Workers Vanguard No. 898
14 September 2007
Democrats, Republicans: Enemies of Workers, Oppressed
Labor: Defend Immigrant Rights!
Full Citizenship Rights for All Immigrants!
U.S., Mexican Workers: For Joint Class Struggle!
As part of an escalating anti-immigrant onslaught, the Bush administration announced in August that it would massively expand its program of no match letters, requiring employers to fire immigrants whose Social Security numbers do not match up with government files. This directly threatens many of the roughly 12 million undocumented immigrants—as well as countless others whose Social Security numbers the Feds got wrong—with unemployment, arrest and deportation. While the courts have put the current plan on hold, many immigrants have already lost their jobs due to mismatched numbers.
This is also a way to attack the labor movement as a whole by purging militant workers. A case in point is the Smithfield pork processing plant in Tar Heel, North Carolina—the largest such plant in the world. Last month, 25 workers were arrested for no match Social Security numbers, from a list supplied by the company. The arrests came amid a years-long organizing effort by the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) at this notoriously anti-union facility in open shop North Carolina. When 75 immigrants were similarly victimized last November, the company was forced to reinstate them after a two-day walkout of more than 1,000 workers, mainly Latino immigrants but also including black and white workers. Two months later, 21 workers were arrested by Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (I.C.E.) cops and then deported.
Whats needed is a concerted effort by the whole UFCW, backed by all labor, to beat back company/government victimizations and organize Smithfield. A victory here would resound throughout the open shop South, where the racist color bar has historically been used to keep black people down and trade unions out, and would help revitalize labor throughout the U.S., where the rate of union membership in private industry is at its lowest point in over a century.
As Marxists who champion the interests of the international working class, we say: Anyone who has made it to this country has the right to stay here—Full citizenship rights for all immigrants! No deportations! In a joint declaration issued last year by the Spartacist League/U.S. and our comrades of the Grupo Espartaquista de México (GEM), we wrote:
Defense of immigrant rights is necessary not only to fight the exploitation of the most vulnerable layers of the population. It is also crucial to reversing the decades-long decline of the trade unions, by enlisting immigrant workers, many of whom have a history of militant struggle, in the front ranks of the labor movement. Mexican immigrant workers can serve as a human bridge linking the struggles of the North American and Latin American proletariat.
Opposition to anti-immigrant racism in the U.S. is directly intertwined with the struggle against black oppression. It is particularly important to combat anti-immigrant chauvinism among U.S.-born black and white workers, while immigrant workers must grasp that anti-black racism remains the touchstone of social reaction in the U.S.
—WV No. 867, 31 March 2006
Imperialisms Labor Lieutenants
The need for some hard class struggle by the American working class could not be clearer. Unions continue to take a beating as workers health benefits are torn up and their pensions are looted. Now the bursting of the speculative mortgage bubble that has kept the housing market afloat threatens a broader economic collapse in which millions in this country would face losing their homes and jobs. Mexico, meanwhile, has seen huge outpourings of social protest against extortionate food price increases and other attacks on the already impoverished masses. A number of strikes and other struggles have been punctuated by pitched battles with murderous cops and troops.
The situation cries out for solidarity in struggle by workers on both sides of the border against the U.S. imperialist rulers and their henchmen in Mexico. First and foremost, such a perspective demands that the multiracial working class in the U.S. stand forthrightly in defense of the rights of workers from Mexico, Central America and elsewhere who live and work here and face a rising tide of anti-immigrant chauvinism and state repression. But that poses pointblank the need for a new, class-struggle leadership of labor, forged in the fight for a workers party in opposition to both the Democratic and Republican parties of capital.
