards for
U.S. working people.  We ask: What do working people stand to lose when
this part of the workforce is so easily exploited and criminalized? 

Finally, we strongly believe that there must be a moratorium on
immigration raids while our country works towards an immigration policy
that reflects the needs and concerns of all our communities.   

colist at comm-org.wisc.edu wrote:
> --------
> This is a COMM-ORG 'colist' message.
> All replies to this message come to COMM-ORG only.
> --------
> From: "Kevin Whalen" <kwhalen at tsne.org>
> April 9, 2007
> Dear Co-list,
> We are writing to follow up a previous note about organizing around 
> the ICE raids in New Bedford, MA, and to ask for support from Co-list 
> folks in the New Bedford struggle.
> First, a quick review of the New Bedford crisis: On March 6, more than 
> 300 armed homeland security officers descended upon the Michael 
> Bianco,Inc. factory in New Bedford, MA. Over 360 workers, mostly 
> mothers with
> young children, were swept up in the raid, shackled together in groups 
> of three by their wrists and ankles and marched to buses bound for 
> Fort Devens, 100 miles away. Most of these workers were then shipped out
> to detention centers across the country * in many cases mothers and 
> fathers were separated from their children. These workers had been 
> working in what the government called ‘19th century sweatshop
> conditions.’ Yet the factory owner was collecting on a contract of 
> over $90 million from the federal government to make military vests 
> and backpacks for the troops in Iraq.
> Almost all of the detained workers are Central American * most of them 
> are Mayan from Ki’che’ in Guatemala. Large numbers are from El 
> Salvador and Honduras, and some from Cape Verde and Brazil.
> There’s a community organization that is run by Mayans and other 
> Central Americans in New Bedford called Organization Maya Ki’che’ 
> (OMK). Since 2000, it has been providing services as well as community 
> organizing and leadership development support for its mostly Central 
> American and Mayan constituents. It does things as varied as run an 
> adult soccer league, provide ESOL classes, and offer Mayan weaving 
> classes. It has done successful organizing around police indifference 
> to robberies being committed against Mayans, with workers from other 
> sweatshop-type factories to improve their conditions, with the City to 
> win political changes that improve City treatment of Mayans and other 
> residents. It has helped develop many leaders within the group and 
> community.
> OMK is now overwhelmed as the central group organizing the families of 
> the detained. It works night and day helping folks through this 
> crisis. Staff and board are completely strung out helping hundreds of 
> families
> through this crisis. While OMK is helping people meet their essential 
> needs while they’re out of work and desperate, OMK is also organizing 
> them. OMK brings them together to participate in community meetings,
> develop immigration and labor rights strategies, advocate for 
> immigration reform, etc. OMK plays a pivotal role of trying to bring 
> the workers’ and Central American community’s voice to the advocacy 
> groups and coalitions that support them.
> While OMK’s strength is that it is based in the heart of the Mayan and 
> Central American communities and is led totally by them (all of its 
> board and staff are Central Americans who speak little English), its 
> weakness is that it lacks resources that many community groups take 
> for granted. They struggle to communicate in English (in fact, for 
> most Spanish is the second language to Mayan Ki’che’ and Spanish can 
> be a struggle). They lack the capacity to write reports, press 
> releases, etc. about what is happening. They do not have a 
> sophisticated database where they can store information and use it 
> quickly. They lack the capacity to do strategic public relations work 
> in the wider community. They lack a van that they desperately need to 
> transport people to
> hearings, pick them up when they are released by ICE, bring people to 
> community activities, help people access donated food, etc.
> Here’s a list of things that would be EXTREMELY helpful for OMK:
> 1) A donated (or very cheap!) van that can hold 12-15 people.
> 2) Bi-lingual (Spanish/English) volunteers * including college 
> students * who can help OMK with its work in the English-speaking 
> world. (Contact CSIO at TSNE.org if you are interested)
> 3) A new computer or computers!
> 4) A good copier.
> 5) Monetary (tax deductible) donations to the Michael Bianco Disaster 
> Fund, c/o Sovereign Bank, 1 Sovereign Place, New Bedford, MA 02746. 
> Checks should be made out to ‘Michael Bianco Disaster Fund.’ Donations 
> to this fund go both to support the work of OMK in providing direct 
> material relief to the detainees. For a write up on the fund, please 
> e-mail CSIO at TSNE.org and we can send you more information.
> People who want to support OMK or who want more information can 
> contact Anibal Lucas, Director of OMK, at 508-994-7396 or 
> mayakichee at juno.com You can also contact Center to Support Immigrant 
> Organizing (CSIO) at csio at tsne.org or 617-742-5165. CSIO has been 
> providing capacity building and organizing support for OMK for the 
> past two years. We are trying to help OMK deal with this crisis and 
> also build internal
> systems that ensure OMK and their community grows over the long haul.
> Thanks everybody!
> In solidarity,
> Luz Rodríguez, Ann Philbin and Kevin Whalen, Center to Support
> Immigrant Organizing
> Anibal Lucas, Director, Organization Maya Ki’che’
> _______________________________________________
> Colist maillist  - send messages to Colist at comm-org.wisc.edu
> To change your subscription, go to 
> http://comm-org.wisc.edu/mailman/listinfo/colist
> All messages are archived at http://comm-org.wisc.edu/pipermail/colist/
> Please contact original message authors to request permission to 
> forward messages.

More information about the Colist mailing list