Wellstone Award Acceptance Speech

The following is a copy of Linda Oalican's Wellstone Award acceptance speech.

Good evening, everyone. I’m Linda Oalican,  Director of Damayan.

We are incredibly honored and humbled to have been selected by advocates and organizers in the national anti-trafficking movement to receive the Wellstone Award for the year 2015! Our Board who are mostly trafficking survivors, their children and our community are so excited with this award and are celebrating with us back in New York.

The Wellstone Award is for them – the Filipino migrant women-mothers forced to leave their homeland due to deep poverty and unemployment, and endure long years of separation from their families, just to ensure that their children have food, housing and education. This award is for all these migrant domestic workers who have been trapped into the worst inhumane form of labor exploitation and human trafficking in the private homes of powerful employers like diplomats. This award is for these workers who dared to trust their guts and strangers, to break free from traffickers, get out of the shadows, and together with Damayan, expose and oppose the powerful structures that create and promote conditions for labor trafficking.

We salute these women who have shown that through organizing, trafficking victims can thrive and become the faces and voices of hope and inspire others to fight.  The workers deserve this award, and we all thank you.

For Damayan, this award is a recognition, on the national level, that grassroots organizing and workers’ leadership must play a central role in the fight to end labor and human trafficking. Along with service provision, policy advocacy, campaign and coalition work, grassroots organizing is key to challenging the economic and social systems that trap vulnerable workers into trafficking.

Historically, grassroots organizing had been the driving force behind genuine social movements and social change. Slavery was abolished because of the slave emancipation movement. Civil rights laws were won because of the deep organizing of Black communities; and Walter Scott’s killer was indicted because of the Ferguson and Black Lives Matter movement. We must anchor the fight against labor trafficking to organizing the low wage migrant workers and working class immigrant communities and support workers led organizations like Damayan that works deep in these communities. There are no shortcuts to this work.

This award also shines a light on labor trafficking, and on the systemic problems in the domestic work industry that lead to the vulnerability of migrant women domestic workers to extreme exploitation. For too long, labor trafficking has not been the focus of anti-trafficking efforts – because by focusing on labor trafficking we must address the full spectrum of exploitation from wage theft to fraud to employer retaliation and trafficking in US soil. Putting a lens on labor trafficking will lead us to examine the role of the US and US corporations in keeping sending countries in deep poverty, to ensure a pool of cheap foreign labor that would always be vulnerable to labor trafficking.

Damayan believes that the anti-trafficking movement must be seen in the larger globalization, labor, gender and migration context. In sending countries like the Philippines, the relentless drive to export the Filipino people for remittances that support the country’s economy must end. The Philippine government must have the political will to develop a self reliant and viable economy, create industries and jobs so that workers – mostly women - are not forced to leave their families and fall into fraudulent or exploitative jobs overseas.

Here in the US, we must continue to organize and forge solidarity between the low wage immigrant and American workers to fight trafficking and all forms of labor and workers exploitation. We must transform the domestic work industry and be in solidarity with workers who face exploitative working conditions in all industries. We must recruit the allies and middle class into social justice coalitions like the Freedom Network. We must revive street and mass actions to support anti trafficking campaigns like Damayan’s Baklas Break Free and National Domestic Workers Alliance’ Beyond Survival campaign.

To combat trafficking and other systemic exploitation, we need to build a comprehensive multinational, cross sectoral and global movement. And Damayan is committed to advancing grassroots organizing and building workers leadership to help build this larger struggle.