Statement Of Rabbi David Saperstein, Director, Religious Action Center Of Reform Judaism, In Support Of Strong Anti-Sweat Shop Measures
On Behalf Of The Union Of American Hebrew Congregations And The Central Conference Of American Rabbis
October 22, 1996
We stand here today in support of strong anti-sweatshop measures becausemistreating workers is an affront to God, to humanity, and to decency. Westand in solidarity with those workers forced to work in sweatshopsbecause we once stood in those sweatshops -- our grandmothers andgreat-grandmothers worked machines that crippled their hands and weakenedtheir eyes. It was our grandmothers and great-grandmothers who perishedin the flames of the Triangle Shirtwaist Company. It was our grandmothersand great-grandmothers who fought for garment workers unions because theyfinally said, "Enough! We are human. You will treat us with dignity.You will pay us decent wages. You will limit our hours. And you willensure our safety."
We must continue that battle, for sadly, the sweatshops our forebearersfought to eradicate are back. They exist in the dark corners of the workworld where the glare of profit has blinded the greedy, the mean, and theuncaring to the light of justice. There is a Yiddish word appropriate forthose who run sweatshops, for those who would make their fortune byexploiting others: gonif -- thief.
For sweatshops steal childhoods, andsteal mothers from their children, steal labor and leisure, and stealhealth and hope. When a thief enters our home, we know he has been thereby the missing property: the empty shelves; the barren cabinets; themissing valuables.
We know the thefts committed by the sweatshop by thevacant stares and deadened minds of exploited children and mothers; byonce-healthy bodies now wracked with pain from back-breaking labor; bycountless shattered lives and dreams, by the profits that line the pocketsof owners and executives of sweatshops and of corporations that purchasefrom sweatshops while their workers live in poverty. God calls us tospeak for those of God's children who cannot speak for themselves, evenwhile we strive to empower those locked up or left out to speak forthemselves. It is to answer that call that we stand here today, humbledand determined.
The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism is the Washington office of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC) , whose 900 congregations across North America encompass 1.5 million Reform Jews , and the Central Conference of American Rabbis(CCAR) whose membership includes over 1700 Reform rabbis .