The Indian migrant workers protesting brutal working conditions and deceitful recruiting practices by an American marine and fabrication company, planned to suspend their 29-day hunger strike in Washington DC on Wednesday afternoon.
Congress MP SK Kharaventhan and CPI(M) Politburo member MK Pandhe were expected to attend the rally held before the suspension, which had not begun at press time.
The two politicians were among a group of MPs and leaders, mostly from Kerala and Tamil Nadu, who were asked to make the trip to Washington because of their expressed support for the workers’ plight, said Anannya Bhattacharjee, an international organiser for Jobs with Justice, which is supporting the strikers.
Pandhe is in the US to attend a trade union conference. The workers planned to suspend the strike even though not all of their demands have been met.
When it began, they had hoped to accomplish three goals: the granting of permission for workers to remain in the US for the duration of a Justice Department investigation of their case; US Congressional hearings into abuses of guest workers; and increased engagement on the part of Indian politicians. As of Wednesday, only the third goal had been reached.
“The US and Indian governments still refuse to open their eyes to the reality of guest worker programmes,” said former Signal worker Sabulal Vijayan in a press release.
But Bhattacharjee said the strike had successfully put pressure on the Justice Department to consider the workers’ request to stay in the country for the duration of the investigation.
And support from US lawmakers stemming from the strike might ultimately lead to hearings. She emphasised that the workers are not ending the strike — rather, they are suspending it while these requests are being considered. What is more, Bhattacharjee said, the strike brought international exposure to abuses perpetrated against the strikers.
US Rep. Dennis Kucinich, a former Democratic presidential candidate who has said he will push for Congressional hearings into abuses of the guest worker program in the United States, was slated to be among the US lawmakers attending the rally.
The water-only hunger strike, which began May 14, led to the hospitalisation of five out of 20 participants. Paul Konar, 54, went without food for 23 days before succumbing to extreme weakness and abdominal pain.