Workers Vanguard No. 936
8 May 2009
Labor Tops Offer to Help Bosses Control Immigration
Economic Crisis: Immigrants Under the Gun
Full Citizenship Rights for All Immigrants!
With the economy spiraling downward, immigrants in America face rising unemployment and state repression as the capitalist rulers seek to deflect social discontent by scapegoating immigrant workers for capitalism’s crisis. The ongoing crackdown against the 12 million so-called “illegal” immigrants who live here has resulted in deportation of hundreds of thousands of people and fueled a rising tide of racist chauvinism. Now, signaling their commitment to stepped-up immigration enforcement, President Barack Obama and the Congressional Democrats approved more money and personnel for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (I.C.E., the hated la migra) in February. There is even a proposal for the Border Patrol to spray stretches of the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo riverbank with a poisonous defoliant, raising memories of the use of Agent Orange in Vietnam.
Fewer immigrants today are coming to the U.S. and those who do are finding fewer jobs. Remittances to Mexico fell in 2008 for the first time on record, declining 3.6 percent, part of a worldwide trend as immigrants from developing countries lose jobs. In 2008, the number of Latino immigrants employed or seeking work in the U.S. fell for the first time since 2003. In the face of the all-around misery being inflicted on working people by the workings of the capitalist economy, trade-union tops have responded to layoffs by supporting poisonous protectionist measures, including the “buy American” clause in Obama’s “rescue” package for American industry, and thereby helped to drive a wedge between native-born and foreign-born workers.
Over the past decade the U.S. has more than doubled the personnel patrolling the border while funding for border “security” has been nearly tripled. At the end of March, in the name of fighting “drug violence” in Mexico, the Obama administration laid out a sweeping plan to further militarize the border, including the possible mobilization of National Guard troops. Right before Obama’s first trip to Mexico, Alan Bersin was tapped to fill the post of “border czar”; while working for the Clinton White House, Bersin implemented “Operation Gatekeeper,” with its 12-foot-high walls sealing off San Diego from the Mexican border. Down with the racist “war on drugs”!
Last year, I.C.E. carried out two of the largest immigration raids in U.S. history against individual factories. Now the Obama administration plans to widen the scope of such raids by carrying out undercover investigations and audits of employer records, supposedly so it can prosecute employers who “knowingly” hire undocumented workers, on top of rounding up thousands upon thousands more immigrants. Meanwhile Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has directed agents to apply greater “scrutiny” to the selection and investigation of targets as well as the timing of raids. As governor of Arizona, Napolitano empowered local law enforcement, including Maricopa County sheriff Joe Arpaio, notorious for his use of chain gangs, to terrorize immigrants.
In February, President Obama signed off on a stimulus package that explicitly requires recipients of bailout funds to hire “Americans” over foreigners with special visas, known as H-1Bs. Bank of America and Merrill Lynch, among others, have said that provision led them to rescind job offers to some graduating foreign students. In addition, the federal government is now cracking down on supposed violations of the visa program. In February, federal agents arrested eleven people in California and five other states on charges of H-1B visa fraud. Legislation that would impose similar restrictions on all U.S. employers is expected to be introduced in Congress this month.
It is in the urgent interest of the labor movement to mobilize in defense of immigrant workers, who form a key and vibrant component of the U.S. working class. The social power of the union movement must be mobilized to fight for full citizenship rights for all immigrants! Down with the I.C.E. raids! No deportations! But instead of championing these elementary measures of self-defense against increasing exploitation and union-busting, the patriotic misleaders of the AFL-CIO and Change to Win union federations have just put forward a joint “framework” for immigration “reform,” asking for greater partnership in tinkering with the bourgeoisie’s mechanisms for capitalist profiteering and anti-immigrant repression.
While Obama looks for a “human rights” bonanza with his ballyhooed plan to close Guantánamo (while seeking to transfer most of its helpless, tortured, incommunicado prisoners to other facilities), the construction of new federal detention centers for immigrants continues unabated; a new facility is slated for the Los Angeles area that will hold up to 2,200 immigrants. In the meantime, I.C.E. is holding L.A.-area detainees in the basement of the downtown Federal Building in overcrowded, filthy conditions. According to a lawsuit filed by the ACLU, detainees are forced to sleep on the floor, there is no access to medical care, and rights such as access to mail and one’s attorney are routinely violated. In immigration court, even permanent residents don’t have to be proven “guilty beyond a reasonable doubt” and can be deported for the same alleged crimes they were already acquitted of in criminal court. A statistical reflection of the legal persecution of immigrants is the fact that Latinos now constitute by far the largest number of those sentenced in federal courts—a whopping 40 percent in 2007.
