October 15, 2002

Shah Makhdum Tour 2002

Bangladeshi Workers Tour 2002

From September 23 to October 15, Lisa Rahman, a Shah Makhdum factory worker, and Mahamuda Akter, a worker in the MNC garment factory toured America with Sk Nazma of the Bangladeshi Worker Solidarity Center, NLC Director Charles Kernaghan, and NLC Senior Associate Barbara Briggs.

Here are Barbara's updates from the road:

Bangladeshi Workers Tour Update # 1

September 24, 2002

The Bangladeshi workers tour opened yesterday in Roanoke, VA with a meeting of 150 members of the United Steelworkers of America, District 8. Vice President Billy Thompson introduced the workers. CBS's local affiliate covered the event. The women's testimonies were very moving-everyone came up afterward to shake their hands and tell them how courageous they were, and to take their pictures to bring back to their locals. And people responded with great enthusiasm to the new coalition Campaign to Abolish Sweatshops and Child Labor.

The Steelworkers' Rapid Response Network is committed to working on the new campaign. Today began with a Financial Times interview and ended with an interview at the local NPR station in Roanoke. Now, we're on the road to Washington, and then Philadelphia, New York, Detroit"

Bangladeshi Workers Tour Update # 2

September 29, 2002

September 24, Washington, DC:
The workers spoke to a meeting of national women's organizations organized by Donna Edwards of the Arca Foundation at the Washington Hotel. The response was enthusiastic. Working together with these women's organizations will break new ground for the Abolition of Sweatshops and Child Labor. At the meeting were Coalition members from TransAfrica Forum, United Students Against Sweatshops and the International Labor Rights Education Fund. Ira Arlook did excellent outreach. In Washington the delegation did interviews with the Washington Post, New York Times, National Public Radio, Agence France Presse and Gannett.

We learned from a reporter that Disney claims to have secretly visited the Shah Makhdum factory five times in the course of 2001 and did not find a single violation. (Who could possibly be doing their monitoring?)

September 25, Philadelphia:
At Saint Joseph's University, a Jesuit school in Philadelphia, 200 students received the delegation. At one point, the testimony of Lisa, the worker for Disney and Shah Makhdum, was so powerful that the translator and many in the audience were in tears. The students are on fire. After the event, dozen students surrounded the delegation--including several fraternity leaders who want to order the Disney-sweatshop t-shirts. They immediately began making plans to leaflet Disney's Icescapades when it comes to Philly. A large group of high school students also came to the event and will be part of the campaign. The St. Joe's event was taped and we will soon have copies for anyone who would like one.

That evening Jobs with Justice organized a lively meeting at the Postal Workers hall in downtown Philadelphia. As we were leaving, the meeting continued to discuss outreach and to coordinate campaign activities.

September 26, Villanova:
The delegation spoke at Villanova University--even at 10 in the morning, 60 students and faculty members came to hear from the delegation. Here too, the response was electric and we came away with a stack of new contacts seriously wanting to work on the campaign. They will coordinate with the St. Joe's students and with Jobs with Justice.

September 27, New York:
The day started with an interview at WBAI Pacifica radio followed by a labor-religious breakfast at Judson Memorial Church. Coalition members from NYPIRG, United Methodist Church Women's Division, People of Faith Network and the National Labor Committee were joined by representatives of the NY Labor-Religion Coalition, Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility and several other unions and religious groups.

That afternoon the Bangladeshi workers and Charles Kernaghan did a live, interactive video broadcast with a high school in Kodiak, Alaska.. This was the first time we have done anything like this. The students had terrific questions. To our surprise, we found out that they have worked on many past campaigns on Disney and Wal-Mart, and are deeply committed to this one.

That night the workers joined a whole group of SCALE students painting posters for Saturday's demonstration.

September 28, New York:
The first demonstration in front of a Disney store was a great success. About 200 people showed up -despite the fact that our phones have been down for the last 10 days. The demonstration was loud, fiery and enthusiastic. UPN 9 TV covered the event, as did Bloomberg radio and several Bangladeshi journalists. People came away really excited, many saying they want more demonstrations.

Bangladeshi Workers Tour Update # 3

October 3, 2002

Detroit, Monday, September 30:
The Interfaith Committee on Worker Justice did it again. They brought out over 120 people to a "Lunch and Learn" meeting, and it was an incredible mix of local Steelworker presidents, inner city high school kids, Bishop Gumbleton, UAW leaders & members of the religious community. It was the true face of the Coalition. Following the "Lunch & Learn" we marched on Disney's "Aida"--where the billboard announced: "Disney does it again!" The UAW's "Solidarity" magazine will cover the Detroit events, the tour, and the new Coalition. The local NBC affiliate also sent crews to both the meeting and demo. The Detroit coalition is committed to running with the petition and campaign.

