labor rights

Lisa Sharon Harper 09-26-2016
woaiss / Shutterstock

woaiss / Shutterstock

TWO WEEKS BEFORE Christmas last year, I stood with 50 other national faith leaders on the banks of the Alabama River in Montgomery, Ala., trying to imagine what it must have been like to stand on that land in 1850, at the height of the black chattel slave trade.

We were embarking on a one-day pilgrimage convened by Sojourners and hosted by the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI). We were there to understand one thing: the nature of the confinement and control of black bodies in the U.S. from chattel slavery through Jim Crow to mass incarceration.

Congress banned the import of enslaved people in 1808, but it did not ban the slave industry. Slave traders turned inward. Men, women, and children of African descent were sold in the Upper South; chained together with shackles around their feet, wrists, waists, and necks; and marched—often without shoes—over hundreds of miles into the Deep South for sale to farm owners desperate to meet the explosive global demand for cotton after the invention of the cotton gin.

“But walking was too slow and expensive to meet the high demand,” said Bryan Stevenson, founding executive director of EJI, to the faith leaders standing at the mouth of Montgomery’s Commerce Street. Stevenson explained that sales multiplied as transport methods improved. By the 1840s, the Commerce Street port housed a steamboat dock and a train station. Rather than marching 20 people over hundreds of miles, traders could transport hundreds of en-slaved people at a time—quicker and less expensive. Slavery was industry. Even in these early iterations, maximizing profit and lowering the bottom line were of chief concern.

According to a 2013 EJI report, “Slavery in America: The Montgomery Slave Trade,” Montgomery’s Commerce Street became one of the most easily accessible points of trade in Alabama by 1860. Slave traders would unload humans from ships and trains at the top of Commerce Street and auction them three blocks away at Court Square. Auctioneers coaxed farm owners to push bids higher until the auctioneer cried “Sold!” Mothers were separated from sons and daughters. Sisters were separated from brothers. And husbands were separated from wives. Humans were forced to fill days with bone-breaking labor, heartache, and absolute acquiescence to the domination of overseers and masters—until death freed them from the clutch of American commerce.

Fran Quigley 05-07-2015

It's in the interest of us all to protect the right of labor to organize. 

Stacey Schwenker 10-28-2011


If you buy your candy in the United States, chances are that your treats are filled with more than sugar and empty calories. They also may hold the blood, sweat, and tears of an African children who should be in elementary school rather than slaving in cocoa fields.

A U.S.-Colombia trade pact would not address, and might even reward, paramilitary violence.

Abram Huyser Honig 02-24-2010
Forty-one months ago, almost to the day, I was at my desk in the office of the Honduran Christian justice organization Asociación para una Sociedad más Justa (Association for a More J
Almudena Carracedo 04-22-2009
Seven years ago, I set out to make a little film that would put a human face on the struggles of immigrant workers in L.A.
Onleilove Alston 02-16-2009
In the fall of 2007, not long after I started to work with New York Faith & Justice, I learned of an in-depth Bible study on http://www.bib
Onleilove Alston 07-11-2008

During this BBQ season we have to carefully consider what products are apart of our seasonal celebrations. Recently I attended the DC campaign kick-off for the Justice at Smithfield Campaign. "Smithfield Foods is the largest pork processor and producer in the world, the fourth largest turkey processor and fifth largest beef processor in the U.S." In the early 1990's Smithfield opened its Tar Heel, North Carolina plant, with [...]