On April 3, the New York Times wrote about the death of Ahmad Tanveer, an immigrant detainee from Pakistan held in the Monmouth County Correctional Institute in New Jersey. Tanveer died in custody under mysterious circumstances on 9 September 2005 and I.C.E. never even reported his death. Another detainee wrote a letter to a local group that corresponds with inmates, describing Tanveer’s chest pains and pleas for medical attention that went unheeded. Who is to say how many more detainees have died, unnamed and unaccounted for, in the detention hellholes, where half a million non-citizens were held last year?
America’s undocumented immigrants, mostly from Mexico and other parts of Latin America, do some of the dirtiest, most backbreaking, most dangerous jobs in this capitalist economy. Having no rights, these workers can be exploited by the capitalists to the limit of physical endurance, hired and fired to meet cyclical and seasonal needs. It is a testament to their militancy and class consciousness that a sizable number of these workers are union members and often involved in organizing battles. Immigrant workers, many with experience in social struggle in their countries of origin, can serve as a human bridge linking up workers in the U.S. with their class brothers and sisters internationally while at the same time breaking down the parochialism of U.S. workers. As we wrote in the International Communist League’s “Declaration of Principles and Some Elements of Program” (Spartacist [English-language edition] No. 54, Spring 1998):
“Modern capitalism, i.e., imperialism, reaching into all areas of the planet, in the course of the class struggle and as economic need demands, brings into the proletariat at its bottom new sources of cheaper labor, principally immigrants from poorer and less-developed regions of the world—workers with few rights who are deemed more disposable in times of economic contraction. Thus capitalism in ongoing fashion creates different strata among the workers, while simultaneously amalgamating the workers of many different lands. Everywhere, the capitalists, abetted by aristocracy-of-labor opportunists, try to poison class consciousness and solidarity among the workers by fomenting religious, national and ethnic divisions. The struggle for the unity and integrity of the working class against chauvinism and racism is thus a vital task for the proletarian vanguard.”
Obama’s Friends in the Union Leadership
Having wooed Latino voters with promises of immigration “reform,” Obama has announced his intention to give a major speech on immigration policy later this month. What he has in mind was shown at a recent town hall meeting in California, where he scolded an imaginary undocumented immigrant: “This is not going to be a free ride. It’s not going to be some instant amnesty. What’s going to happen is you are going to pay a significant fine. You are going to learn English.”
Less than a week later, offering their services as labor police for the capitalist class, the heads of the AFL-CIO and rival Change to Win union federations unveiled a “unified framework for comprehensive immigration reform legislation.” The joint press release quotes Eliseo Medina of the Service Employees International Union: “Today’s unified agreement is a major step forward that will, combined with the continued leadership of President Obama, Vice President Biden and bipartisan leadership in Congress, profoundly improve the future of all workers and build a stronger American economy for our children and grandchildren.”
We oppose all the bourgeoisie’s anti-immigrant laws and regulations and demand full citizenship rights for all immigrants. We defend bilingual education against “English only” bigots and stand for full equality of all languages in all spheres of public life. Should anything like genuine amnesty for undocumented immigrants be proposed, we would be in favor of it, as an elementary democratic gain, though limited and partial, for immigrant workers and the proletariat as a whole. However, all the immigration “reform” proposals now being debated are a cruel hoax for undocumented immigrants and their supporters. The “unified” “reform framework” proposed by the AFL-CIO and Change to Win shows the “framework” they share with the bosses: “Rounding up and deporting the 12 million or more immigrants who are unlawfully present
is not a realistic solution.” According to the union tops, any “adjustment process” to the status of undocumented immigrants “must be designed to ensure that it will not encourage future illegal immigration.”
Perpetually in the political tow of the capitalist Democratic Party, the labor “leaders” now dream of “working together” with Obama in the interests of U.S. capitalism, which they falsely claim coincide with the interests of the working people. Like Ron Gettelfinger—the UAW auto union head who earlier ran to Washington along with the bosses of the Big Three to offer every kind of rotten giveback of the UAW members’ jobs, wages and conditions—today the top bureaucrats of both the AFL-CIO and Change to Win want to advise the capitalist masters on more effective ways to turn the immigration spigot on and off according to what is profitable for the bourgeoisie.
