Workers Vanguard No. 889

30 March 2007


Full Citizenship Rights for All Immigrants!

Factory Raids, Deportations Sweep U.S.

Labor: Fight Anti-Immigrant Attacks!

In cities and towns from coast to coast and for hundreds of miles along the U.S.-Mexican border, the government has been escalating its racist, anti-immigrant campaign. Workers are seized on the job, while scores of Latino residents are arrested by Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents in neighborhood sweeps. Thousands of National Guard troops have been deployed along the border, supplemented by fascistic Minutemen vigilantes. Some 190,000 people were deported last year, while 100,000 are currently held in federal, state and county jails for supposedly violating immigration law.

The viciousness of the government’s crackdown was on full display in New Bedford, Massachusetts, on March 6 when 300 federal agents backed up by helicopters raided a textile sweatshop and detained 361 mainly Guatemalan and Salvadoran women workers. Many were sent to a detention center in Harlingen, Texas, some 2,000 miles away. Young children, many of them U.S. citizens, were suddenly without their mothers. As public outrage mounted, immigration authorities released dozens of the workers, who still, however, await deportation hearings.

On March 12, when imperialist chief George Bush reached Guatemala on his recent tour of Latin America more than 5,000 soldiers and police surrounded the National Palace in Guatemala City to keep away protesters outraged particularly by the New Bedford raid. Even Guatemalan president Oscar Berger, an American toady, felt compelled to lecture Bush about immigration policy. Bush was met with mass protests throughout his tour, including its final stop in Mexico, where even right-wing Mexican president Felipe Calderón called U.S. border policies “absurd.”

Calderón is well aware that he sits atop roiling social discontent, as was seen when some 100,000 people marched in downtown Mexico City in January to protest massive increases in prices of tortillas (see “Mexico: Tortilla Price Hike Condemns Poor to Starvation,” WV No. 886, 16 February). About 10 percent of both the Guatemalan and Mexican population lives in the United States. Money sent back to Mexico by immigrants in the U.S. exceeds $20 billion, second only to oil as a source of foreign revenue. The massive migration is largely a result of the economic ruin wrought by the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which we have always denounced as U.S. imperialism’s “free trade” rape of Mexico, and the more recent Central American Free Trade Agreement.

It is in the vital interest of the U.S. labor movement to mobilize in defense of immigrants, who form a key and vibrant component of the U.S. working class and a living bridge to the struggles of working people in Mexico and elsewhere. One key labor battle is the years-long effort by the United Food and Commercial Workers to organize the Smithfield pork processing plant—the largest such plant in the world—in Tar Heel, North Carolina. In a “right to work” state where the racist color bar has historically been wielded by the bosses to keep unions out, pro-union Smithfield workers have long faced company violence. More recently, management has collaborated with ICE to target militant immigrant workers, who along with black workers make up the bulk of the workforce. In January, 21 workers were arrested and then deported. At Smithfield and other plants, the Feds have issued “no match letters,” setting up workers whose Social Security numbers do not match government records to be fired—an open invitation to get rid of union activists.

As Marxist opponents of racist American capitalism, we seek to mobilize the labor movement to fight deportations and ICE raids through class-struggle means. We demand full citizenship rights for all immigrants! We call on the unions to organize immigrant workers with full rights and protections. It is particularly important to combat anti-immigrant chauvinism in the working class, while the immigrant-derived proletariat and all workers must grasp that anti-black racism remains the touchstone of social reaction in this country. What is urgently needed is the forging of a workers party to lead all the exploited and oppressed in the struggle for a workers government that will seize the productive wealth of this society from the capitalists and create a planned, socialized economy. For socialist revolution from the Yukon to the Yucatán!

This perspective requires battling the pro-capitalist labor bureaucracy and its American chauvinism. The labor tops’ opposition to NAFTA and similar “free trade” pacts is based on protectionism and economic nationalism. In a blatant expression of this poisonous chauvinism, the Teamsters bureaucracy brags in a March 23 statement that it pressured a Senate committee into blocking plans to open the border to Mexican trucks, declaring: “The Teamsters Union has successfully led the battle to keep our border closed for the past 12 years, and we will not let up in our fight.”

