Workers Vanguard No. 916

6 June 2008


Full Citizenship Rights for All Immigrants! No Prosecutions! No Deportations!

Down With Feds’ Anti-Immigrant Raids!

Break with the Democrats! For a Class-Struggle Workers Party!

At ten in the morning on May 12, the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (I.C.E.) brought in over 200 federal, county and local police agents in helicopters, buses and vans, swarming the Agriprocessors kosher meatpacking plant in Postville, Iowa. More than 10 percent of Postville’s population was detained in what was the largest immigration raid in U.S. history. I.C.E. rounded up nearly 400 workers, most of them from Guatemala and Mexico. So many people were arrested or fled in fear that half the local school district’s students were absent the next day.

The detained immigrants were packed into a cattle exhibition hall, where for four days groups of detainees shackled ten at a time were hauled before a judge in the Feds’ makeshift courtroom, charged with being in the U.S. illegally and “identity theft” because they had supposedly used fake documents. Facing the prospect of at least two years in prison, most of the arrested pled guilty and were sentenced to five months in prison, to be followed by deportation. One immigrant pleaded to a judge: “I ask that you deport us as soon as possible, that you do us that kindness so we can be together again with our families” (New York Times, 24 May).

This raid was part of a nationwide campaign of anti-immigrant repression by the federal government. In May alone, 905 immigrants were detained in raids at homes and workplaces in California, and 39 were detained in Arizona. And it is not just the Feds: I.C.E. has trained cops from 37 jurisdictions nationwide to round up immigrants. In Arizona’s Maricopa County, Sheriff Joe Arpaio, infamous for his use of chain gangs, organized a 160-man posse that swept through Latino neighborhoods.

Immigrant detention is the fastest growing form of incarceration in the U.S. In 2007, over 276,000 people were deported and more than 280,000 detained, some for nothing more than asking for political asylum. Many are imprisoned in the 18 for-profit hellholes operated by the Corrections Corporation of America. The Iowa raid came after the New York Times (5 May) ran an exposé on deaths in these detention centers, including of immigrants who were denied urgent medical care and left to die without anyone even notifying their relatives. No prosecutions! No deportations! Free the detainees now!

The Postville raids highlight the union-busting that goes hand in hand with the government’s anti-immigrant onslaught. For at least two years, the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union has been trying to organize workers at the Postville plant. The New York Jewish paper The Forward has regularly detailed the horrid working conditions at the plant: long hours, unpaid overtime, low wages, child labor and horrendous lack of safety. In March, the Iowa Division of Labor Services fined the company $182,000 for violating safety rules. (After the raid, the fines were reduced to $42,750.) I.C.E. hypocritically seized upon these conditions as a pretext for the raid.

The Postville raid recalls the raids at the Smithfield pork processing plant in Tar Heel, North Carolina, that the UFCW has been trying to organize for more than a decade. Smithfield has been conspiring with I.C.E. to get rid of longtime workers and strong union supporters, many of them undocumented workers. In 2006, after workers idled the plant as part of the nationwide May Day immigrant rights protests, the company enrolled in the IMAGE program—the ICE Mutual Agreement between Government and Employers—to purge militant “illegal” workers. In November 2006, it fired 75 workers and threatened to fire hundreds more, claiming that their identity papers did not match government records. A two-day walkout that included black and white workers as well as Latinos forced the company to rehire everyone. In January and August 2007, I.C.E. agents raided the plant and workers’ homes, arresting and hauling off dozens (see: “Organize the South! Smithfield Plant: Smash Anti-Union RICO Suit!” WV No. 909, 29 February).

The social power of the union movement must be mobilized to defend immigrant workers—many of whom are union members!—and fight for full citizenship for all immigrants, no matter how they got here. This is integral to revitalizing the labor movement and organizing the unorganized, as many immigrant workers bring with them a history of militant union and social struggle. Allowing the rulers to divide the workers along racial and ethnic lines is poison to the class struggle. As the Spartacist League/U.S. and the Grupo Espartaquista de México, sections of the International Communist League, wrote in a joint declaration reprinted in WV No. 867, 31 March 2006:

“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. Black oppression is the cornerstone of American capitalism.”

