Wednesday 12 March 2014

Philadelpian Mill Children March Against Child Exploitation

According to the 1900 U.S. Census, at the turn of the century in states like Alabama, the official percentage of male child slavery was close to 60%. Moreover, a contemporary New York Times article reported that due to deliberate employer underestimation, the number of child “workers” was most likely between 2 and 3 million. As the children of the wealthy were receiving ever more education, with many, consequently, taking until twenty-six and twenty-eight to enter into their professions, the children of the working class were increasingly being sought as cheap labor for sweatshops.

In 1903, Mary Harris “Mother” Jones, a prominent socialist and labor organizer, traveled to Kensington, a neighborhood in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. At the time, between 75,000 and 125,000 textile workers were striking for better pay and a fifty-five-hour workweek. According to Mother Jones, at least ten thousand of the strikers were children.

Mother Jones was distraught by the condition of the children she met. Some were missing fingers and thumbs, others were missing entire hands, and many looked malnourished. Though state law prohibited children from working before the age of twelve, the law was poorly enforced and mothers routinely lied about the ages of their children because they were in desperate need of income and many had husbands who had been killed or maimed in the mines. According to these mothers, “it was a question of starvation or perjury.”

With more than 120,000 officially reported child slaves, most of whom were employed in coal mining or manufacturing, Pennsylvania employed the most children of any state in the nation. What’s more, at that time 1,161,524 children were officially enrolled in Pennsylvania schools, but average daily attendance was only 847,445, leaving 314,079 children unaccounted for. But Mother Jones knew where these children were, slaving at the mines and factories. Furthermore, one investigation reported that the average hours of labor for children in Pennsylvania was approximately eleven hours a day and sixty hours a week for compensation of about $2.50 a week (equivalent to the purchasing power of about $60 in 2010). Many children worked sixty-five hours a week, and in some towns, children were required to work as much as fifteen hours a day, from 6 am to 9 pm, with just a half hour for lunch and a half hour for dinner.

When Mother Jones inquired as to why the newspapers neglected to report the facts about child labor in Pennsylvania, she was informed that the employers of those children had stock in the newspapers. Her response: “Well, I’ve got stock in these little children and I’ll arrange a little publicity.”

On 7 July, the 65-year-old Mother Jones organized a group of nearly two hundred laborers, including dozens of juvenile mill workers, to march to New York in order to raise funds in support of the striking textile workers and bring attention to the injustices of child slavery.

Tuesday 11 March 2014

Las Patronas: Mexican Women's Group Aiding Migrants

Norma Romero Vázquez, director of Las Patronas,
receives National Human Rights Award from
President Enrique Peña Nieto

Norma Romero Vázquez, member of Las Patronas—a group of women who work in support of migrants who cross Mexico on their way to the United States—regrets how “Mexico has become fractured,” marked “by violence, impunity, apathy, discrimination, and by the lack of real opportunity.”

Upon receiving the National Prize for Human Rights from the hands of President Enrique Peña Nieto, the activist maintained that “rather than advancing, we have deteriorated, because the idea of progress sustained by taking advantage of those who have less is nothing more than a violation of human rights.”

On Thursday afternoon Romero Vázquez received a medal, acknowledgment, and a cash prize for her work helping undocumented migrants. 

Day in and day out, a group of 14 people, including her, give food and water to foreign migrants who travel hanging on to The Beast—the cargo train—when they pass through Amatián, Veracruz. She also deplored how, in reality, migrants are not considered as people, “but as merchandise that can be exchanged, negotiated, and eliminated without thought.”

Thursday 6 March 2014

“My wife and children didn’t pass away. They were murdered by Europe”

By Boštjan Videmšek, Athens

Wasim Abu Nahi, 36, a Syrian refugee of Palestinian descent, recently underwent an almost indescribable personal tragedy.
It came to pass on July 21, as Turkish traffickers dropped him off on the cliffs in front of the Greek island Samos, accompanied by his thirty-year-old wife Lamise, his four-year-old son Oday and his tiny daughter Layan, who was nine months old.
Since the Greek coast guard refused to provide assistance, and since his wife was injured and both his children were exhausted and dehydrated, Wasim left them behind to search for water, food and any help he could get. He was soon arrested and imprisoned by the local police, who refused to even listen to his pleas. As he sat helplessly in his cell, a forest fire broke out on the island, eventually claiming the lives of Lamise, Oday and Layan. The police’s reaction to this unspeakable tragedy was to arrest Wasim’s two Syrian companions who had sailed with him to Greece and charge them with causing the fire, even though there wasn’t a shred of evidence to support the charges.
After keeping Wasim imprisoned for five more weeks, they eventually let him go. With the help of friends and local activists, he immediately travelled to Athens, where he met with his nephew from Sweden. Together, they then returned to Samos and, after a few gut-wrenching hours, found the remains of Wasim’s family. Utterly broken, Wasim travelled back to Athens, where he is now stranded. Since he hasn’t been awarded refugee status, he cannot even file for an asylum. He is living with one of his Syrian acquaintances in the anarchist quarter called Excarhia, which was where I met him. What follows is his story. 
“My family and I, we used to live in Dubai, but in the spring I lost my job. I come from Latakia by the Mediterranean sea. We decided we would head to Turkey and try to worm our way into the European Union. Our ultimate goal was to reach Sweden, because I have some relatives there. I wanted to go to Sweden, where my nephew could help me find some work. Everything had already been arranged, you know. My wife and children would have probably been awarded refugee status, since they had Syrian citizenship. It would have been a bit harder for me, since I only have Palestinian papers, but I know I would have gotten by somehow."