That evening the tour went to Findley, Ohio for a meeting organized by United Steelworker Local 207. Along with the Steelworkers from Cooper Tire, the meeting was attended by other Steelworker locals, UAW locals, the local AFL-CIO Central Labor Council president and people from the community. The Bangladeshi workers and the new Coalition made it onto the front page of Findley's staunchly republican local newspaper--The Courier--in an excellent article. Local NBC tv news covered the Findley event as well. Local 207 president Frank Cline is on fire...the petition is really going to move.

Cincinnati, Tuesday, October 1:
At Ursuline Academy--a very prestigious Catholic girls school, more than 200 students sat on the floor crammed into a small chapel and seemed mesmerized by the workers. The school already has a Free the Children /Anti-Sweatshop Committee, and they told us that this was exactly what they needed to build their committee. The students were deeply moved, they are into this campaign. The faculty are 100% supportive. For us it was a very important event.

That afternoon we spoke at Xavier University to some 75 students and faculty. The Business School is very interested in introducing the issue of human rights and worker justice into their core curriculum. Once again, many of the students committed themselves to the campaign, especially the Dorothy Day chapter on campus. A faculty member who was meeting with a labor-religious-student-community coalition in Cincinnati that night was taking the Coalition's petition and legislative agenda, along with the Disney campaign, to this meeting and told us he believes they will adopt this campaign.

A columnist from the Cincinnati Enquirer will be interviewing a number of the high school and college students regarding the impact the tour has had on them.

Wednesday, October 2-Nashville:
PACE (Paper, Allied-Industrial and Chemical and Energy Workers International Union) organized a press conference at its headquarters. Leanne Anderson, executive assistant to PACE president Boyd Young, and Tim Waters representing the Steelworkers introduced the new Coalition and the Bangladeshi Workers Tour. Coverage was excellent--2 radio stations, one of them local NPR, and 2 newspapers including The Tennessean, the state's major paper.

The press conference was immediately followed by a lunchtime teach-in organized by Jobs with Justice with some 125 people participating, from PACE, USWA, SEIU, UAW, Boilermakers, the local CLC president, and people from the religious community. As in Detroit, this meeting was the true face of the Coalition. Organization after organization pledged to move the petition through their membership. In a post-meeting discussion, the idea was raised that we should now begin building a campaign Endorsers List.

Tomorrow it's on to Indianapolis and Gary, Indiana--then on to Chicago and Los Angeles...

Bangladeshi Workers Tour Update # 4

October 15, 2002

United Steelworkers hosted a lively lunch meeting with well over 100 unionists, joined by the president of the Central Labor Council and students from Butler College. While a large group went to demonstrate in front of a Disney store-unfurling a banner inside the mall-the Bangladesh delegation addressed 400 delegates at an International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers convention. In both meetings, there was tremendous enthusiasm for the legislative campaign. The USWA event was covered by the local NBC station and the USWA's Steel Labor news magazine.

East Chicago-another great United Steelworkers event at Local 1010. In the heart of what was once a booming steel industry on the shores of Lake Michigan, the local's president Tom Hargrove hosted a meeting with its members and people from the community. More than 80 people showed up, including ministers and high school students. No one wanted us to leave, and questions kept pouring in. People went away excited and energized. The local PBS station covered the event.

Loyola University: Loyola Students Against Sweatshops and faculty organized a noontime meeting, which--despite a torrential downpour and a fire alarm that required the evacuation of the building--drew well over 100 students. This was followed by a meeting with USAS representatives at Loyola and the University of Chicago. The students are definitely committed to keeping the campaign going. There is great excitement--for both the Disney campaign and the No More Sweatshops legislative campaigns.

At 5:00 p.m., 35 students hit Michigan Avenue for a very lively and effective demonstration in front of the Disney Store in downtown Chicago. The events were covered by the Chicago Tribune. Interviews were also done with local NPR affiliate WBEZ's highly popular "Worldview" program and the Loyola University radio station.

The campaign message is really beginning to get out--through the events, demonstrations and the media.

Women's and reproductive rights funders meeting: The women from Bangladesh were very well received, and there was a lot of interest in the campaign. The link between women's health and reproductive rights and the protecting the rights of women workers was clearly drawn. (Of the 1.6 million garment workers in Bangladesh, 85 percent are young women between the ages of 15 and 25.)

Winnie the Pooh sides with the workers: The Slesinger family that owns Pooh copyright sided with the workers from Bangladesh, saying that they did not want their Pooh to be made by workers who were abused, beaten, paid starvation wages and treated like animals. They want their Winnie the Pooh made by workers who are treated with respect, and who are paid at least subsistence-level wages so they can live with decency.