Immigration and the Politics of the Possible

Several years’ worth of stalled attempts by Congress to pass immigration legislation shows a division in the bourgeoisie. On one side are anti-immigrant ideologues who advocate more raids, roundups and deportations. On the other hand, there is a wide swath—ranging from the Bush White House, presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to most of the Democratic Party—that speaks for those capitalists who depend on low-cost immigrant labor. After the Postville raid, the Wall Street Journal (24 May) remarked, “Do homeland security officials really have nothing better to do than raid businesses that hire willing workers.” Both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton voted in May 2006 for the Senate’s “Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act” (also known as the McCain-Kennedy bill), which would have set up a “guest worker” program, the modern equivalent of indentured servitude, tying immigrants’ visas to their employers. Both also supported the “Secure Fence Act,” mandating the construction of a 700-mile wall along the U.S.-Mexican border.

For its part, the AFL-CIO tops oppose “guest worker” programs as creating “a second class of citizens who remain marginalized with no voice in our democracy.” But far from fighting for full and equal rights for immigrant workers, they complain that the “lax enforcement of labor laws created an incentive for corporations to recruit and hire workers who came to the United States from Mexico without authorization to work,” adding that the government has created “a de facto open border enabling corporations to reach around the globe and encourage workers to come to this country in search of jobs” (“Q&As on AFL-CIO’s Immigration Policy” at Meanwhile, the leadership of two key unions of the Change to Win union federation, the heavily immigrant SEIU service workers union and the UNITE HERE hotel, restaurant and garment workers union, supported the McCain-Kennedy “guest workers” plan in 2006. In 2007, the bureaucracy of SEIU and the United Farm Workers supported another “reform” that offered a tortuous process of legalization for some “illegal” immigrants while criminalizing the rest.

The role of the pro-capitalist trade-union bureaucracy is to tie the proletariat to the class enemy, especially through support to the capitalist Democratic Party. The Change to Win trade-union federation has endorsed Obama. The AFL-CIO has not yet endorsed a candidate but has made it clear that it opposes McCain. A class-struggle perspective means an uncompromising fight for the independence of the proletariat from all wings of the capitalist exploiters and their state. The Democratic Party, no less than the Republicans, is dedicated to maintaining the rule and profits of the bourgeoisie. 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. Break with the Democrats! For a revolutionary workers party!

The reformist left tails the bureaucracy’s pro-Democratic Party “lesser evilism,” albeit with more radical rhetoric. This was made clear during the large immigrant rights demonstrations on May Day 2006, when hundreds of thousands of overwhelmingly Latino immigrants took to the streets in cities across the country to protest anti-immigrant repression. At the same time, the politics of these protests, organized by Latino groups, the Catholic church, Democratic politicians and their allies in the trade-union bureaucracy, was crystallized in the slogan, “Today we march, tomorrow we vote.” The International Socialist Organization (ISO) claimed that these pro-Democratic Party marches showed 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” (Socialist Worker, 31 March 2006). In contrast to the ISO and other fake socialists, we wrote in “How the Fake Left Amnesties the Democrats” (WV No. 873, 7 July 2006):

“These reformist outfits’ agenda is to prettify the ugly face of U.S. imperialist capitalism. 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.”

Now, the ISO’s International Socialist Review (March-April 2008) cynically writes, “Very broad sections of the immigrant rights movement believe that a Democratic Party-controlled White House and Congress will create better conditions for winning some form of legalization and ending the crackdown on immigrant communities.” Promoting the illusion that the Democrats can be pressured to serve the interests of workers and the oppressed, the ISO complains that “the Democratic Party has never come under significant pressure to put forward an alternative to militarization of the border and the interior.”

Were anything like genuine amnesty for undocumented immigrants on offer, we Marxists would be in favor of it. But none of the capitalist politicians, nor their friends in the union bureaucracy, are proposing anything of the sort! And the harsh reality is that no amount of reform can make capitalism, which is based on the brutal exploitation of labor, a humane or rational system. 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…. 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.”

For more than a decade, the U.S. imperialists, under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), have systematically looted the Mexican economy. Millions of peasants have been forced to migrate to urban centers in Mexico and across the Río Bravo in search of work. Both Obama and Clinton (who earlier supported her husband’s signing of NAFTA) have railed against NAFTA, portraying the U.S., the world’s most powerful imperialist state, rather than semicolonial Mexico, as the victim. This line is echoed by the trade-union tops, who blame workers in other countries for “stealing” U.S. jobs.

Such chauvinism is poison to international class solidarity, the linking of struggles of workers in the U.S. with those of workers around the world, that is required to rebuild the unions. We have always opposed NAFTA, a “free trade” rape of Mexico, from the standpoint of proletarian internationalism. As we wrote in “Full Citizenship Rights for All Immigrants!” (WV No. 891, 27 April 2007):

“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!’”