Indeed, in a 21 April editorial, “Immigration and the Unions,” the New York Times wrote approvingly of the responsible, statesmanlike posture of the union bureaucrats toward government immigration policy. The union bureaucrats see no fundamental conflict of interests between labor and capital. But there is a contradiction between their reactionary ideology—premised on promotion of U.S. imperialist interests abroad and defense of the profits of American capitalists at home—and the fact that they sit atop mass organizations of the proletariat. Thus they want to be seen as fighting for immigrant workers, an increasingly crucial component of the unions’ membership.
The AFL-CIO first shifted its stance on immigration in 2000, in response to the fact that a section of the bourgeoisie was dependent on low-cost immigrant labor and to the fact that their own dues base was shrinking. In 2003, they launched a so-called “immigrant workers freedom ride,” whose purpose was to build support for the Democrats. After the mass 2006 May Day demonstrations, the two federations offered competing class-collaborationist “reform” proposals. Their latest plan is more of the same—it accepts that immigration must be controlled and the border sealed off. To regulate immigration they urge an “independent commission that can assess labor market needs on an ongoing basis,” leaving open the possibility of themselves participating directly in such a commission as an adjunct to the repressive forces of the capitalist state. The bureaucrats’ sought-after partnership with the state also finds expression in efforts to organize cops, prison guards and border agents, who are paid to repress working people, immigrants and minorities and have no place in the labor movement. Indeed, the joint statement opines that “border security is clearly very important, but not sufficient”!
The labor bureaucrats’ joint plan accepts and defends the capitalist profit system, aspiring to “build a stronger American economy” and “encourage just and humane economic integration.” While the joint plan has dropped Change to Win’s earlier support for expanding the “guest worker” programs, it calls to “improve the administration of existing temporary worker programs.” These programs are the modern equivalent of indentured servitude, tying immigrants’ visas directly to their employers. The joint plan is designed to reduce immigration during times of high unemployment, while its “worker authorization mechanism” reads like an expanded TWIC proposal (see article, page 4). Written from the viewpoint of what is best for U.S. imperialism, the proposal is shot through with chauvinist language about “our nation’s values,” which goes hand in hand with “America first” protectionism—the policy of allying with one’s “own” government to intervene against foreign competitors and “save” national industry.
The bureaucrats’ ties to the Democratic Party have long served to chain the working class to its exploiters and preserve the rule of racist American capitalism. What is necessary is a political struggle within the union movement against the craven, pro-capitalist policies of the bureaucratic tops and the forging of a class-struggle union leadership. This is part of the struggle to forge a workers party that fights for a workers government. Break with the Democrats! For a revolutionary workers party!
Reform vs. Revolution
The fundamental dividing line between us and the rest of the left is program: reform or revolution. The reformists acquiesce to what is “possible” and practical under capitalism. They grotesquely hailed the election of Obama as a “triumph for the Black masses and all the oppressed,” as Workers World (20 November 2008) put it. Now, they are seeking to pressure Obama to do “right” by immigrants. In March, the liberal Southern California Immigration Coalition (SCIC), which includes the International Socialist Organization (ISO), Freedom Socialist Party and Workers World Party’s (WWP) Bail Out the People Movement, held a pro-Democratic Party demonstration in Los Angeles. The call to action carried the slogans “Ayer Votamos y Hoy Marchamos [Yesterday We Voted and Today We March]! Full Legalization NOW! Stop the ICE Raids! YES WE CAN!” and included a picture of Obama with the caption, “Hope.” The leaflet proclaimed, “Let’s hold Obama accountable!” According to a report on WWP’s Web site (April 24), the SCIC plans “to draft a more progressive counterproposal than those that are currently being introduced in Congress.” Not to be outdone, the ISO gushes over a similar meeting in the Bay Area to create “an alternative to the ‘mainstream’ version of comprehensive immigration reform” (Socialist Worker, 15 April).
The reformists seek to pressure the Democrats to adopt more “enlightened” policies. Ours is a fundamentally different purpose: to build a workers party that fights for a socialist revolution to expropriate the capitalist class and establish a workers state with a planned, collectivized economy. For us Marxists, the question of immigrant rights is a political question, not an economic one determined by the boom-bust cycles of the capitalist economy. As we wrote in “How the Fake Left Amnesties the Democrats” (WV No. 873, 7 July 2006):
“Our aim in intervening on behalf of immigrants, both at the massive demonstrations and within the working class, is to win workers to the understanding that they must oppose the whole capitalist system. We do not seek to tinker with the system, looking for an alternative immigration policy. We will support such reforms as are offered. But, our bottom line is that we will worry about the ebbs and flows of the world economy when the proletariat under revolutionary leadership runs it. We are not responsible for, nor do we seek to advise, the bourgeoisie on its immigration or other policies. We seek to organize the social power of the proletariat to smash this system and establish proletarian rule.”
