Workers Vanguard No. 999
30 March 2012
Immigrants Fired to Bust Union Organizing Drive
Students Must Ally with the Working Class
(Young Spartacus pages)
LOS ANGELES—Last December the Pomona College administration fired 17 Latino immigrants, almost all of whom were dining hall workers, claiming they could not provide proof of legal eligibility to work in the U.S. Since March 2010 the dining hall staff, mobilized in a group called Workers for Justice (WFJ), have been on a union organizing drive with UNITE HERE Local 11 in an effort to combat miserable working conditions, outrageously low pay, forced unpaid overtime, inadequate medical benefits and management abuse.
The administration’s drive to block the unionization effort is what prompted its investigation of the workers, several of whom had worked there for more than a decade. As pointed out by Christian Torres, a WFJ leader who was fired: “We were here for a very long time and there was never a complaint. But now all of the sudden we were suspect, and they didn’t want us to work here anymore.” Reinstate the fired workers now with full back pay and benefits!
This act marked a sharp escalation in the anti-union offensive waged by the administration of Pomona College, one of the wealthiest liberal arts schools in the country. In an earlier attempt to head off campus support for the organizing drive, the administration instituted an outrageous policy in July 2011 prohibiting the staff from conversing with students during their shifts. WFJ, along with their student and faculty supporters, fought against the gag rule and it was eventually rescinded.
The college also hired the law firm Sidley Austin to audit the records of dozens of workers in a hunt for so-called “illegals.” As Sidley Austin proudly advertises on its Web site: “For clients who desire to remain union-free, we advise on pro-active steps to reduce the likelihood of union organizing drives and enhance the likelihood of defeating any campaigns that are initiated.” The law firm boasts of “defeating one of the largest Teamster organizing drives in recent times for a large services company.”
In response to the Sidley Austin audit, WFJ and their supporters held protests last November in defense of the immigrants, including a dining hall boycott. The day after the December 1 firings, some 150 protesters marched through campus demanding that the 17 workers be reinstated. Cops arrested 15 demonstrators on charges of “obstructing traffic.” On December 8, four students went on a fast in solidarity with the workers. Activists organized themselves in a group called Concerned Pomona Students to protest the firings.
It is important that students have rallied in defense of the fired workers and continue to support the ongoing union drive. If the dining hall workers eventually decide to go on strike, they must be able to count on the support of students, professors and other workers to help build picket lines and shut down the campus. Since campus workers do not have as much social power as other sectors of the proletariat, support from the labor movement outside of the college is vital.
We are in favor of extending organizing drives to all unorganized campus workers, including part-time staff and faculty members (but excluding administrators and campus cops!). This would be a step toward building campus-wide unions to overcome divisions that allow the university administrations to play one section of the workforce off against another.
Unionization and the Fight for Immigrant Rights
Unions are elementary economic defense organizations of the working class. It is the proletariat, not students, that has social power because it is the class that builds and moves everything. If proletarians stop working then society stops running. But this power can be brought to bear only through organization. The capitalist class, the irreconcilable enemy of the workers, tries to ensure that the working class remains unorganized.
Pomona’s firing of WFJ leader Torres and the 16 other Latinos demonstrates how the fight for immigrant rights is crucial to the fight for the interests of the whole working class. Anti-immigrant laws are designed to keep a sector of the proletariat in a desperate situation of illegality, subject at any time to firing, detention or deportation if they attempt to struggle for their class interests. For full citizenship rights for all immigrants! No detentions or deportations!
The American trade-union bureaucracy’s refusal to fight against anti-immigrant laws flows from their loyal adherence to the capitalists’ rules of the game, rules which accept unemployment as good for business and production for profit as good for everyone. The labor tops’ pro-capitalist program is an obstacle to any attempts to organize the unorganized or to defend the very existence of unions.
Break with the Democrats!
An effective struggle for unionization and immigrant rights requires breaking workers from the two parties of capitalism. No less than the Republicans, the Democratic politicians defend the capitalist system of exploitation. They wage imperialist wars, they break strikes and currently they are running the American capitalist state. President Obama moved away from Bush’s policy of anti-immigrant cop raids on businesses only to vastly increase the number of “desktop raids”—computer-based investigations into residency status of workers to get them fired. Desktop raids fulfill the same purpose as cop raids, but by another means. Obama has also surpassed Bush’s rate of deportations, with about 400,000 undocumented immigrants deported each year since he took office.