This was brought home earlier this month when, under a provision of the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Mexican truckers were to be allowed to operate on major U.S. highways for the first time since they were banned in 1982. The U.S. labor movement should have seized on this as an opportunity to fight for equal pay for equal work at the highest existing wage levels, a demand that would undermine the trucking bosses effort to lower wages by pitting U.S. and Mexican workers against each other. Such a struggle could serve as a spur to reverse decades of union-busting deregulation in the American trucking industry, which has led to a sharp drop in union membership. It would also be widely popular among working people in Mexico, where NAFTA has further impoverished millions of workers and peasants, fueling a mass exodus of people looking for work in the U.S.
But instead of organizing against the trucking bosses, the Teamsters bureaucracy under James Hoffa Jr. escalated its years-long chauvinist vendetta against Mexican truckers. After the union joined the Sierra Club and others in demanding a court injunction to bar Mexican drivers, on September 6 Teamsters members were mobilized to protest at the border with signs railing against Unsafe Mexican Trucks. The treachery of this flag-waving campaign was made clear by Teamsters national vice president Jim Santangelo, who pushed the homeland security line used to justify the governments reactionary war on terror: This is not about unions organizing these guys. Its all about homeland security and the safety of Americas highways (SignOnSanDiego.com, September 6).
Shortly before NAFTA was implemented, the SL/U.S. declared in a joint statement with our Mexican and Canadian comrades:
There is a burning need for an internationalist proletarian opposition which stands with the working class and impoverished peasantry of Mexico against the imperialist assault. The Canadian, U.S. and Mexican sections of the International Communist League are dedicated to building a revolutionary vanguard that can unite the working masses of the continent in common class struggle.
—WV No. 530, 5 July 1991
We have always denounced NAFTA as the free trade rape of Mexico. This has nothing in common with the U.S. labor bureaucracys poisonous, chauvinist tirades against such pacts, through which they paint foreign workers as the enemy of American workers.
Its about time that workers had a leadership that fought for their class interests instead of the current misleaders, who uphold the national interests of the U.S. capitalist rulers. Flag-waving jingoism, economic protectionism and anti-immigrant chauvinism obscure the fundamental truth that the interests of the workers and those of the capitalists who exploit them are irreconcilably counterposed. The war on terror pushed by both Republicans and Democrats and peddled by the labor tops has served as a pretext for imperialist slaughter from Afghanistan to Iraq and for a wholesale assault on the rights of immigrants and the population as a whole at home. The repressive security measures enacted under this rubric bear down not only against immigrants but against black people and unionized workers, as seen recently in the police attack on black longshoremen in Sacramento (see article, page 7).
While the AFL-CIO shifted from its overt anti-immigrant stance in 2000, all wings of the trade-union officialdom embrace the class-collaborationist politics that undermine labor struggle. Thus AFL-CIO chief John Sweeney protested the latest no match program not by mobilizing union power but by joining in a lawsuit with the ACLU and others, while the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other groups representing capitalists dependent on immigrant labor simultaneously demanded that the government postpone sending the letters. Andy Stern, head of the Change to Win federation that split from the AFL-CIO two years ago, is the most vociferous of the labor tops in proclaiming the lie of the common interests of corporations and unions. The SEIU service employees union, a union formerly headed by Stern with a largely immigrant membership, supports guest worker legislation. We oppose such programs, which effectively impose indentured servitude on immigrants.
The labor misleaders embrace of U.S. capitalisms national interests derives from their status as minor beneficiaries of the superprofits gleaned from American imperialisms exploitation of the peoples of the world. If working people are to stop taking it in the neck, it is necessary to forge a new labor leadership based on a program of internationalist class struggle. Such a leadership would fight for the political independence of labor from the bosses parties—Democrats and Republicans. There is a crying need for a revolutionary workers party—a party that fights to organize the unorganized; that mobilizes labors power to bust the union-busters; that fights tooth and nail in defense of the rights of black people, immigrants and all the oppressed; that fights for a workers government that will expropriate the bloodsucking capitalist rulers and uproot their system of exploitation, oppression and imperialist war.
