Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Amnesty for the undocumented, they've earned it.

by Richard Mellor

Immigrants are hard workers; they have to be.  They are usually economic refugees, victims of wars, both physical wars and trade wars.  The Irish came to England and to the US in droves to escape poverty in their homeland, a poverty that was a product of occupation and the theft of their land.  As a person of English origin living in California, I have often compared the Irish immigrants to Britain to our Mexican and other Latino immigrants who are also economic migrants, forced to leave their homes and families to stave off starvation.  NAFTA drove more than a million Mexican farmers from their subsistence farms; many came up here.  It’s hard to compete with Con Agra or Monsanto when it comes to agricultural production, the US small farmer can testify to that.

Many of the day laborers we see on the street corners of our cities are indigenous people that fled Guatemala to escape the murderous regime that the US installed there.  These peasants fought to defend their land but US weaponry and money ensures the land barons their primary place in the pecking order.

The question of “illegal” immigration is a major issue between the two Wall Street parties here in the US.  The Democrats claim to be the party of the poor, the workers, the downtrodden masses. But the voluntary exit from the political arena of some 140 million eligible voters in the election cycle shows how much faith Americans have in either of the parties of capitalism. The trade Union hierarchy continues to push a political party that millions of US workers have already abandoned.

In hard times----meaning during times of market failure----immigrants are an easy target, a handy scapegoat to divert attention from the inability of the market to provide a secure and fruitful existence for millions of people even in the most powerful economy in human history. They are to blame along with native workers but more so.  They take our jobs, they drag down wages, use our public services, etc. Racism is added to the mix; they wouldn’t be desperate if they could govern themselves; if they were smart like us.

There are some 11 million undocumented immigrants in the US, the majority of them from Mexico and the rest of Latin America.  How to deal with these people is a bit of an issue in Democratic and Republican circles.  As they always do in order to obscure the class divide, Obama talked of unity in his recent Inaugural address. “He used the word, ‘together’ seven times in the 15 minute speech” according to Bloomberg Business Week.
He went on to the subject of immigration touting the US as the land of opportunity and that the US “journey” (to where I’m not sure) is not complete “Until bright young students and engineers are listed in our workforce, rather than expelled from our country.”

It is not so difficult to get in to the US if you are a Russian tennis star or a former assassin for the CIA (there’s a few of them here) or a former dictator that helped US corporations plunder a third world country’s resources, Marcos of the Phillipines, the Shah of Iran, etc.
If you have money there are special considerations.

Neither party really seriously objects to these types of immigrants, the “bright stars”. The ones with money or potential to make money. The problem is the 11 million who “aren’t the ‘bright young’ future job creators Obama lauded in his speech.”, says Business Week.   So who are they then?

Making Calif a global agricultural powerhouse
Well if you live in California and you eat anything that pretty much grows out of the ground you can thank many of these brothers and sisters for it, undocumented or not.  If you go out for a nice meal no matter which type of ethnic food it is, Indian, Persian, Italian, Pakistani, Afghan or plain old American food, there’s a good chance a Latino, one of the 11 million will be cooking it.  If you need work on your home, your lawn, your rental unit, they might be doing that too.  They’ll be doing all of this for piss poor wages.  Then there’s the hog factories meat processing plants and chicken processing plants, you name it. You’ll find them there as well. After crushing militancy in the meat backing Unions with the help of the Union hierarchy, the bosses actually recruited labor from Mexico and Central America, providing transportation up north.

The ruling class whips up anti-immigrant feeling when it’s useful for them.  They take our jobs, they’re jacking up the cost of medical care and when there is a serious criminal offense committed by one of them it proves how we have to deal with this problem.

These workers are economic migrants, victims of the market.  They are the allies of US workers not the enemies.  The bosses favor the “bright stars” those that will more likely support capitalism and have ambitions to exploit workers when they arrive.  The US capitalist class doesn’t support these people coming in because they “create” jobs.  They support them because they are not hostile to the state of affairs, to capitalism.  Because they have desires to exploit Labor, to become rich off of the Labor of others or to at least facilitate the process of capital accumulation through their special skills for which they’ll be handsomely rewarded; they will tend to be more middle class in their outlook.

The Republicans are supposed to be the obstacle but what do the Democrats offer?  Outgoing Labor Secretary Hilda Solis wants things to be “fair”. She wants to bring the undocumented “out of the shadows”. Amnesty is “..a word we do not use.” she tells Charlie Rose, the journalist, commentator and big business insider. Solis has a radical solution, “earned legalization and fairness.”  Once this is done these immigrants “pay their back taxes, they get in line, they have no criminal record.”