What is true on the national level is also true on the state and local levels. California’s Democratic governor Jerry Brown has been pushing drastic cuts to the University of California’s budget. A rainbow coalition of “progressive” Democratic mayors from Antonio Villaraigosa in Los Angeles to Jean Quan in Oakland have unleashed their police forces in the brutal repression of Occupy protesters, bloody attacks on ghetto youth and mass arrests of immigrants who are then turned over to Obama’s federal agents for deportation.
Meanwhile, the U.S. labor tops announced this month their plans to shovel $400 million of union dues into the Democrats’ 2012 election coffers. The AFL-CIO and SEIU leaders plan to send hundreds of thousands of their overworked and underpaid members to knock on doors and “get out the vote.” In opposition to the capitalist parties, it is necessary to build a workers party to fight for socialist revolution.
Enemy of Campus Workers
Under capitalism colleges and universities serve an irreplaceable function: training the future administrative, technical and ideological personnel of bourgeois society. For children of the working class and minorities, the capitalist rulers seek only to provide as much for education as they can see back in profits. We are for nationalizing private institutions and making them open to all, free of charge, with a state-paid living stipend so that all working-class youth have access to higher education.
The campus administration and the board of trustees serve as the representatives of the bourgeoisie, defending its class interests. For example, the chairman of Pomona’s Board of Trustees is one Paul Efron, a Goldman Sachs executive who got the ball rolling on Sidley Austin’s union-busting audit of the presumed “illegal immigrants” in the dining hall. The administration works hand in hand with the state to regiment the student population and to repress workers and their supporters, as clearly shown by the 15 arrests at Pomona on December 2. While the administration raises the already astronomical tuition, it cuts the wages of faculty and campus workers, laying them off at whim or singling out “troublemakers.” Abolish the administration, including the Board of Trustees! Colleges and universities should be run by those who work and study there.
The Concerned Pomona Students do not see the campus administration and the board as irreconcilably hostile to workers’ interests. Instead, they promote the illusion that union-busting and anti-immigrant firings could be permanently ended through better communication among all parties involved. They urge meetings to “address the deficiencies in the current relationship between the Board and the Pomona College community.” Concerned Pomona Students spokesperson Alice Chan declared a meeting with the trustees “really promising” and hoped to “keep them accountable.” As if the blood-sucking representatives of finance such as Goldman Sachs will ever allow themselves to be held accountable to workers and students!
Many students believe colleges are or should be close-knit, morally pure “ivory tower” communities isolated from the rapacious exploitation of bourgeois society. But as Pomona’s anti-union campaign illustrates, capitalism doesn’t stop at the campus gates—immigrants and all workers are still exploited at institutions of higher education. Nor does the class struggle stop at the campus gates. Workers will fight for their interests and their employers will use whatever tools they have at their disposal to try to defeat them.
Paul Efron and the other trustees were more than happy to oblige Concerned Pomona Students’ pleas for dialogue. They held two meetings with workers they had fired, current dining staff, members of Concerned Pomona Students and others. For good measure, the trustees brought along to the meetings campus cops and private security guards carrying firearms (Student Life, 19 December 2011). Then Efron and company issued a communiqué: “We want to thank everybody who met with us last week on Tuesday and Wednesday to discuss the work authorization issue. All of us understood the human cost of the difficult actions we had to take and wish there was an alternative course of action we could have followed.”
Subsequently the board created a “Trustee-Student Task Force on Campus Community Communication” to co-opt students and derail campus support for the workers. After sticking a knife into the union organizing drive, Pomona president David Oxtoby made declarations to the press about how his liberal heart bleeds over unjust laws and the poor workers he canned.
Every victory that the working class has achieved has been due to hard class struggle and not by appeals to the good faith of the bosses or reliance on federal agencies like the National Labor Relations Board. By looking to the class enemy and its agencies, workers are disarmed of their only effective weapons—those of class struggle—and disoriented as to who are their friends and who are their enemies.
A successful struggle to end anti-immigrant attacks and the hideous exploitation of all workers will require the overthrow of capitalism through a workers revolution, led by a communist vanguard party. As youth auxiliaries to the Spartacist League/U.S., the Spartacus Youth Clubs are a training ground for the young militants who will form the cadre of that party. Join us!