A missive arrived in the Palace inbox today from one Ms. Ana Rosa Diaz, describing in vivid detail the working and living conditions in a Third World country. Maybe you have heard of the place? It’s called “Louisiana.”
My name is Ana Rosa Diaz. I’m 40 years old and I have four children. I came to the United States on an H-2B guestworker visa from my home in Tamaulipas, Mexico. I work in a small town in Louisiana with other guestworkers, peeling crawfish for a company called C.J.’s Seafood, which sells 85% of its products to Walmart.
Our boss forces us to work up to 24 hours at a time with no overtime pay. No matter how fast we work, they scream and curse at us to make us work faster. Our supervisor threatens to beat us with a shovel to stop us from taking breaks.
We live in trailers across from the boss’s house, and we’re under surveillance all the time. The supervisors come into our trailers without warning, and they threaten to fire us if we leave after 9 p.m.
The supervisor also locked us in the plant so we couldn’t take breaks. One worker called 911. After that the boss rounded us up at 2:30 a.m., closed the door to keep the American employees out, and threatened our families.
He said, “As a friend I can be very good, but you don’t want to know me as an enemy. I have contacts with good people and bad people, and I know where all your families live. I can find you no matter where you hide.” We were terrified.
We want to work. We need to support our families. But we also want to be treated like human beings.
We joined the National Guestworker Alliance and decided to go on strike. The boss refused to take back his threats against our families, so now we’re taking our demands to Walmart.
Walmart says it doesn’t allow forced labor by any of its suppliers. But Walmart is profiting from the forced labor we lived through right here in Louisiana. And now they’re trying to cover up what happened to us — while three federal investigations are going on — and they’re refusing to speak with us.
The reason I mention this particular missive is that workers — especially young workers, whose entire perception of labor in the Western world is only ever glimpsed through the holes in their bootstraps — should know that Ms. Diaz offers a snapshot of what life is like for the vast majority of workers in a world without strong labor unions, government regulations, or indeed any kind of worker protections. Whenever and wherever wingnut overlords have their way, the picture always looks like this — or worse. Not sometimes. Always.
It takes relentless action by labor activists, reformers, and strong government regulators to prevent child labor, abusive and dangerous sweatshops, and deadly industrial disasters. This is why multinational corporations who answer only to their shareholders and Wall Street bankroll conservative politicians who work tirelessly to destroy unions and undermine regulatory regimes at every turn: they would like nothing more than to see 99% of the U.S. population accustomed to living and working exactly the way Ms. Diaz does. No, I should phrase that more accurately: they would like nothing more than to have 99% of the U.S. population go back to living and working again exactly the way Ms. Diaz does.
If nothing else, this story certainly puts the lie to the conservative article of faith that the “free market” is fair and just, and that those who work the hardest in such an economy are rewarded accordingly. Does anyone seriously think Ms. Diaz or her co-workers would hesitate for one second to trade places with Jamie Dimon, even at their current pay? (Come to think of it, she might do a better job of running JP Morgan Chase.)
Ms. Diaz has started a petition at change.org:
Walmart needs to meet with us immediately, and to show its suppliers that it won’t tolerate forced labor. We’re demanding that Walmart:
1. Cancel its contract with C.J.’s Seafood to show that it won’t profit from forced labor in Louisiana.
2. Sit down with us, the striking workers, immediately as a first step toward a real investigation — rather than a cover-up.
3. Sign the NGA’s Guestworker Dignity Standards to prevent forced labor and guarantee civil and labor rights for guestworkers across the Walmart supply chain.
Please sign the petition if you are so inclined. And just ponder life in the “free market” in light of what employers do whenever they can get away with it. It’s tempting to think the bad old days are all in the past, but this is the present for Ms. Diaz. And it’s looking more and more like the future for the rest of us.