Back taxes?  How about reimbursing them for all the profits they’ve made for US businesses receiving slave wages in return?  How about that? What about the rents they have paid to the “bright stars” in the slumlord business? Solis is herself a Latina from an immigrant working class background whose father was a Teamster and a shop steward.  But she represents the US capitalist class, rising to a considerable rank in one of its two political parties.  The undocumented workers in the US have contributed a lot more to our society than Donald Trump.  They have done so through the most backbreaking work in the worst conditions and living in constant fear and insecurity.  They do what all immigrants do, they work their asses off. They have to listen to racist ideologues demanding that they be denied basic rights like the right to drive a car legally (a must in California where “communist” public transport is so poor) or the right to medical care.  They have paid for the right to medical treatment ten times over. They actually contribute to our welfare.

Those immigrants that Obama refers to, the “bright young students and engineers” are generally less likely to join Unions or appeal to Unions or live in or close to the communities of native-born workers no matter what their racial background.  They will not frequent the bars and clubs and social activities we frequent in the main as we are forced to do through work and living in communities that border each other.  The class composition of the 11 million is overwhelmingly working class, and despite their attempts to divide us, demonize them and weaken class unity, when the struggle breaks out in to the open, there is a powerful tendency to overcome these divisions and for us to seek class allies and unite along class lines. Racism and xenophobia will also play its part, but this tendency to class unity is always there.  This is why these 11 million immigrants are feared and why they have to be portrayed negatively.

The AFL-CIO leadership needs the 11 million as does the Catholic Church, one for dollars in the Sunday plate the other to add to the declining Union membership and as votes for their Democratic allies at election time.  Not long ago a friend of mine who was a waiter in a fancy hotel helped the restaurant workers’ Union get a foot in the door.  The place was eventually Unionized.  Their pay increased a little and they now had Union dues.  My friend wanted to have a steward’s election and was an aggressive advocate of workers’ rights himself.  He called me frustrated with the Union staffer’s lack of response, never returning his calls.  He eventually went down the Union office and managed to talk to one of the staffers who told him that their resources were stretched as they were busy “growing” the Union.  In their competition with other Unions for “market share” and revenue growth, both bosses’ terms, they were done with the hotel.  They had a five-year contract a no-strike clause and some increased revenue.  The workers meanwhile were already beginning to hate the Union

It was Clinton who not long ago betrayed the Labor officialdom with his support for NAFTA after agreeing to oppose it, but they’ll let that go; their jobs are secure; won’t be exported. The Wall Street Journal reports today that Latino membership in Unions has risen 21% over the last 10 years while “white” membership fell 13%.  Leaving aside the discriminatory reasons for it, we could put this another way; we could say that higher paying jobs with better benefits and Union strength on the job have declined and low waged unionized service jobs have grown. The Union hierarchy is less interested in immigrant rights than the need for increased revenue as they see the Unions as employment agencies with them as the CEO’s.  They call for support for a wage raise to $10 an hour from $8 for a family of four as they assist the bosses drive wages and benefits at the higher end down further.

AFL-CIO chief Richard Trumka, like any good businessman needs increased revenue. He brushes the past aside and ignores the fact that his Democratic Party allies, like California governor Jerry Brown are savaging workers’ living standards on behalf of the corporations announcing that the AFL-CIO leadership looks, “…..forward to working with members of Congress and the president to ensure that all men and women here, regardless of their skin color or where they were born, can participate meaningfully in the United States of America with full rights and equal protections.”

Good luck with that Mr. Trumka. Some team you’re on there.

Those in the immigration debate that simply call for the opening of borders are on the wrong track as a huge influx of Labor power would undoubtedly place significant downward pressure on wages.  The Labor movement must develop its own response to these issues rather than allowing big business, through the two political parties that it controls to set the ground rules. We must support immigrant rights domestically and not fall in to the skape-goating trap while at the same time assisting the growth and development of Labor organizations in other counties where poverty is rife. Most people emigrate because they can’t feed their families. We must reject competition between workers in different countries and work to build a united global working -class movement to fight global capital.

Even if these workers and peasants don't come here to the US, staying in their home countries will have basically the same effect. It will increase the supply of Labor, further driving down wages (Labor’s price) and increasing the rate at which capital invests since there would be even greater profits to be made there; capital doesn’t like closed borders. Obviously this would mean further job losses here in the U.S. Thus, we cannot escape the affects of the conditions of those workers and peasants, no matter if they come here or stay in their home countries. The only real difference is that if they come here, the effects of this forced competition are more visible to us. We can bury our heads in the sand and ignore the conditions in such countries as El Salvador, Mexico, etc., but that in no way means that those conditions don't affect us just as much. Therefore, our only choice is to join with them, wherever they are, in a united struggle to improve wages and conditions, as well as democratic rights, whether they be here or there.

Of course, this means opposing U.S. foreign policy, which has actively suppressed democracy and trade union rights in these countries in the interests of the giant multi-nationals.  It also means a struggle within the AFL-CIO whose leadership has blindly supported this foreign policy that has installed and/or supported one ruthless dictator after another in these countries.

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