Rulers Escalate War on Immigrants
The Feds move to implement the no match rule, which was originally mandated by the 1986 Simpson-Mazzoli immigration reform, is part of a crescendo of attacks on immigrant rights. The militarization of the U.S.-Mexico border continues apace, with radar-equipped watchtowers, elite Black Hawk helicopter teams, thousands more border patrol cops and miles of walls and fences and high-tech snooping devices. I.C.E. raids on workplaces, homes and shopping malls have soared. Proposed anti-immigration legislation is sweeping local and state governments across the country, threatening further crackdowns on the hiring of undocumented immigrants and measures to deny them state and local benefits.
The number of immigrants in detention has tripled over five years, rising in some estimates to 283,000. The patchwork of federal centers, private prisons and local jails that make up the secretive system of immigrant detention is the fastest growing form of incarceration in a country with the worlds highest rate of imprisonment. Stories of hideous conditions abound. Children wearing inmate scrubs walk the halls. Cancer and gangrene among inmates are left untreated. At least 62 immigrants have died in administrative custody since 2004.
Victoria Arellano, an undocumented transgender Mexican, died on July 20 after being denied AIDS treatment in San Pedro, California. More than 70 of her fellow detainees, desperately worried about her health, signed a petition urging immediate medical care; more than 20 of these detainees were transferred from the facility less than 24 hours before a Human Rights Watch official went to interview them. Victoria Arellano, aged 23, died shackled to a bed with two immigration agents standing guard at the door. We demand immediate freedom for all immigrant detainees!
The administration boasts that its war on immigrants has led to a decline in the numbers of those attempting to cross into the U.S. The crackdown is in part an effort by the Bush administration, whose popularity is at rock bottom, to firm up right-wing, nativist Republican voters for next years elections.
Bush had worked closely the past two years with key Congressional Democrats to push through an immigration reform. The most recent was a bill pushed by liberal Democrat Ted Kennedy that called for doubling the border patrol and forcing all foreign workers to carry tamper-proof identification. The bills guest worker provision was strongly favored by U.S. agribusiness, which depends on undocumented immigrants for at least 70 percent of its workforce, and also the meatpacking, restaurant and construction industries.
With the number of immigrant produce pickers plummeting and with growers worried about losing more workers to I.C.E. raids, some California outfits have moved operations to Mexico. But the Kennedy bill failed to pass the Senate in June due to opposition from nativist yahoos—whose solution is to ship em all out—as well as from high-tech companies complaining that it did not provide enough visas for software engineers and computer programmers, who are in short supply in the U.S.
The bitter clashes over immigration policy reflect the competing needs of different sections of the capitalist class. Marxists can seek to exploit divisions within the ruling class in order to advance the proletarian class struggle and the interests of the oppressed. For example, we would support a genuine amnesty for undocumented immigrants, though existing proposals that are occasionally mischaracterized as amnesty are in fact punitive measures. But we understand that there cannot be a just immigration policy under capitalism, an inherently unjust system rooted in the exploitation of the many by the few.
The capitalists seek to modulate the flow of immigration, particularly to the imperialist countries, in order to suit their labor needs. Our program is for a series of workers revolutions that would lay the basis for an international planned, socialist economy. This is the only road to eliminating poverty, the main driving force for mass migrations throughout the world, and providing a life of abundance for all.
Lesser Evil Reformism
From the defense of immigrant rights to the struggle against imperialist war, the reformist left rejects a perspective of mobilizing the proletariat, leading the oppressed, against the capitalist class enemy, its state and its political parties. Rather, the reformists promote the liberal falsehood that the government of this capitalist democracy can and will defend the interests of the exploited and oppressed if only the right politicians are elected or sufficient grassroots pressure is applied. What this all comes down to is electing more Democrats—the lesser evil face of capitalist imperialism.