Eighty-one year old Shirley Slesinger Laswell-who negotiated directly with Walt Dsiney himself, giving Disney the license to produce Winnie the Pooh products-was in tears as Lisa Rahman testified. At the time, Walt Disney assured Ms. Slesinger that her Pooh would be in good hands with Disney.

Now Pooh's owners want Disney to return its work to the Shah Makhdum factory while guaranteeing that the rights of the women workers are respected and that they are paid fair wages. They are willing to participate in a meeting with Disney to help resolve this crisis.

The press conference was covered by NBC TV's "Celebrity Justice" and by Fox News. ABC News was there, but for some reason did not air the event. AP put out a wire story and their was more coverage in the Los Angeles Times.

Disney's response was that in Bangladesh one can live on $20 a month-which is utterly absurd.

Later, the Bangladeshi workers together with Tom Hayden, Sweatshop Watch, the Garment Workers Justice Center and others testified at the LA City Council in support of a No-Sweat procurement law introduced by Councilman *** Garcetti. Two days later the bill was unanimously endorsed by all 14 members of the City Council-and now enters a 90-day discussion period dealing with disclosure, monitoring and enforcement. This is already a huge victory in the sweatshop capital of America.

All Saints Episcopal Church/Pasadena-over 200 members of the congregation and members of the broader community participated in a lively meeting with the Bangladesh delegation, Sweatshop Watch, Fair Trade Campaign, Occidental College, SweatX and others. There was great excitement and commitment to both the Disney campaign and legislative campaign. The No More Sweatshops coalition is definitely growing.

Winnie the Pooh, joined by a group of demonstrators went right to the Magic Kingdom's front door, holding up banners, handing out leaflets and talking with parents and their kids visiting Disneyland about Disney sweatshop abuses. Somewhat surprisingly, the Orange County Register (which is the 2nd largest paper in the LA area) covered the demo.

That evening, people packed the room at Saint Joseph's parish house in Annaheim, including high school students, St. Joseph's nuns, members of the Muslim community and many others. A Unitarian social justice committee is planning to hold a candlelight vigil in front of the main entrance to Disneyland. High school students want to wear Disney campaign t-shirts into Annaheim's Disney Store and set up petition-signing tables at their schools

Two good meetings with students at UCLA. Many of the students were literally in tears when they heard the Bangladeshi women tell their stories.

That night, Winnie the Pooh and a group of demonstrators showed up at a Disney Store in Beverly Hills to tell the truth about Disney's dungeons. A security guard at the mall came over to ask what it was about and was so disgusted he signed up to join the campaign.

The day started with an interview with Boston Globe journalist Diane Lewis. The article will appear in next Sunday's edition. From there we went to Brandeis University, where the Brandeis Students for Social Justice organized a meeting of some 190 people-despite the fact that it was a Friday afternoon, Columbus Day weekend and Parents Weekend. It was a very powerful event-many of the students were moved emotionally, and the group feels that this will certainly help them build their chapter. Afterwards the Bangladeshi workers met with the president of the university and the director of the center for women's studies. Then the president of the student body and another leader of the students for social justice accompanied the delegation to Boston College, where over 100 student activists of BC's Global Justice Project came together for a working meeting to discuss how to support the Bangladeshi workers, how to push Disney to do the right thing and how to move the broader legislation. This is one of the largest, most committed and consistently active groups that we have seen anywhere in the country. Now links have been forged between the student groups at Boston College and Brandeis. On both campuses the student newspapers covered the events.

Today at Hampshire College, students organized the first ever Northeast regional meeting of high school organizations and activists who oppose sweatshops and child labor. Again, despite the fact that it was a rainy Sunday and the Columbus Day weekend, over 100 students participated from Vermont, New York State, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Maryland and Maine. The conference was organized by CLEA (Child Labor Education and Action) of Vermont with help from CAUSE (Campaign Against Unjust Sweatshop Exploitation) of Rockland County, NY and SCALE (Student Committee Against Labor Exploitation) of New York City. USAS (United Students Against Sweatshops) participated, and there were breakout sessions to discuss how to move the work forward. These students were awesome! It really filled the Bangladeshi workers with hope. And this is just beginning-they have established an activist listserve and action network.

CAUSE high school students demonstrate at Disney store: At the end of the high school anti-sweatshop conference the CAUSE students told us they wanted to start working on the Disney Campaign right away--and they did. The very next day, Columbus Day, at Palisades Center Mall in Westchester--the 10th largest mall in the country--20 high school students belonging to CAUSE paraded through the mall to the Disney store, two of them dressed as Mickey and Minnie Mouse, handing out flyers, carrying signs and calling upon Disney to do the right thing. The Bangladeshi workers joined the demo. After security guards led us out, we paraded around the parking lot and rallied at the main entrance to the mall. It was great. These students are awesome. The Westchester Journal covered the protest.