Labor leader to speak at PSU

National Labor Committee (NLC) executive director Charles Kernaghan will host a lecture and discussion on human rights issues and sweatshops around the world today in Smith Center Ballroom from 1:15 to 2:45 p.m.

“This is an opportunity for labor activists and scholars to network and get some education. Also, get students to learn more about these issues,” said Jocelyn Furbush, a member of Students for Unity.

Kernaghan’s visit to Portland State University is part of the national labor conference starting today and running through Sunday, May 6.

Kernaghan will discuss general labor organizing locally and nationally, attempts to influence labor environment practices, contracts in universities and to get a code of conduct on human rights.

In Spring of 1996, Kernaghan made headlines when he testified in Congress about 13-year-old Honduran girls who were being forced to work 13 hours a day under armed guard and received 31 cents per hour for sewing pants for WalMart and Kathie Lee Gifford labels, according to an Occidental College press release.This was one of the NLC’s efforts that drew public attention to child labor and sweatshops.

The NLC has sponsored students across the country to investigate the working conditions in sweatshops across the globe.

The NLC was founded in 1981. Its purposes are to investigate human rights and labor abuses on their tours, which they publish in reports. In addition, NLC instigates campaigns to protect trade unionists and human rights activists.A recent report published on the NLC Web page deals with “Colombia: A Case of Genocide Against Unionists.”

According to the report, three out of every five unionists killed in the world are Columbian, making Columbia the most dangerous country in the world for trade unionists. Thirty union teachers are murdered annually.

Twenty-seven trade unionists either disappeared or were assassinated in the first two-and-a-half months of 2001. Wages for factory workers are as low as 56 cents an hour.

The paramilitaries account for 56 percent of the killing of trade unionists, the state is responsible for 4 percent and the guerrillas for 25.5 percent.

“And, while thousands of trade unionists have been murdered, the government has never found even one person guilty of such assassinations,” stated the report.

The United States has also been ridiculed for providing military aid to Columbia at an unprecedented rate.

Trade unionists and human rights workers opposed the “Plan Columbia” allocation of approximately $1 billion in military aid to the country.

If this plan is implemented, “this wave of violence will increase,” said Tarsicio Rivera Munoz, vice president of the teachers’ union (FECODE) in Columbia.

The United Nations High Commission of Human Rights urges the United States to maintain a consistent human rights policy.

To learn more about NLC attend the lecture or visit