Workers Vanguard No. 891

27 April 2007


Full Citizenship Rights for All Immigrants!

Break with the Democrats! For a Workers Party That Fights for a Workers Government!

APRIL 24—On May Day last year, hundreds of thousands of immigrants, overwhelmingly Latino, took to the streets in cities across the U.S. in protest against the proposed “Border Protection, Antiterrorism and Illegal Immigration Control Act,” under which merely being in this country without papers would have meant being a felon. It took no small amount of courage for these workers and their families, many of them already branded as “illegals,” to come out in the teeth of escalating attacks on immigrants. But while many saw the demonstrations and walkouts as part of a continuing struggle in defense of their rights, protest leaders ensured that they served the political shell game that is a pillar of capitalist rule in America—the notion that the Democratic Party is the “friend” of labor, blacks and immigrants.

Chants of “Today we march, tomorrow we vote!” were the chorus orchestrated by the Latino organizations, Democratic politicians and their allies in the trade-union bureaucracy. This paid off handsomely for the Democrats in the November midterm elections, where they captured 70 percent of the Latino vote. Meanwhile, the vicious government crackdown on immigrants continues, resulting last year alone in the deportation of some 190,000 people. Agents of the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (I.C.E.) have been unleashed in raids on workplaces, neighborhoods and homes around the country. Today some 150 people were detained when rifle-toting federal agents raided a mall in a predominantly Latino Chicago neighborhood. We demand that all detainees be released now! No deportations!

With their eyes on next year’s presidential elections, Rudolph Giuliani and other Republican politicians are increasingly playing the anti-immigrant card. But such nativist chauvinism is hardly just the Republicans’ domain. A number of Democratic Congressional candidates, particularly in the South and Midwest, attacked their Republican opponents as “soft on illegal immigration.” Even today’s liberal darling, Barack Obama, voted for the “Secure Fence Act” mandating the construction of a 700-mile wall on the U.S./Mexico border, as did Hillary Clinton. The crackdown on immigrants has been greatly intensified by the “war on terror,” through which the capitalist rulers have augmented an already vast machinery of state repression, with bipartisan support.

At bottom, divisions over immigration between and inside the Republican and Democratic parties reflect competing needs in the capitalist ruling class, part of which is dependent on low-cost immigrant labor. As other sectors of the economy absorb immigrant farm labor, agribusiness has howled about produce rotting for lack of pickers. Now the Colorado Corrections Department has begun a “pilot program” to provide farms with prison labor—a 21st-century version of the chain gang, at the cost of 60 cents per day per prisoner.

As a supposed “compromise,” a new anti-immigrant bill has been cooked up by Illinois Democrat Luis Gutierrez and Arizona Republican Jeff Flake which offers a tortuous process of legalization for some while everyone else is considered a criminal. Latino politicos, mainstream immigrant rights organizations and union bureaucrats from Andy Stern’s SEIU service workers union and the United Farm Workers have scandalously given their support to this vicious legislation. For their part, other immigrant rights groups as well as a variety of reformist left organizations are trying to resuscitate the “Great American Boycott” May Day protests of 2006. An article in Workers World (15 April) by Javier Rodriguez, described as a “co-founder of the May 1st National Movement,” argues that “the country’s progressive forces and allies are moving from traditional lobbying towards mass mobilization in an attempt to gain the upper hand and influence the national debate for a more inclusive pro-worker immigration reform.” Besides Workers World, backing this endeavor are the International Socialist Organization (ISO), the Revolutionary Communist Party and others.

But as Rodriguez himself makes clear, this is just the out-in-the-streets face of the lobby-the-Democrats game. Saluting the “historic” accomplishments of the 2006 protests, he numbers first among these “energizing the electorate and along with the anti-war sentiment changing the correlation of forces in Congress.” The reformists’ expectations in this new correlation of forces were put most baldly by the ISO, which in the aftermath of the elections opined: “Let’s take the opportunity to force the politicians—including those who pretend to be our ‘friends’—to act on our side’s agenda for a change” (International Socialist Review, January-February 2007). That will be a cold day in hell. But such pitches have long defined the reformists’ “politics of the possible,” which serves only to reinforce illusions in the inherent “justice” of capitalist “democracy.”

