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From U.S. to Philippines, Nurses Mobilize in Typhoon Haiyan’s Wake

4:41 pm in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

Originally published at In These Times

When Typhoon Haiyan made landfall in the Philippines a week ago, the destruction was swift, total and unsparing—showing the disproportionate impact of disasters on poverty-stricken communities of the Global South. The international aid response is still struggling to grapple with the scale of the storm damage.

But it just so happens that many Filipino immigrant workers in the United States are uniquely well-suited to lend a hand in the recovery. The Philippines is a major “exporter” of highly skilled nurses and other healthcare workers to the U.S. and other Western nations. There’s a long history of transnational cooperation in the Filipino diaspora—the country is supported through a massive network of migrant remittances. And in the U.S., Filipino immigrant workers also have a rich history of activism within the labor movement, forming a key part of many progressive unions, including the National Nurses United (NNU).

Out of this tradition of labor activism and deep diasporic ties comes an initiative by nurses with NNU’s Registered Nurse Response Network (RNRN), many of them Filipina, to send a solidarity relief mission to the Phillipines.

Immediately after the typhoon struck, the NNU put out a call to members asking for assistance and received some 1,500 responses from both Filipina and non-Filipina volunteers. The union is now sending an initial team of nurses to the disaster zone to start coordinating a medical response delegation that will ultimately deploy to the disaster zone in collaboration with local partners.

RNRN, first formed in the wake of the deadly Indonesian tsunami of 2004, ran a relief delegations to Haiti after the earthquake, as well as general medical missions to the Philippines and other countries, as a way both to meet emergency nursing care needs in humanitarian missions and to foster international labor solidarity.

The pending mission to the Philippines has special significance for nurses in the Filipino diaspora. Ironically, many of the health workers who went to work abroad in the West to support their families are cut off from loved ones in the storm’s aftermath and unable to use their skills to help heal their communities. Together with other fundraising and aid efforts by diaspora groups, the delegation may help some nurses to directly help stave off the health crisis brewing in the wake of the storm. Read the rest of this entry →

Filipino Banana Workers Frustrated in Battle Over Dole’s Pesticides

12:28 pm in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

Aidan Wojtas / Flickr / Creative Commons

Originally posted at In These Times

You might think that neoliberal globalization has replaced the banana republics of the last century. But inside the engines of industrial agriculture, the rot of the old fruit empires still festers. The long struggle of a group of Filipino banana workers to hold Dole accountable for toxic exposures reminds us that international capital still has a lot more clout than international law.

The lawsuit, involving about three thousand Filipino workers, claims that in the 1980s, Dole and other companies damaged the health of banana workers in Davao, a remote region of the Philippines, by using the highly toxic pesticide DBCP. The alleged exposures took place years after DBCP was “banned from general use” by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in the late 1970s. The toxin–a product of Dow Chemical–has been linked to various potential health problems, such as asthma, cancer, sterility and miscarriages.

But the Los Angeles Superior Court dismissed the suit, citing technical issues related to California’s statute of limitations rules. Claire Espina, a lawyer for the workers, said the ruling was an unfair application of state law.

Espina tells In These Times that the goal was simply to force Dole to take responsibility for a mass assault on workers’ health. “To know that it was banned, and to push for it anyway and to knowingly use it [in the Philippines]–I think that conduct like that merits punitive damages,” she says. Read the rest of this entry →

Migrants Struggle in the Shadows of Asia’s Rising Tide of Inequality

2:18 pm in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

Migrants in Libya (Photo: UN)

Cross-posted from In These Times

The much-hyped “emerging economies” of Asia are supposed to be moving up on the world stage, but the labor migration they’ve set in motion has put the poorest workers on a downward spiral. Wherever migrants clamor for jobs in “more developed” countries, social crisis often follows.

A recent protest in Singapore suggests that inequality and unrest simmer even in Asia’s most prosperous enclaves. The Wall Street Journal reported last week that Bangladeshi construction workers organized an eight-hour sit-in to demand justice for an all-but-invisible workforce:

The low-wage migrant workers, who, like the much of the city-state’s construction force are from Bangladesh, gathered in a vacant field near their dormitories Monday in Tampines, a part of east Singapore. They were protesting against their employers, Singapore-based Sunway Concrete Products Pte. Ltd and Techcom Construction & Trading Pte. Ltd. Both companies are contracted by the government Housing Development Board to build homes across the island.

The workers said their employers had not paid their salaries for four months, since November last year, despite repeated requests for payment. Initial investigations carried out by officials from Singapore’s Ministry of Manpower confirmed that they had not been paid.

The workers also took issue with the food they were being served, which they said was inedible though paid from their own salaries, which are between S$2 – 2.50 (US$1.60 – $2) an hour, according to the workers.

Immigrants being cheated out of wages is a common story everywhere in the world (the U.S. included, of course), and lawmakers have little incentive to clamp down on unscrupulous employers when their economic growth figures are at stake. But Singapore might be more pressured to respond in this case because the labor dispute involves government contractors. Read the rest of this entry →