For a Class-Struggle Fight for Immigrant Rights!
Amid the protectionist uproar pushed by the Teamsters bureaucracy (and their claims of “unsafe” Mexican trucking), Obama and the Democratic Congress passed legislation in March that killed a 2007 pilot project that had allowed some 100 Mexican trucks to travel in the U.S. to deliver their goods. In fact, what is happening in this country—mass layoffs and unemployment and increasing protectionism and chauvinism by the union bureaucrats—can also be seen in virtually all major capitalist countries. East European workers are returning home in droves from West Europe, while in Japan the government is literally paying immigrants to permanently leave. Meanwhile, violent attacks against immigrants have become more prevalent in the U.S., West Europe and South Africa. Earlier this year, British construction workers staged a series of reactionary, protectionist strikes against foreign workers calling for “British jobs for British workers.” Our comrades of the Spartacist League/Britain opposed these strikes, calling instead for “Jobs for all! Full union pay for all work at the prevailing rate, no matter who does the job! Unions must defend immigrant workers!” (See “Down With Reactionary Strikes Against Foreign Workers!” WV No. 930, 13 February.)
There can be no compromise between the internationalist program that the proletariat requires to fight for power—and even to wage defensive struggles in the imperialist epoch—and the acceptance of the national chauvinism that splits the working class, breeds anti-immigrant bigotry and serves only the bourgeois masters. The international character of the working class gives it potentially enormous power, if mobilized across national and other divisions, to coordinate its struggles. The existence of numerous plants in Mexico owned by U.S. corporations poses the possibility and necessity of joint labor action by workers on both sides of the border. This is exactly what the union bureaucrats refuse to do out of loyalty to the capitalist system. A class-struggle strategy, in stark contrast, means mobilizing the unions’ social power to fight for the desperate needs of the working and poor masses independently of and against the interests of the national bourgeoisie.
To the U.S. capitalists, Mexico and other countries are a vast reservoir of cheap labor to be tapped, including to drive down wages in the U.S. for all workers. Defense of immigrant rights is thus crucial to reversing the decades-long decline of the trade unions. Against the capitalists’ attempts to use undocumented immigrant workers as a club against unions, we call on the unions to fight deportations and I.C.E. workplace raids through class-struggle means and to organize the foreign-born into the unions with full rights and protections. The bosses seek to pit workers against each other in competition for a limited pool of jobs in order to divide and weaken the labor movement. The only way to fight unemployment is through united working-class struggle to demand jobs for all, a shorter workweek with no loss in pay and a sliding scale of wages to offset inflation. This poses a fight against the whole capitalist system—for socialist revolution in the U.S., Mexico and throughout the Americas.
Opposition to anti-immigrant racism in the U.S. also is directly intertwined with the struggle against black oppression, the cornerstone of American capitalism. It is particularly important to combat anti-immigrant chauvinism among U.S.-born black and white workers, while immigrant workers must understand that anti-black racism remains the touchstone of social reaction in the U.S. This is the key to organizing the open shop South, where the racist color bar has historically been used to keep black people down and trade unions out. The importance of working-class unity in struggle was shown by the organizing victory in the Smithfield Foods pork processing plant in Tar Heel, North Carolina, in December 2008. For years, management attempted to inflame racial and ethnic divisions. If black and immigrant workers had not worked together, the organizing effort would have fallen apart.
For the capitalists, immigrants are an easy target, especially at times of severe economic crisis. During the mass unemployment of the 1930s Great Depression, nearly half a million Mexicans from the U.S. Southwest, including people who had U.S. citizenship, were deported. During the same period in France, the number of foreign workers—mainly Italians, Poles and Algerians—was reduced by half a million, equal to 5 percent of the total labor force. Some left because they couldn’t find jobs, but many were rounded up and deported.
At the same time, there is also a long history of international working-class solidarity in the labor movement. The International Workingmen’s Association (also known as the First International), an alliance of representatives of different working-class political tendencies, was founded in 1864 following discussions between British and French workers concerned with the use of foreign workers to break strikes. Karl Marx would quickly become the preeminent figure in the International’s General Council. In 1866, the First International prevented an attempt by London master tailors, who were big capitalists, to replace journeymen tailors in London by recruiting journeymen in France, Belgium and Switzerland. Marx noted that as a result of these efforts, “the London masters’ manoeuvre was foiled; they had to surrender and meet their workers’ just demands” (“A Warning,” 4 May 1866). We stand on the program of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, who raised the call, “Workers of the world, unite!”