The hard truth is that the capitalist system is based on the brutal exploitation of all labor, with the ruling class inflaming racial and ethnic hostilities to keep the working class divided and thus ensure a greater extraction of profit. 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 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.”

Only the achievement of a world socialist order can eliminate the age-old problem of poverty, which is the main driving force for mass migrations throughout the world. We fight for full citizenship rights for all immigrants as part of our struggle to advance the class consciousness and solidarity of the multiracial working class and prepare it for the necessary revolutionary battle against capitalist class rule. We do not seek to tinker with the capitalist system by looking for an alternative immigration policy. While we would support a genuine amnesty for undocumented workers or any other reform in the interests of working people, our bottom line is that we will worry about the ebbs and flows of the world economy when the proletariat runs it.

A real fight for immigrant rights in this country will only begin when the workers—white, black, Latino and others—understand their common interests as a class in opposition to all political parties and state agencies of the capitalist class. Unlocking the social power of the multiracial working class means breaking the chains forged by the labor bureaucracy which have long shackled the working class to their exploiters through support for the Democratic Party, the party of the graveyard for countless movements of social protest.

For a Class-Struggle Fight for Immigrant Rights!

Today, the bitter fruits of looking to the Democrats for redress are brought home in the savage provisions of the Gutierrez/Flake legislation. Called the “Security Through Regularized Immigration and a Vibrant Economy” (STRIVE) act, it would grant “conditional non-immigrant status” to those of the 12 million undocumented workers who can prove they have consistently held a job in the U.S. since at least June 2006. These workers must leave the country and pay a minimum $2,000 fine as well as back taxes. The so-called “path to citizenship” follows a six-year waiting period, with the requirement that they learn fluent English and be able to prove that they were consistently employed throughout this time, a condition that essentially shackles these workers to the tender mercies of their employers.

Packaging yesterday’s “guest worker” programs as “new worker” programs, the bill would supposedly allow some 400,000 undocumented immigrants a year to work temporarily in the U.S. with some having to pay up to $15,000 in fines. So immigrants subsisting on pitifully low wages and no benefits are supposed to come up with such a sum (to say nothing of the more than $64,000 that a Bush proposal would make a family of five pay before any of its members could get a green card). In fact, this is a recipe for maintaining an army of undocumented workers continuing to live in fear of la migra. Workers who could pay the money can renew their three-year visa once. Then they may be allowed to enter the long and winding road of “conditional non-immigrant status.”

This would all be backed up by further reinforcing the power of the state, and not just on the border, where the arsenal of helicopters, unmanned Predator planes, radar coverage and border guards is to be further built up. Immigrants would be tracked through a biometric database and I.C.E. would receive funds for thousands of additional agents for “workplace enforcement.” Police forces could be used to assist the Feds in conducting operations within 100 miles of the border.

Unlike the old bracero program, which press-ganged labor from Mexico to toil in the fields and then threw them out of the country, these workers are to be delivered to all sectors of the economy. Immigrant workers already number 1.4 million in construction, although many are being thrown out of work due to the bursting of the housing bubble. Another 1.7 million are employed in manufacturing, hotels, cleaning and maintenance work, landscaping, retail and wholesale and health services, as well as agriculture. While the agribusiness bosses have long justified their brutal degradation of immigrant labor by saying that they perform work that “Americans won’t do,” the labor of undocumented workers has become structural to the national economy.

The situation cries out for a class-struggle fight to organize immigrant workers and bring them into unions with full union wages, rights and protections. A joint declaration issued by the Spartacist League/U.S. and our comrades of the Grupo Espartaquista de México distributed at the mass immigrant rights protests last year argued:

“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.”