The Change to Win federation, which includes the Teamsters, as well as the SEIU service workers and other heavily immigrant unions, has pushed immigration “reform” bills with provisions to expand so-called “guest worker” programs. Congress last year reached an impasse. On the one side were those who wanted to virtually seal the border and criminalize masses of immigrants. On the other were politicians who, speaking for employers reliant on exploiting desperate immigrants, sought to increase the number of “guest workers” while offering some a (protracted) “path to citizenship.” Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy has lately been reworking a “guest worker” bill, as have House Democrat Luis Gutierrez and Republican Jeff Flake.

“Guest worker” programs are the modern equivalent of indentured servitude, tying immigrants’ visas to their employers and depriving them of any rights. Some 300 such workers from India at a Mississippi shipyard have been engaged in a desperate protest against their brutal exploitation (see article, page 3). While the Change to Win leaders’ rivals in the AFL-CIO bureaucracy oppose expanding “guest worker” programs, they refuse to demand full citizenship rights for all immigrants or to condemn plans to further militarize the border. As the SL/U.S. and the Grupo Espartaquista de México declared in a joint statement printed in WV No. 867 (31 March 2006):

“Instead of mobilizing union power in defense of immigrants, the union tops embrace one or another of the capitalists’ anti-immigrant ‘reforms,’ particularly favoring their so-called ‘friends’ in the capitalist Democratic Party. This policy of class collaboration, sacrificing labor’s interests on the altar of capitalist profitability, flows from the labor bureaucracy’s support for the capitalist system and its identification with the ‘national interests’ of U.S. imperialism. This program has led to defeat after defeat, leaving the U.S. labor movement weaker today than at any time since the early 1900s.”

Anti-immigrant repression has been the leading edge of the bourgeoisie’s evisceration of democratic rights as part of the “war on terror.” In this never-ending “war,” the imperialists have pounded the peoples of Afghanistan, devastated Iraq and are now engaged in military provocations against Iran. On the home front, the government is massively expanding its spying on the population, building huge databases ostensibly to track “terrorist suspects.” And a sinister 2006 law allows the Feds to take DNA samples from not only any detained “illegal” immigrant but anybody under criminal arrest by federal authorities.

Washington is also giving local police agencies broader repressive powers. A program launched by ICE a year ago gives county sheriffs the authority to initiate deportation proceedings and carry out the deportations—powers that had previously been reserved for the Feds. In Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, local authorities have started deportation proceedings against 1,530 people. Counties can be reimbursed for each immigrant imprisoned, adding another incentive for local cops to hunt down “illegals.”

Other measures against immigrants are also bearing down on the rest of the population. The government’s exclusion of “illegal” immigrants from Medicaid benefits has “shut out tens of thousands of United States citizens who have had difficulty complying with requirements to show birth certificates and other documents proving their citizenship” (New York Times, 12 March). Such measures hit particularly hard at black people, the elderly and the poor.

Last year’s huge protests and job actions against anti-immigrant legislation showed that immigrants were not willing to passively accept the rulers’ attempts to criminalize them. At the same time, 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.” At the time, the International Socialist Organization pointed in Socialist Worker (31 March 2006) to the potential to “break the logjam of U.S. politics, in which the Republicans launch attack after attack with little or no response from the Democrats.” This sentiment aptly expresses the reformist left’s program of pressuring the “lesser evil” party of U.S. imperialism.

Now, as Congress is again wrangling over which anti-immigrant “reform” to push through, Socialist Worker (16 March) demands “true immigration reform.” And a statement by the National May Day Movement for Worker and Immigrant Rights, which is endorsed by the Revolutionary Communist Party’s “World Can’t Wait” group and Workers World Party’s International Action Center, declares: “May 1 is the next necessary step towards a comprehensive Immigration Reform Bill.”

Following last year’s wave of protests, we wrote in “How the Fake Left Amnesties the Democrats” (WV No. 873, 7 July 2006) that “the reformists laid claim to the call for ‘amnesty,’ which right-wing Republicans wrongly attributed to the (overwhelmingly) Democratic Party-sponsored legislation.” The article continued:

“Should anything like genuine amnesty for undocumented immigrants be proposed, we Marxists would be in favor of it, as an elementary democratic gain for immigrant workers and the proletariat as a whole, while explaining that it falls short of our demand for full citizenship rights. However, nothing resembling amnesty has been proposed from any bourgeois quarter….

“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.”