A group of fifteen French workers visited the Bainport camp yesterday with a filmmaker, a lawyer, and a journalist in tow. These visitors came to show solidarity with the workers of the Sensata plant. The pain that is being experienced in Freeport is a feeling they know all too well and they wanted to encourage these Americans to continue to fight for their livelihood.
A new sign on the tent welcomes special guests with "Bainport stands with French workers". It was a terribly rainy day so everyone huddled together in the tent. Tables of food donated by several supporters helped to feed a crowd of almost a hundred. Language acted as no barrier to the bonding that ensued between ex-Samsonite workers and Sensata workers.
Bain purchased the Samsonite plant in France, outsourced many of it's jobs and then sold it in 2005 for a substantial profit. Bain's outsourcing affected over 180 workers and put them in the unemployment line almost immediately. Their story differs only slightly from those at Sensata in that these workers were simply told they no longer had jobs. A law in France allows investigation into a corporation behind closed doors to insure no laws are being broken and the workers took advantage of that. An investigator looked into Bain Capital's practices only to find out that in fact, their jobs had been outsourced in order to make a greater profit, a practice that is actually illegal in France. Some workers came together and with the help of lawyer Fiodor Rilov, successfully sued Samsonite. This lengthy process was documented by French filmmaker, Hélène Desplanques in a documentary entitled "Liquidation Totale".
The Samsonite workers knew they couldn't stop there though. It was Bain Capital whose practices led to to the demise of these jobs so in December of 2011, the workers filed a class action lawsuit holding Bain responsible for their losses. After visiting with the Bainport community they were headed to Bain Capital headquarters located in Boston.
This group of American workers and supporters are hoping to make one thing clear. American jobs are not a partisan issue. This group is made up of Republicans and Democrats alike and they all agree that we need to keep good paying jobs in the United States. Tom Gaulrapp even told me of times people have shouted at him calling him "un-American" and a "communist", unwilling to understand what is happening and that its effect on the community and the country.
The Sensata story should teach us one thing: No matter who Americans put in the White House it is clear that there must be intensive reform of exploited tax loopholes that enable these corporations to profit more from the outsourcing of jobs than from helping to strengthen the middle class and economy by keeping jobs here.
Lawyer, Fiodor Rilov sits with attendees before the viewing of Liquidation Totale. An audience of over a hundred people viewed the documentary with subtitles.
Audience members react to the words of a man speaking about the fate of the Samsonite plant. Later, a scene shows out of work Samsonite workers gathered together and one woman states, (translated) "We should get together and do something important. Nobody is hearing us. We are still alive aren't we?", encouraging a lawsuit.
Following the film the workers exchange stories. Lawyer, Fiodor Rilov translates words of encouragement from Brigitte Petite. She urges the Sensata workers to continue their fight to the end. She was one of many involved in the Samsonite lawsuit.
American filmmaker Alder Lakish records the stories from the French workers while French filmmaker Hélène Desplanques records the audience. Lakish is working on his documentary Behind Your Back about the Sensata workers and Desplanques is doing a second part to her film.
On October 8, three supporters of the Bainport community were arrested after standing in the way of trucks arriving at the Sensata plant to haul away equipment to then ship it to China. Sixteen year old Karri Penniston describes the experience and explains she felt it necessary because her mother can not be there to fight for herself. Her mother is an employee who will be out of work by election day. Debi Kempel and Jerry Ontjes, also arrested, listen. Audience members respond with tears.
Lawyer, Fiodor Rilov translates for Brigitte Petite who is interviewed by a local station about her visit to Bainport.
An audience member comments in French on the need for laws in the U.S. similar to those in France that protect workers from outsourcing.
French, American, Democrat, Republican, old and young come together to encourage fighting against outsourcing that hurts workers across the globe.
Update: The story of Sensata is gaining steam. Al Sharpton will be visiting next weekend while Chris Hayes is planning on discussing it on his show. Ed Schultz is also planning a visit.
The documentary, Behind Your Back is set to open on October 27th.
★Please check out Part One of this photo essay which includes more personal stories HERE.★
All of photographs and text are ©Wendi Kent