—“Full Citizenship Rights for All Immigrants!” WV No. 867, 31 March 2006

Capitalism’s Labor Lieutenants

Much of the SEIU’s 1.8-million strong membership is composed of immigrants, many of whom have waged hard-fought, militant struggles to organize. But their interests are betrayed by their top union leaders. A statement by SEIU Executive Vice President Eliseo Medina welcomed the STRIVE legislation, declaring that it “addressed the need for smart enforcement strategies at the border and in the workplace, a path to earned citizenship, and reunification of families.” The statement supported the “framework” laid out by the legislation for “a more humane worker visa program that will help fill a growing pool of available jobs and protect the rights of all American workers.” It would be hard to find a more servile expression of the role of the trade-union bureaucracy as the labor police for the capitalist class.

Addressing the official support to “guest worker” programs by unions in the “Change to Win” federation that split from the AFL-CIO in 2005, a Socialist Action (April 2007) article perceptively noted that the tops of these unions “hope that their Democratic Party friends in the Congress will allow them to collect union dues from tens of thousands of guest workers.” Rather less perceptively, the same article ludicrously presented the outbreak of protests last year as having “overturned the legislative shell game of Democrats and Republicans.”

The article remarked, “Under this scenario, Stern & Co. represent a vile new breed of corporatist unionism who might have needed to split from the parent federation in order to better enact their social compact with the bosses.” But while the AFL-CIO tops have opposed guest worker programs, they are no less part of the same “social compact.” Their “Immigrant Workers Freedom Rides” in 2003 were centrally aimed at building support for the Democratic Party. Their opposition to the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement, which has forced millions of Mexican peasants out of the countryside, many of whom are now among the undocumented in the U.S., was the thoroughly chauvinist appeal to “save American jobs.” They have presided over the wholesale devastation of the unions at the hands of the bosses, who have seized on the opportunity to vastly increase their profits by bringing in thousands of immigrant workers, at far less wages and under far more brutal conditions.

Just look at the meatpacking industry. As unionization fell by more than half, real wages plummeted from $20 an hour in the 1970s to $10.50 an hour in 2001. A 2005 Pew Hispanic Center report estimates that undocumented workers may now make up more than a quarter of the meatpacking workforce. But these workers have not docilely accepted the conditions meted out by the meatpacking bosses. From Iowa to Texas to North Carolina, they have fought against abusive treatment and to protest health and safety conditions in an industry with one of the highest injury rates. Five of the six Swift meatpacking plants raided by I.C.E. last December were unionized. Yet while the UFCW union tops challenged the legality of these roundups, they did not mobilize union power to stop them and to fight the deportations.

It is urgent that the labor movement act in defense of all those targeted by government repression. “Homeland Security” laws are increasingly bearing down on unionized workers. Late last year in Chicago, some 70 mostly black rail workers lost their jobs, many for supposedly violating new government guidelines barring ex-felons from holding such positions. As we wrote in “Protest ‘War on Terror’ Firing of Rail Workers!” (WV No. 884, 19 January): “The fight for the rights of workers, immigrants and black people will either go forward together—independent from and opposed to the capitalist class and its government—or fall back separately.”

Local 10 of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) in the Bay Area, as well as Local 19 in Seattle, have called for “stop work meetings” on May Day in order to “support and participate in the ‘Great American Boycott II’” (Workers World online, 8 April). For the ILWU to actually mobilize its power in the fight for immigrant rights would be an important breakthrough. Much was made of last year’s May Day protests as an example of labor’s power. There were certainly thousands of workers involved, and various plants, particularly in meatpacking, were shut down as many immigrants did not show up for work. But the workers were not mobilized as a class. Whatever the presence of organized union contingents or banners at the demonstrations, such labor presence was politically dissolved by the protest leaders into an undifferentiated mass. Their purpose was not to mobilize labor but to pressure the capitalist state through the agency of the Democrats.

According to Workers World, the Local 10 resolution calling for the stop work meeting notes that on May Day 2006, “90 percent of the container cargo at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach was halted as the result of immigrant truckers not going to work.” That was a brave action by these workers, who are lined up in the cross hairs not only of the anti-immigrant crackdown but of the so-called “war on terror.” But more than a salute to their militancy, the non-union, mainly immigrant port truckers need the unions to wage a serious fight to organize them. This is not simply a question of their defense, but of the defense of the ILWU itself, which is increasingly isolated as a bastion of union power amid low-wage and non-union workers in the maritime and related transportation industries.

