British MPs cry when they tour North Carolina tobacco farm

Two members of the British Parliament who recently toured North Carolina tobacco farms broke down in tears at what they witnessed. The two parliamentarians, Ian Lavery and Jim Sheridan, accompanied Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) on a tour of the farms.

The U.S. lawmaker and her partners from the United Kingdom got a first hand look at the deplorable working conditions that thousands of tobacco workers in North Carolina endure. The lawmakers were part of a delegation that included Farm Labor Organizing Committee President Baldemar Velasquez, AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Tefere Gebre and several AFL-CIO Union Summer interns who are participating in FLOC’s “Respect, Recognition, Raise” campaign and in the organizing committee’s campaigns for a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work, respect in the workplace and union recognition.

Kaptur wrote about her findings in a column for The Nation. Here’s an excerpt:

“During my visit, I found workers who labor eleven hours a day under grueling conditions at high season for $7.25 an hour. As many as twelve men sleep jammed inside ramshackle, dilapidated trailers or barracks. There is no hot water, no decent laundry facilities, no air-conditioning, substandard electrical and gas wiring, and flush toilets are a luxury. I saw injured workers, including one man who had lost part of his index finger in a work accident, who lacked basic protections and health care. I heard women testify of the sexual abuse they face to secure work and pay, but still they and their children live in squalor in the richest nation in the world.

“My counterparts in the British Parliament, Ian Lavery and Jim Sheridan, were also shocked by what they described as human rights violations. Mr. Lavery said rapists and murderers have it better in prison than many of the tobacco workers in Carolina. Both he and Mr. Sheridan broke down in tears more than once at what they witnessed.”

The British MPs said that imprisoned rapists and murderers in their country are treated far better than the North Carolina tobacco workers are on the job.

This article is reposted from the AFL-CIO Now Blog.

Photo: FLOC President Baldemar Velasquez, AFL-CIO EVP Tefere Gebre, Representative Marcy Kaptur and UK MPs Ian Lavery and James Sheridan touring tobacco fields in North Carolina, comparing the state of labor and human rights on union and non-union farms. FLOC Facebook page.