Read this passage and see if you can figure out where it took place and who the people involved are. I've changed a few details that would give it away immediately:
"They really tried to break us down. The first night they put the temperature so high that a woman--one of the other inmates--had a seizure. The second night they made it freezing and took away many of our blankets. We didn't have access to the cots so we had to sleep on a concrete floor. When we would finally fall asleep the guards would come and yell `Are you --------? Are you so and so?' One of the [prisoners] had a fractured wrist from [getting arrested]. She had a cast on and when she would fall asleep the guard would kick the cast to wake her up. She was in a lot of pain."Abu Ghraib? Gitmo? Obviously the prisoners must be terror suspects or threats to national security to get treated that way.
Here's a clue: these prisoners were considered so dangerous that their bail was set at nearly a million dollars each. Keep in mind that rape and murder suspects usually have bail set around a hundred thousand dollars.
Figured it out yet? This took place a couple of days ago. The place is Houston Texas. And those dangerous prisoners? Janitors who made the mistake of staging a nonviolent protest to demand better pay and benefits in one of the most Republican cities in the US. Here's the entire statement from Denise Solís, a SEIU organizer who participated in the protest and was arrested with the rest of the group:
"I'm from Texas and I helped organize the union here in Houston. For methe janitors' struggle is very personal. Coming back to Texas is likecoming home. We wanted to peacefully occupy the intersection downtownto make a statement to the city: `Houston can't go on like this, withso many living in poverty.'Welcome to George Bush's America.
We sat down in the intersection and the horses came immediately. It was really violent. They arrested us, and when we got to jail, we were pretty beat up. Not all of us got the medical attention we needed. The worst was a protester named Julia, who is severely diabetic. We kept telling the guards about her condition but they only gave her a piece of candy. During roll call, she started to complain about light-headedness. Finally she just collapsed unconscious on the floor. It was like she just dropped dead. The guard saw it but just kept going through the roll. Susan ran over there and took her pulse while the other inmates were yelling for help, saying we need to call somebody. The medical team strolled over, taking their own sweet time. She was unconscious for like 4 or 5 minutes.
They really tried to break us down. The first night they put the temperature so high that a woman--one of the other inmates--had a seizure. The second night they made it freezing and took away many of our blankets. We didn't have access to the cots so we had to sleep on a concrete floor. When we would finally fall asleep the guards would come and yell `Are you Anna Denise Solís? Are you so and so?' One of the protesters had a fractured wrist from the horses. She had a cast on and when she would fall asleep the guard would kick the cast to wake her up. She was in a lot of pain.
The guards would tell us: `This is what you get for protesting.' One of them said, `Who gives a shit about janitors making 5 dollars an hour? Lots of people make that much.' The other inmates--there were a lot of prostitutes in there--said that they had never seen the jail this bad. The guards told them: `We're trying to teach the protesters a lesson.' Nobody was getting out of jail because the processing was so slow. They would tell the prostitutes that everything is the protesters' fault. They were trying to turn everybody against each other.
I felt like I was in some Third World jail, not in America. One of the guards called us `whores' and if we talked back, we didn't get any lunch. We didn't even have the basic necessities. It felt like a police state, like marshal law, nobody had rights. Some of us had been arrested in other cities, and it was never this bad before.
They tried to break us down, to dehumanize us. But we were stronger. We made friends with the other inmates and we organized them. The prostitutes felt a lot of solidarity with us. All of us together told stories, and played games like telephone and charades. We even did stand-up comedy monologues about what was happening to us and we all laughed. One woman--a woman of deep faith--gave a sermon that was both funny and deadly serious. We showed them that we weren't afraid. We did it all together. Now we're ready to fight on for basic American rights like the freedom of speech and the right to protest."
More information at the SEIU Houston Justice for Janitors website.
UPDATE 11/20/06: Looks like the janitors and SEIU won! From a SEIU email:
What a difference a day makes! We have reached a tentative agreement for a 3 year contract for janitors.
Wages: $1.15 increase the first year, $1.00 the second year, and $.50 the third year.
Health Care: The third year is when single payer health insurance will kick in and janitors will pay $20 per month into that plan. It is a plan designed and managed by SEIU and we are hoping to get all of our members nationwide on this plan.
Vacation: Two weeks paid vacation per year
Holidays: 6 paid Holidays
Hours: 1st year everyone must work a minimum of 4 hours a day, 2nd year everyone must work a minimum of 5 hours per day, 3rd year everyone must work a minimum of 6 hours per day.
Protection: We have a grievance procedure in place. We have protection for all of the striking workers to get their jobs back with no discipline, We have a disciplinary proceedure in place so that no one can be illegally fired for no reason any more.