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NLC’s Kernaghan Urges IAFF Delegates to Take Back Global Economy

International Association of Fire Fighters  |  August 26, 2010  |  Share  |  Source article


This may be the first IAFF Convention where an invited speaker held aloft a pair of Hanes underwear and screamed at the audience. But Charles Kernaghan, Executive Director of the National Labor Committee (NLC), had an important point to make – one that assembled delegates welcomed with hearty applause.

The underwear Kernaghan held was made by an 11-year-old girl in a Bangladesh work camp, toiling 14 hours a day, seven days a week.  When she failed to meet quota she was beaten.  The underwear she helped make would end up on the shelves of Wal-Mart.

Across Bangladesh, China and other countries around the world, millions of humans – many of them children – are being forced to work under conditions that most American workers could not comprehend. 

“These conditions are criminal. These employers are letting these people work themselves to death,” said Kernaghan. Labor rank and file should refuse to accept that human beings are forced to work under slave labor conditions, he said. And equally important, the U.S. labor force cannot compete against countries that allow their populations to toil in sweatshops for pennies an hour.

“Brothers and sisters, we are moving down a dangerous path. Wall Street and global corporations are betting on countries like Bangladesh and China,” said Kernaghan. “The fate of the global economy is coming down to a struggle between two economic models: the U.S. and China.”

Kernaghan noted what IAFF delegates already know: the American worker is the most productive in the world. Last year, American productivity rose 3.9 percent at a time when wages fell 1.5 percent and corporate profits soared 8.5 percent.

“The U.S. unemployment rate stands at 9.5 percent, but that does not count the millions of Americans who have given up on finding work or are underemployed,” said Kernaghan. “We have 27 million American workers on their knees.”

Kernaghan added that major corporations have demonstrated time and again that they care only about productivity and profits, and show little concern about the people who make their products.

“There is someone wrong with us if we accept that children are being abused in sweatshops,” he said.

 Kernaghan explained that he was once a construction worker at the World Trade Center. “Those 343 fire fighters who went into those buildings – it is hard for most of us to fathom such courage. I know that you are professionals and just doing your jobs. But there is dignity, strength and courage in your profession.”

“If we are going to survive as a nation, it is only going to be because of strong unions like the IAFF that stand up and fight,” said Kernaghan.

Following his remarks, Schaitberger said that the IAFF would stand with the NLC in its fight to improve working conditions. “Charlie, we are going to fight this – fight with you. They are not going to mess with us and we are going to join with you to make sure workers are treated with human dignity around the world,” he said.


Please click here for a video of Charlie Kernaghan addressing the 2010 IAFF Convention.

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