Worldwide Locations

Worldwide Locations

Worker's Rights and Immigrant Communities

Chinatown, New York (Marionzetta/Flickr)

Chinatown, New York (Marionzetta/Flickr)

Vanessa Lesnie

Can you add to that?

Muzaffar Chishti

You probably obviously know more about this than I do, but I think you should really - the Consortium of Work Education’s success has been quite phenomenal. And why it’s sort of been worked is that it’s sort of more work-based education. One of the problems that a lot of workers have, especially in the low-wage sector, is that you really cannot take time off to go and attend college. It’s just…

Question

That’s what financial aid packages are for.

Muzaffar Chishti: But they can’t really…the financials never gives you enough to take time off of work, especially if you really live in these informal sectors of the economy. So what the Consortium of Worker Education has done, and I think reasonably, should be given reasonable credit, and the stature of it is, it’s a heavily state-funded program, is to do a lot of workplace-based education. Which is really what a large number of these workers need. In fact, talking just about 9/11 stuff, we haven’t actually waged a great sort of focused discussion at the Consortium of Worker Education right now as to how we can respond in a way that public entities can’t, to the displacement of people and providing them sort of both retraining for jobs and English training and all that which will sort of facilitate this transition a little more. And I think you should probably look at the experience of the Consortium of Worker Education, and not really just look at the solution as always going to be university education for a lot of these workers.

Bhairavi Desai

There is a cap limit, meaning that, per year, a worker is entitled to $2000, a maximum cap of $2000 per year. And for a grant that is given to a worker, for grants there is a limit of $2000 per year that goes to the worker for his training. It's something but it's not enough.

Vanessa Lesnie

Time is getting a little bit away from us. I think, giving a 5-10 minute reprieve, I have 2 last questions.

Question

I would like to know specifically what legal or social reforms you would like to see come out of this event, things that you feel the community needs right now immediately or things that you want to see long term.

Muzaffar Chishti

Well, I mean, we want changes, I mean, how about this? Sticking to the themes we’ve started with. I think we want changes in immigration laws, which I think are two…are two levels that are going to help a large number of immigrants. I think however difficult it is to talk about amnesty today, we have to put amnesty back on the table. Because ultimately, the fundamental change of law is going to help a large number of people address their issues not only as human beings but as workers. There are eight, pretty close to six to eight million illegal aliens in the United States. That’s a large number of people living in the shadows. We have to get back on the agenda asking for a legalization program. We have to get on the agenda asking for the end of Employer Sanctions because it has become one of the most repressive labor laws on the books that can ever intending to be a labor law. We have to tighten our ethnic profiling and racial profiling laws. In fact, we’re about to make some reasonable headway in that direction because of the "Driving While Black" campaign in New Jersey, with the state troopers who actually came very close to having reasonably important ethnic profiling language regarding immigration raids. And we, actually despite how bad the climate is today and the terrorism bill that has just passed, we lobbied pretty heavily even this terrorism bill to put some anti-ethnic profiling language in. I think we’re going to go back to that. In the second round of some of the national security legislation, we are going to insist on putting some ethnic profiling language back. And we need to see serious reform of welfare reform package. We have excluded a large of number of people who need the protection of our public benefits the most, from some of the most needed safety programs. So I think those are the four areas we need legislative action.

Question

In response to some of the suggestions, I just wonder whether the panel here thinks that organizers right now really have a duty to be incredibly careful about what economic equity issues must be raised to employers. Because most employers at this point are very willing, and are just itching to outsource a lot of lower wage work to international forums, to get rid of lower immigrant workers, not to make sure they don’t get benefits. So the more organizers push at this moment for economic equity, and immigrant equity, and various legal reforms, the greater impetus you give specific employers to kick immigrant laborers out of this country.

Muzaffar Chishti

I gotta to respond to that because our reaction has been just the opposite. That this is the time when strangely, we are putting out labels of "Made Proudly in New York." If you go to Bloomingdales today, you will find clothing full of "Made Proudly in New York." Talking about sort of "beacons of hope." This, it happened actually as a conversation between the head of Nordstrom, you know this big department store, the head of Nordstrom happened to call Nicole Miller, which is a big designer, and said, "How much of your clothing do you get made in New York?" And the head of Nicole Miller said, "We get about 60%…" He said, "I want you to put 80% of your clothing out in New York. I want to have labels ‘Made in New York.’" And you know, this may not last, but I think there is a certain period where we have the opportunity of not only pushing "Made in New York, " but also "Proudly made in New York." And I think those are some of the examples that I think, you know are going to….you probably have seen about the car sales. There was a big Wall Street Journal article yesterday, car sales in this country have gone up in the last month, oddly speaking. And American-made cars have gone up in the last month. So this kind of plays in all kind of directions, so I don’t think it’s really going to be all that bad. Anyway, I think Alex may want to say something.

Alex Hing

Yeah, you’re just pointing out….one of the things that the labor movement is actually starting to do in New York at an accelerated pace is to build solidarity with other trade union movements throughout the world. Because we are in a global society. So the trade unions have to start to work together around the world to implement a standard. But I think just because business threatens to run away is not a reason to not demand what’s right. Because anything can happen. It’s the same thing as "A terrorist attack can happen." So do we stop living? We need to press forward what we need to employers, and how they respond, they’re going to have to live with how they respond, but it’s an ongoing battle. But I don’t think that what an employer might do is any reason for us to not figure out how to get around that.

Vanessa Lesnie

I’m sorry to have to wrap it up. I believe you might be able to come to table quickly if you have other questions you want to pose. In the meantime, I’d like to thank Muzaffar, Bhairavi, and Alex for a really interesting evening, and to thank the Asia Society for hosting the evening and to invite you to the drink and snacks. I also understand that in the booklets on the seats, there was a questionnaire which, if you could fill out and hand to the Asia Society staff, they’d be most grateful. So thank you very much.