In Honor of International Workers’ Day

Immigration
Immigration activists march in LA today (REUTERS/Danny Moloshok)

In the 1990s, Lakireddy Bali Reddy was a respected California businessman and owner of the San Francisco restaurant Pasand Madras.

Today he is a criminal, convicted on charges of running an exploitative sex and labor ring in India and the Bay Area.

According to the Human Rights Watch, Reddy repeatedly raped and otherwise abused his employees over the course of 15 years—forcing them to work at Pasand Madras under inhumane conditions.

Author and academic David Batstone used to eat regularly at Reddy’s restaurant. When he found out what was going on behind-the-scenes there, it catalyzed his current crusade against human trafficking and slavery. He writes:

“Unbeknownst to us, the staff at Pasand Madras Indian Cuisine who cooked our curries, delivered them to our table, and washed our dishes were slaves. Restaurant owner Lakireddy Reddy and several members of his family had used fake visas and false identities to traffic perhaps hundreds of adults and children into the United States from India. He forced the laborers to work long hours for minimal wages, money that they returned to him as rent to live in one of his apartments. Reddy threatened to turn them into the authorities as illegal aliens if they tried to escape.”

Batstone, astounded to discover this was happening in his own country, quickly developed a “consuming passion” that pushed him to “learn … how slavery flourishes in the shadows.”

What he would find further shocked him—the workers at Pasand Madras were not alone.

Today, 27 million slaves are a part of the world’s work force.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, more than 17,000 first-time victims are trafficked across American borders each year. They toil in restaurants, yes, but also on construction sites, in hospitals and airports.

Over the past year, 100,000 migrants workers were recruited to the reconstruction zones of New Orleans (to rebuild the city in Katrina’s wake). But according to the New Orleans Worker Justice Coalition, many are in dire straights themselves. They live in abandoned cars, work in unsafe, toxic environments, often “chasing after a web of subcontractors for their wages, and running from police and immigration authorities who have intensified their enforcement efforts while labor law enforcement is lax.”

Today, in honor of International Workers’ Day, activists from Los Angeles to New York took to the streets in protest of increasing INS raids and deportations. Some are requesting amnesty for workers who are here illegally. Others are interested in tighter border control.

Where do you stand?

More:

David Batstone’s book Not for Sale
NY’s Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC) fights for worker-rights in The City
Reddy gets 97 months in the slammer
The history behind International Workers’ Day

May 1, 2007
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