In an 8 June article on its Web site concerning the Kennedy bill, the Party for Socialism and Liberation wrote: The detestable parts of the Senate bill are clear. But the people can intervene decisively in the debate to get rid of them. Rather than summarily accept or reject the bill, the provisions should be points of struggle. The guest worker program, the point system, militarization of the border, the division of families—these aspects can be defeated if the level of struggle is high enough. Similarly, after the defeat of the bill, Socialist Action (July 2007) headlined, Senate Kills Immigration Bill; Mass Action Must be Revived stating, The death of the Senate reform gives new life to calls for a united front to mobilize working-class power against ICE and for amnesty.
This is just the out-in-the-streets face of the lesser evil game. The mass actions that Socialist Action and other reformist outfits seek to revive were the huge immigrant rights protests of a year ago. These demonstrations and job actions against anti-immigrant legislation showed that immigrants were not willing to passively accept the rulers attempts to criminalize them. But this was far from a mobilization of working-class power. The bourgeois politicians, church officials and labor bureaucrats who led the protests consciously directed them into Democratic Party electoralism. A common chant went, Today we march, tomorrow we vote. And along with the liberal-reformist antiwar movement, these mobilizations played a part in the Democrats retaking of Congress last November.
The Democrats are past masters at talking out of both sides of their mouths, passing themselves off as friends of labor, black people and immigrants when it suits their purposes while carrying out vicious attacks on workers and the oppressed. Hillary Clinton stands on the record of her husbands administration. It was the Clinton White House that enacted the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, under which even longtime permanent residents can be deported for trivial offenses committed years earlier, and presided over Operation Gatekeeper, under which a border wall was built to seal off San Diego. John Edwards, meanwhile, distinguishes himself by waving the protectionist banner, earning the support of the Steel Workers and Mine Workers tops who push this chauvinist poison.
As for liberal darling Barack Obama, he along with Hillary Clinton supported the Secure Fence Act mandating the construction of a 700-mile wall along the border. In the most recent Democratic presidential candidates debate in Florida, he and the others took pains to express sympathy with immigrants—for good reason, as the debate was on a Spanish-language television network. But Obama is also no slouch at courting anti-immigrant bigots, writing in The Audacity of Hope: Im not entirely immune to such nativist sentiments. When I see Mexican flags waved at proimmigration demonstrations, I sometimes feel a flush of patriotic resentment. When Im forced to use a translator to communicate with the guy fixing my car, I feel a certain frustration.
Mexico on the Boil
Under Democratic and Republican administrations, U.S. imperialism has devastated Mexican society. NAFTA has pushed millions of peasants into the cities, hugely increasing urban poverty as well as mass emigration to the U.S. Some 10 percent of the Mexican population now lives in the U.S., and the $20 billion they send home each year is Mexicos second-largest source of foreign revenue. For the Mexican bourgeoisie, immigration to the North is a critical safety valve for keeping the contradictions in this semicolonial society from exploding.
Mexican president Felipe Calderón of the right-wing National Action Party (PAN) has blasted Washingtons immigration policies, recently complaining about the expulsion of Elvira Arellano after she left her place of sanctuary in a Chicago church. This is the same man who, in the service of his U.S. imperialist masters, is testing the waters on privatization of strategic national industries such as oil and electricity. Last winter, in a show of force aimed at intimidating the entire population, Calderón unleashed 27,000 troops throughout Mexico in anti-drug missions, earning high praise from the Bush administration.
Mexican society has become increasingly volatile and polarized. Two strikers were killed in the course of a bitter four-month strike by miners and steel workers against the PAN governments ouster of their union president. For several months, striking teachers, peasants and students occupied the town of Oaxaca in the South. Massive demonstrations took place earlier this year against the governments slashing of subsidies for the price of tortillas.
NAFTA underlines that the economies of the U.S. and its neighbors are increasingly integrated. The struggle for workers revolutions in Mexico and the U.S. is also intimately linked. Our watchwords are those that Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels inscribed on their banner nearly 160 years ago in the Communist Manifesto: The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win. Working men of all countries, unite! For socialist revolution throughout the Americas!