|Immigrant labor, the backbone of California's agriculture economy|
With the vicious attacks the Predator in Chief has waged on immigrants I thought I'd share this again. One thing that I want to mention in another commentary on this subject is why this immigration occurs and history behind it, this is never discussed in the mainstream. The other issue is the failure of the labor leadership to raise this correctly and to build real, lasting and powerful links between US and Mexican/Central American workers.
I would make some minor additions if I were to write it today but this issue doesn't go away so I am republishing it in response to the increasing efforts to blame immigrant for the crisis of capitalism. I am being a little lazy here but many of the points made in it are still relevant. Richard Mellor
Undocumented Workers Are Not The Enemy Of Labor
Undocumented Workers Are Not The Enemy Of Labor
It’s hard for me not to feel anger at the eagerness with which some working people join multi millionaires like Arnold Schwarzenegger and corporate politicians like Gray Davis in denying undocumented workers driving licenses.
These brothers and sisters are among the most abused and brutalized sections of the working class in this country. They are the butt of racist jokes and humor and are terrorized by contractors who hire them to exploit their precarious position and rich people who want cheap servants. After working excessive hours at low pay doing jobs most Americans avoid, they are set upon by the landlords who rarely fail to look a gift horse in the mouth.
I hate to admit that some working people join this bandwagon out of sheer meanness, the opportunity to step on someone when they’re down, someone weaker and less fortunate than themselves. But underlying most opposition among workers is the question of economics, of the job market. Due to their situation, undocumented workers work for lower wages, are less able to organize and are seen as a real threat to good paying jobs. The employers, despite their phony patriotism and hysterical xenophobia spread through the airwaves by their mouthpieces like Rush Limbaugh and Michael Savage, profit handsomely from the undocumented among us.
While allowing an undocumented worker a drivers’ license does me no harm whatsoever, denying them one serves to increase the misery and terror that many of these brothers and sisters face daily. It is almost impossible to have a job in California and no vehicle to take you to work. The undocumented will be forced to drive whether they have legal licenses or not. A legal license would merely remove some pressure on these people. Supporting this move would be an act of solidarity between those of us that are so-called legal and those of us that aren’t. What would be important to them would come at no cost to us and would strengthen our (Labor’s) ties with them.
So when we are confronted with this issue it is important for us to look at it two ways as far as I am concerned. Firstly, the employers will always use one section of the working class against the other in their efforts to maximize profits and keep wages low and unions out. This is a given regardless of their public statements about aliens and immigrants ruining America. It is in our interests to support unions organizing the undocumented and strengthening their rights so that when the employers try to use them against us we will have built a solid base of support among them and them us.
Secondly we do have to deal with the issue of “illegal” immigration. Obviously a huge influx of workers whether skilled or unskilled does tend to depress wages and, like any other commodity, Labor plays by the law of supply and demand, increased labor without corresponding job increases favors the buyer of Labor not the seller of it. So I think while we support immigrant rights domestically it is important to address the issue of increased immigration through our southern borders. But let’s look at some of the contributing factors to South/North migration.
Let's look at El Salvador for instance. In 1932, shortly after seizing power, Maximiliano Hernandez Martinez slaughtered some 30,000 Pipil Indians who had revolted against the giant landowners. With U.S. support he banned all Unions and ruled in the interests of the ruling elite until 1944. The coffee magnates that he and subsequent regimes supported with U.S. help took over so many small farms that the number of landless peasants in El Salvador quadrupled between 1961 and 1975. Hundreds of thousands left the country looking for work. Where do you think many of them went?
Supported by El Salvadore's Catholic Church a movement toward democracy developed in the late 60's and 70's that gave El Salvadorians some hope for a better future. But the more this movement developed the more repressive the oligarchy and its military dictatorship became. A civil war erupted in 1979 after an army coup aborted the results of a democratic election. During the next two years right wing death squads supported by the U.S. hunted down any dissidents; more than 8,000 trade unionists were murdered or abducted during this period.
Siding with the El Salvadorian oligarchy, the U.S. government provided them with $3.7bn in aid from 1981-89, 70% of this money was for weapons and war assistance. Such was the terror in El Salvador that thousands of people fled north to the U.S. to escape death or torture. Incidentally, up until 1999, every Taleban official was on the payroll of the U.S. government as well; another U.S. foreign policy measure the majority if not all of the heads of organized Labor supported.
Guatemala is similar. In 1954 a CIA sponsored coup overthrew the democratically elected government of Jacobo Arbenz on behalf of the United Fruit Co. and other big landowners. Arbenz had introduced land reforms that threatened the domination of the United Fruit Company over Guatemalan society. Only 2% of landowners owned 72% of the arable land, much of it unused. United fruit alone held 600,000 acres of mostly unused land. The Guatemalan colonel that the CIA selected to replace Arbenz immediately outlawed hundreds of trade unions and returned more than 1.5 million acres to United fruit Co.
Similar situations occurred throughout Central and South America as rebellions against the domination of U.S. corporations over society were suppressed by the U.S. government and its stooges. It is important for us to understand this aspect of the migration north of working class people, particularly the indigenous population that was viciously persecuted by U.S. sponsored regimes. Tragically, the U.S. Labor movement through the AFL-CIO and its departments blindly supported these policies and coups.
Economic policy has also contributed to the uprooting of workers forcing them north in search of a living. NAFTA has had negative effects north and south of the border. Many good union jobs have been lost in the U.S. and in Mexico 1.3 million farm jobs have been lost since 1993, due to subsidized U.S. food imports. It is no wonder that during that period Mexicans working illegally in the U.S. more than doubled; people have to eat. NAFTA is not good for U.S. or Mexican workers.
So the Labor movement must develop its own response to these issues rather than allowing big business, through the two political parties that it controls, set the ground rules. We must support immigrant rights domestically and not fall in to the skapegoating 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.
But 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. 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 U.S. foreign policy that has installed and/or supported one ruthless dictator after another in these countries.
South Area Service Center
Sources: Harvest or Empire: Juan Gonzalez
Business Week: Is NAFTA Worth It? (12-22-03)