Sunday, March 30, 2014

The immigrant worker: our class allies

By Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

As a young man I worked laying street sewers with Irish road gangs, sometimes in the countryside.  They called it the “lump”.  In the mid sixties Ireland was a peasant country by some accounts, its economy stinted for hundreds of years, never allowed to develop as an occupied territory of Britain. Rural men were forced to leave their villages and come to England looking for work.  Some of them had never been outside their villages back home.

They faced the most degrading racism and were exploited by ruthless contractors both British and Irish.  They were nameless really as so many of them used false names and taxes were avoided.  “An Irishman went in to the pigsty and all the pigs walked out” was one ditty I remember. The jokes were generally about how stupid they were, how Irish women were “nuns or whores” or how they were dirty.

I still remember before the race relation’s act when we would see signs in the windows of lodging houses that said:
No blacks
No Irish
No dogs

The Irish immigrants did all the nasty work, building roads and such.  They were national health workers and other service work. Then more and more people of color from the British Empire’s colonies came.  They swarmed in to the national health system as nurses unskilled workers and also as doctors and also filled a lot of the jobs Irish immigrants occupied except construction.  I remember it being said that the people of color gave the Irish some breathing room, after all, the Irishman was referred to in some circles as the Englishman’s “nigger.” And the British bourgeois were known to describe them as the “White Chimpanzees.”

There are lots of songs about this period in Irish history

In the era of capitalist globalization and decay the migration of peoples has intensified.  The Persian Gulf states, basically fiefdoms run by monarchial families and backed up by western imperialism, rely solely on foreign labor. The stories of torture murder and general abuse by rich Saudi’s and other wealthy Arabs in these areas are well known. Some domestic workers have been mutilated or killed by their employers.

Many immigrants in the former colonial world countries are driven to leave their homes due to war and violence and the breakdown of the state. The extreme poverty in some of these countries, robbed of their wealth by a few centuries of British or western imperialism, drives people northward.

These economic refugees, victims of a decaying capitalist system, often face the most horrible abuse despite ending up with the worst jobs.  The right wing neo-Nazi elements in Britain try to whip up British nationalism and the need for cultural and racial purity blaming the victims of capitalism for the decline of British capitalism and its influence in the world. They prostrate themselves before the ruling classes, the parasitic monarchy and the bankers and financial swindlers and attack Somali immigrants as the cause of the once proud empire’s decline.
the !%'s propaganda

Here in California it is the immigrants from the south, Mexico and other parts of Central America who face similar treatment.  But people do not leave their homes and families for this great life up north because they want to.  They are not tourists. The journey north to the US is a horrible experience.  The people that transport them often steal their money, beat them and rape the women.  They then face vigilantes and other right wing nutcases at the border.

Only last week, 370 immigrant children were found wandering around in different states of Mexico after being abandoned by the traffickers. The traffickers stole their money and left them. According to Reuters 163 of them were children under 18 without parents. The children told authorities that the traffickers were paid $3000 to $5000 but took off with the money after dumping them. "The majority of the children showed signs of extreme fatigue, foot injuries, dehydration and disorientation whereby they didn't know where they had been abandoned,", a representative of Mexico’s National Migration Institute told Reuters.

To give an idea of the mass migration of people in an unstable and destructive world economy Mexican authorities reckon that in the week these children were found, 1895 immigrants from countries as far away as Somalia and Japan and Syria were detected in Mexico.  Then we should recall that NAFTA drove millions of Mexican subsistence farmers off their land that at least provided basic necessities, these people also came northward.

It is so easy to simply shut this horrific reality out of our minds. After all, what can we do about it?  For most people, even those workers who are better off and who have the luxury of regular food and a roof over our heads, it seems worrying about people like these is pointless because there is absolutely nothing that can be done.  And while many of us are more fortunate, even here in the United States, the most powerful economy in the world, people go hungry every day; people sleep under freeway passes every day. For the rest of us with a home and relative security, destitution needn’t be that far away in a country with very limited social services and where the dominant ideology is that you’re in control of your own destiny. Here in the US if you have no money, “You’re on your own baby”.

There is no making capitalism better; it is inherently a bloodthirsty and violent system.  Things are not going to improve;  poverty will not be eradicated no matter what Bill Gates says. The environment will not be cleansed no matter what Al Gore says, or how “green” our local plumber or coffee shop owner is. We are a bit isolated here in the US with the most censored and controlled media in the industrialized world.  But there is resistance to capitalist degradation across the globe. Not the resistance of the religious fanatics who have lost their sense of humanity and hope for redemption in an imaginary heaven. After all, strapping a wad of dynamite to oneself and blowing up a bunch of people in the local market is not exactly an act of defiance----it is an act of desperation like the last gasp of a dying man.

Factory workers in Cambodia have waged massive strikes against their western backed employers despite being murdered by state police. In Bangladesh, industrial workers, there, mostly women, have struck ruthless factory owners who are also backed by western corporations and have waged pitched battles with cops and company thugs in the streets.  In China, workers have struck foreign plants making huge gains despite having no independent unions.

I began this commentary because I was moved by the news of these children in Mexico. Imagine if they were your children. Human beings forced to migrate due to the failure of the market suffer no matter what country they are from or what country they migrate to. Here in the US, some people even advocate that they be denied medical care if they are undocumented. How can any decent human being suggest such a thing? This is in the land of the billionaires and here in California we have more billionaires than any other state. Buffet and Gates, two US billionaires could solve poverty between them. They never worked for their billions, their money comes from the profit of capital, by getting others to labor.

Two things stick in my mind as I think about why I write this. One is that we have no choice but to fight to change the world in which we live. It is a difficult task but not an impossible one. We have the numbers; capitalism cannot function if we don’t work.

The other is that the 1% uses all sorts of methods to divide us. They too know we have the numbers. They are afraid of the working class so they use every tool at their disposal to divide us, to turn us against one another and blame each other and not them for the crisis in our lives.

That’s why we must embrace our immigrant brothers and sisters no matter where they come from or how they reach their destination.  To save our own skins, we must save theirs, we must help them through a global cross border movement a genuine workers’ movement that confront global capital and offer a real future to the children of the world.

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