In 2002, the Bay Area Labor Black League for Social Defense and the Partisan Defense Committee issued a call for a united-front mobilization based on the power of the unions to fight against the government’s anti-immigrant witchhunt and “war on terror” laws. Among these laws is the Maritime Security Act, which is aimed at the heart of the longshore and transport unions. Noting that the rulers had taken first aim at immigrants of Near Eastern descent, hundreds of whom were rounded up and thrown in jail following September 11, the call argued: “They’ve created the spectre of an ‘enemy within’ in order to strengthen the power of their own consummately violent state. But what America’s racist rulers can get away with will be determined by the class struggle.”

Some 300 unionists, immigrants, blacks and youth answered that call, marching in downtown Oakland on February 9. The internationalist spirit of this demonstration was underlined in the greetings from our Mexican comrades. Noting their own struggle against the nationalist lie that all Mexicans—exploiters and exploited alike—share the same interests up against the Yankee imperialist colossus, the GEM statement declared: “The true allies of the Mexican workers are not their brutal exploiters. Their true allies are you: the American workers fighting for their rights and those of all the oppressed.”

A core of some 30 overwhelmingly black members of ILWU Local 10 was critical to this mobilization. The February 9 protest was an exemplary action that, on a small scale, illustrated the program of working-class revolutionary internationalism, which is vital not only to the defense of immigrant rights but to transforming the unions into organizations of class struggle. As the preamble to the program of the Labor Black Leagues states: “We fight to win the entire working class, including white workers as well as the growing number of Latino and other immigrants, to the fight for black liberation, strategic to the American revolution. Black and working-class militants must stand for full citizenship rights for all immigrants and in their defense against racist and chauvinist anti-immigrant attacks. An injury to one is an injury to all!”

The Politics of the Possible

A central demand for the May 1 protests is “legalization for all immigrants now!” As an article by the ISO’s Lee Sustar in CounterPunch (24 February) explains, this simply means opposition to any legislation that would deny “guest worker” status to all of the presently undocumented workers in the U.S. The article lays out that this is the basis for preserving “unity” between “organizations that have accepted guest-worker proposals and more militant immigrant groups that oppose such measures as second-class citizenship.” With this kind of “unity,” why bother protesting at all since it is evidently OK if immigrant workers are indentured servants as long as it is “legal”?

Such grotesque reformism is taken to even greater depths in an article by Nativo Lopez, president of the Mexican American Political Association, in Against the Current (March-April 2007), in which he opines: “We can certainly reaffirm what unites us as a national alliance while we forge unity with all others who minimally agree that immigrants represent inherent value for America, and that the fair return for all that they contribute to the greatness of this country is a legal recognition of permanent status, and eventually U.S. citizenship.” As U.S. imperialism rampages around the globe, devastating Afghanistan and Iraq, destroying the lives and livelihoods of millions in Mexico under NAFTA, immigrants here who are being ground under the heel of American capitalism are to be saluted for their contribution to the “greatness” of the U.S.A., and maybe even eventually allowed to become citizens.

The various coalitions of the Workers World Party and its spin off, the Party for Socialism and Liberation, provide a more radical gloss to the May 1 protests with demands such as: protection of all workers’ rights; money for human needs, not war; economic and social justice for Katrina survivors; and jobs for all now. What they don’t tell you is that the fight for such demands means a revolutionary fight to get rid of the capitalist profit system. There’s plenty of wealth in this society, created by the labor of workers and appropriated by the tiny class of capitalists who own the means of production. To get the money for jobs, schools and health care, to make life livable for blacks, immigrants, the poor and all working people means breaking the power of the bourgeoisie.

The reformists acquiesce to what is “possible” and practical under capitalism. Ours is a 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. As the struggles in defense of immigrant rights and against the wars, neocolonial occupations and other depredations visited by U.S. imperialism around the globe make vividly clear, this must be an international fight. Our watchwords are those that Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels inscribed on their banner more than 150 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!”