The Justice for Jeyasre Speaking Tour Comes to a Close
The #JusticeForJeyasre Speaking Tour started in front of hundreds of people at the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA) convention in August. “Young women are the backbone of the fast fashion industry,” said Thivya Rakini. “Through the Justice for Jeyasre campaign and the Tamil Nadu Textile and Common Labor Union’s broader organizing strategy, we are advancing a vision for our communities, our economy, and our country. When young women are able to work with dignified conditions and living wages, they will also be able to lead broader change.”
Thivya is the President of the Tamil Nadu Textile and Common Labor Union and intimately knows the cost of the fast fashion industry on young Dalit women in South India. Jeyasre Kathiravel, a member of her union, was murdered last January by one of her supervisors at Eastman Exports. Soon after, despite the retaliation Jeyasre’s family faced for refusing to stay quiet, 25 other women garment workers at Eastman Exports came forward with reports of sexual harassment.
For the past year, the Tamil Nadu Textile and Common Labor Union has organized the #JusticeForJeyasre campaign to secure just compensation for Jeyasre’s family, an end to the coercion and retaliation related to her case, and an enforceable agreement with brands, Eastman Exports, and TTCU that includes monitoring, remediation, and prevention of gender-based violence and barriers to freedom of association.
Starting this summer, Thivya went on the #JusticeForJeyasre Speaking Tour. She did so to share Jeyasre’s legacy, and build international alliances for the long haul, while preparing for potential global actions in case of breakdowns at the bargaining table. She also went on this speaking tour to learn more about organizing efforts in the U.S. from the people on the ground, including warehouse workers in Chicago and the inland empire, garment workers in Los Angeles, retail workers and models in New York, dreamers in the fast food industry in Arizona, Black workers in the deep South, immigrant workers from Latin America and South Asian, and so many others .
“Like us, they are organizing and demanding change from the most difficult environments with centuries of historical oppression.” said Thivya, “From our experience and theirs, we are hopeful – we see organizing growing more from the South in the U.S. and from the Global South and we want to stand in unity against big corporations who put profit before people.”
Since then, Thivya has spoken in 10 cities to hundreds of worker leaders, union officers and organizers from over 50 unions and membership based organizations including The AFL-CIO, SEIU, UNITE HERE,, Jobs with Justice, RWDSU, United for Respect, NNU, Dream Defenders, United we Dream and many more. At each stop, attendees not only exchanged organizing strategies with Thivya, they also unanimously expressed their solidarity for the #JusticeForJeyasre campaign and pledged to hold the fashion brands accountable.
In each city, we brought workers and organizers together, across supply chains, to develop connections, share histories and create joint plans to hold brands accountable for the working conditions in their factories, warehouses, and retail stores. From models in New York City to factory workers in Chicago, we heard about workers organizing to keep their fellow coworkers safe and hold those in power accountable for the harm, violence, and even death they had caused.
And many of these workers are winning. In Los Angeles, the Garment Workers Center helped pass the Garment Workers Protection Act, which will make brands responsible for paying garment workers a livable wage. Warehouse workers also helped pass a bill in California that forces companies to disclose production quotes and productivity metrics to warehouse workers. Now Thivya has linked their fight to the movement for brand accountability in South India and vice versa.
This fight to secure justice for Jeyasre goes beyond the supply chain though. The speaking tour also brought together immigrant rights groups, South Asian networks, organizations fighting sexism, social justice movements, and more. In Arizona, undocumented women spoke about the parallels they saw between their own stories and the harassment Dalit women garment workers experience. Karina Ruiz, the Executive Director of Arizona Dreamers in Action, wrote an op-ed for Ms. Magazine about these similar experiences, calling for a #MeToo movement led by women of the global south.
In Florida, the Dream Defenders joined our speaking tour to exchange organizing strategies and share solidarity. They then published a column written by Jeeva, the General Secretary of TTCU, about the #JusticeForJeyasre campaign. Just as the Dream Defenders fight against racism and for freedom, the Tamil Nadu Textile Common Labor Union is fighting against caste discrimination and for equality.
While the fight is not over, negotiations are underway to secure an enforceable brand agreement that will include worker-led monitoring, remediation, and prevention of gender-based violence, discrimination based on cast and migration status, as well as removing barriers to freedom of association. The speaking tour and the international alliances we built together has been instrumental in building power at the bargaining table. We’d like to thank all of our partners who joined the #JusticeForJeyasre speaking tour and are excited to keep growing the global labor movement for brand accountability with all of you. The solidarity we shared and the power we’re constructing will last far beyond this campaign.