“The Sweetest Place on Earth” is looking a little more like a sequel to Tim Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory these days after hundreds of international students walked off their jobs and conducted a sit-in that halted production at a Hershey’s affiliated plant in Palmyra, PA on August 17th.
These students signed up for a “cultural exchange” program through the U.S. State Department’s Summer J1 visa program and expected to get a sense of what life is really like in American communities. That “real life” experience proved to be a little too real as these students were subjected to what amounts to captive labor — an experience that is becoming all too common for American workers who are forced to take minimum wage jobs as they attempt to crawl out under the weight of student loan debt, mortgage debt, and credit card debt.
The students connected with the National Guestworker Alliance, a non-profit advocacy organization based out of New Orleans, and launched the “Justice at Hershey’s” campaign which continues to gain momentum across the state, country, and world. The student strike marks the first time international students have ever walked off their J1 jobs in protest of their working conditions and wages.
What makes these students and the Justice at Hershey’s campaign so amazing is their deep sense of how their experience is directly connected to the experience of everyday Americans. The students’ demands are simple:
- Hershey’s should return the $3,000-$4,000 each student paid to take part in the three-month “cultural exchange program;
- For Hershey to end the exploitation of international student guestworkers;
- And, for Hershey to hire American workers at a living wage to fill the jobs currently being filled by guestworkers
Recently, the Justice at Hershey’s campaign gained some pretty powerful allies: the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO. And from the looks of things at this point, the PA AFL-CIO is not simply adding their name to the fight; they are prepared to take action. On Tuesday, Sept. 6, PA AFL-CIO president Rick Bloomingdale said that if Hershey does not respond to the student demands and a petition signed by over 67,000 supporters by Sept. 23, students and their supporters are planning a mass demonstration in Hershey.
Raging Chicken Press will keep you posted on the Sept. 23 action. To learn more about the Justice for Hershey’s campaign, check out this video put out by the Justice at Hershey campaign and the following Democracy Now interview with several of the student organizers. [UPDATE: 9/14/2011 check out international news coverage of the Justice at Hershey’s campaign!]
Kevin Mahoney | Founder and Editor Zero, Raging Chicken Press