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Mississippi Workers Center for Human Rights
Ms. Sarah White

22 September 2011

Statement Summary

SARAH WHITE, Board President of the Mississippi Workers’ Center for Human Rights, said she was speaking for the countless victims of racial discrimination all over the world, adding that it was an honour to carry those voices at the General Assembly today.

Speaking “as the voice of those who have been excluded, marginalized, violated and denied their basic human rights”, she detailed the plight of Mississippi catfish workers, who faced battles for human rights and justice every day. They were made to stand for 12 hours a day in ankle-deep water contaminated with chlorine and other harmful chemicals, which caused severe skin rashes and other ailments.

She went on to say that white male supervisors forced workers to speed up the assembly line so that the company could make maximum profits. Uncaring about the well-being of the workers, they said “speed it up or lose your job”. Daily sexual and racial harassment, in addition to denial of bathroom privileges, were among the indignities suffered by contemporary workers in the catfish and poultry industries because of their skin colour and economic class, she said, adding that she was at the General Assembly to let the international community know that the workers had risen up and fought for justice and human rights.

They had held labour strikes and begun a workers’ rights movement all over Mississippi, she continued, adding that plants had begun to organize. Although many battles had been won, the struggle must continue. Amid racial profanity, intimidation and harassment on a daily basis, extrajudicial killings took place even today, she said, pointing out that workplaces remained segregated, with black workers assigned to the dirtiest and most dangerous jobs. They were forced to work under conditions that looked “a lot like slavery”, she said, adding that people were still dying to make a living.

While the Center had started 15 years ago, helping low-wage African-American workers, it now helped all workers, giving them a platform upon which to organize themselves to fight racial injustice and providing education about rights and laws. People of African and Asian descent, as well as women and children, found their strength from organizing and bringing their voices together on one platform to make the Durban outcomes work, she said.

Source: GA/11149