The Justice for Jeyasre Speaking Tour Stops in Tennessee
October 13th, 2021
When Armando helped build a public middle school in Tennessee he expected to get paid for his work. Two years later, he’s still fighting to get the $43,000 owed to him.
Companies, like the one Armando worked for, often get millions of dollars in government contracts only to turn around and steal workers’ wages. They assumed that, because they’re not from the U.S. and don’t speak English, they won’t be able to fight back. “It’s so corrupt”, Armando said at the speaking tour event, “they keep hiring the same corrupt companies. This will continue if we don’t do anything about it”.
Armando and his co-workers are setting out to prove that the company’s assumptions are wrong by joining Workers’ Dignity—a workers’ center and one of the hosts of the Tennessee Justice for Jeyasre speaking tour stop—and fighting to recover their wages and demand that the Metro Nashville Public School district hold their general contractor, Orion, accountable.
The workers and organizers at Tamil Nadu Textile and Common Labor Union (TTCU) know all too well what it’s like when your employer weaponizes your identity. When Jeyasre was murdered by her supervisor at Eastman Exports, she became one of the thirteen Dalit women murdered every week in India. Violence against women and Dalits is a nationwide crisis in India that brands profit from. Especially in workplaces with almost exclusively male management, supervisors target women, Dalit women in particular, for discrimination, harassment, and violence, often as a means of control. With this constant threat, suppliers coerce workers into producing extremely high volumes of clothing at very low wages, and try to block them from unionizing, allowing global fashion brands to make huge profits.
Jeyasre’s murder was part of this pattern. But, despite the terror and pain her murder caused to her loved ones, many of her fellow garment workers came forward with reports of sexual harassment themselves. They joined the launch of the Justice for Jeyasre campaign and are now organizing to hold brands responsible for the caste and gender based violence and harassment they profit off of in their supply chain.
In Tennessee, a similar pattern is playing out for Arabic-speaking immigrant women. Lydia Yousief, founder and director of the Elmhaba Center, a cultural community center for Arabic-speaking people in Nashville and another host of the Tennessee stop, responded to Thivya’s presentation with stories of how Tyson Foods exploits women from her own community.
Tyson Foods employs more than 5,500 people in Tennessee, many of them Arab women who recently immigrated to the US, speak little English and have children. The reason: Tyson knows they must buy a car to get around Nashville, feed their children, and have few other employment options. Tyson assumes they’ll endure horrific conditions to provide for their families. They even started recruiting pregnant women, and then failed to give them PPE, sending mothers and their newborns to the hospital with covid.
Major US corporations and garment industry actors in the U.S. South have a long history, going all the way back to slavery, of subjecting Black and immigrant workers to sexual harrasment, unsafe working conditions, wage theft, and forced labor. They’ve even leveraged violent discrimiation outside the worksite, through white supremacist groups like the Ku Kulx Klan, to block improvements on the job. Groups like the Elmhaba Center and Worker’s Dignity are bringing workers together to stop this pattern of exploitation. After hearing Jeyasre’s legacy of resisting caste and gender based violence and harassment, the workers at the event, many of them immigrants, women, and people of color, committed to expanding their fight from the U.S. South to the Global South.
This is the purpose of the Justice for Jeyasre Speaking Tour: bring workers and organizers together across supply chains to surface connections, parallel histories and create joint plans to hold brands accountable for the working conditions in their factories, warehouses, laundries, and retail stores. Whether it’s in Tennessee or India, the global labor movement is building solidarity to demand justice for all workers.