Jul 26, 2006
On May 25, the U.S. Senate passed a so-called “comprehensive immigration reform” bill (the Hagel-Martinez compromise). Senators from both parties dared to present the bill as providing a “pathway” to citizenship that would bring 11 million undocumented immigrants “out of the shadows.”
Under the Senate bill, nearly eight million of the current undocumented immigrants would not qualify for this “pathway” to citizenship. Half of them are supposed to leave the country immediately. The other half can remain with a temporary “legal” status for three years, but then they too must leave the country. As many of the immigrant rights organizations say, most will have no choice but to stay – remaining, that is, in the shadows.
At the same time, because the bill proposes to set up more enforcement mechanisms – requiring more verification of papers by companies and, for the first time, enforcement of immigration laws by local and state police – the immigrants’ situation will be more tenuous and unsure.
As for the “lucky” ones who qualify for this “pathway to citizenship” – it will be extremely long, expensive and hazardous. It will cost thousands, if not tens of thousands of dollars in fees and fines, and it will take a minimum of 13 years – most likely much longer, considering that close to 200,000 immigrants, who applied under the last “reform” 20 years ago, are still waiting. During all those years, they can be tossed off the “pathway,” barring them forever if they commit – or in some cases are even just accused of committing – a long list of petty infractions. For example, people who allow a family member whose status isn’t legal to stay with them can lose their own legal status. Anyone who gives false information on an application can be barred permanently – even if they are found out years from now. This is the real catch-22. Unless they falsify some information, people forced to work clandestinely will find it difficult to prove they worked full time during four of the last five years – which is one of the requirements for the “pathway.” BUT if they falsify, they can also be cut off!
In fact, this means that the roughly four million on the “pathway” must keep their heads down low for the next 13 years, if not much longer. They can’t afford to do anything that causes a petty bureaucrat to look over their files, nor that makes some boss decide to get rid of them as “troublemakers.” They’ll be “legal” – but without rights. Most will be old, if not dead, by the time they finally gain citizenship.
As for the next layer of immigrants who are to come here, the so-called “guest workers” – from the beginning, they will have only a temporary legal status and one that can be called in question for any number of things, including just for losing their job. The “guests” will be a kind of indentured workforce. And when their temporary contract is up, the “guests” will be shown the door.
The possibility to appeal arbitrary expulsion orders and to remain working until the expulsion is decided has been severely restricted by the Senate bill. So has the possibility to gain a legal status for family members who come here without papers. According to the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law, “The Senate’s draconian cut-backs on the due process of rights of immigrants, and blocking of historical paths to lawful status will also soon result in increases in the size of the undocumented population...”
The Senate bill – all 796 pages of it – gives the bosses a huge gift: a legal authorization for them to hire workers who have only a quasi-legal temporary status – without having to worry about those workers gaining full rights. And the “guest worker” program gives the bosses a kind of hiring hall sending them new immigrants on demand.
Like other “reforms” proposed lately, this one serves only the interests of the bourgeoisie.
Even while xenophobic debate over immigration raged inside the halls of Congress, the media was grinding out tons of copy about immigrants coming here for the “American dream.”
If the immigrants are uprooting themselves, often leaving their families, friends and loved ones behind, braving the desert, the border patrol, the vigilantes, knowing that ten thousand or more have already died doing it, they’re coming here because they have no other choice. “American dream”? No, they were trying to get away from the American nightmare, what the U.S. has done to their own countries.
The governments of Central America and Mexico are dominated by the United States. Their military and police forces are trained and armed by U.S. commandos. U.S. corporations dominate their economies, own the big plantations, mines and factories. U.S. banks suck wealth out of these countries, imposing big interest payments on top of a huge national debt. In their home countries, when people organized to fight for better conditions, they were met by the military and police, trained and paid for by the U.S. Tens of thousands of ordinary people were killed during the civil wars in Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala in the 1970s and 1980s – at the behest of the U.S. government, and with weapons paid for and provided by the U.S. government! In Mexico, thousands of peasants, workers and unemployed people demanding a decent life were cut down by Mexican troops acting under orders of the Mexican government.
Driven here out of desperation, they find that the same U.S. capitalism that bled their countries dry is here waiting to take advantage of that desperation.
They work in some of the hardest and most unsafe jobs, like meatcutting or construction, for example. And they do it, in general, for lower pay than other workers get doing comparable work – the Pew Hispanic Center estimates that the average family income of immigrants without papers is at least 40% lower than the average family income of either native born citizens or legal immigrants. When they work under the table, which many have no choice but to do, they are often paid less than minimum wage, and what labor regulations do exist in this country do not extend to them.
Many are crowded into tiny apartments. A sizeable proportion suffer from malnutrition, and when they get sick or injured, they have little or no access to health care.
They are often slandered, accused of disproportionately using this country’s social programs, schools, medical care and so on. Just the opposite is true. Over half of them contribute directly into Social Security – and get nothing back for it. Not one cent. Some of their kids may go to school – many more are left behind. No matter, they pay property taxes, either directly, or indirectly through their rent – which is the essential funding source for schools. They pay sales taxes whenever they buy something. They pay income taxes – and can’t vote, in a country whose revolutionary cry once was “no taxation without representation.”
They face mean-spirited and vengeful regulations: for example, most states deny them drivers’ licenses. Congress has denied their children scholarship money for going to college – even when those children are themselves United States citizens. They are reproached for not speaking English – but no money is allocated to provide language lessons, nor are their bosses required to release them so they could have the time to learn English.
Perhaps worst of all are the various provisions that keep them separated from other members of their families – their children, wives, husbands, parents. Having come and worked here, eventually they may have children born here. The children they had before they came here are not citizens, no more than they are. But the children who were born here are citizens. There is no protection in the laws which prevents such families from being abruptly and permanently separated from each other.
Their illegal status means that if they dare complain, or stand up for their rights, they can be deported – back to their countries of origin where conditions are even more unliveable.
Immigration, as capitalist society regulates it, creates a layer of the working class that often feels it has no choice but to accept the worst conditions, very low wages, etc..
Of course, the immigrants are not the only ones attacked today. The attack on them is part and parcel of the much broader attack on the whole working class. Capitalism continues in a stagnant economic crisis that it has not been able to escape from for decades. In order to even maintain its level of profits, it has to increase the level of exploitation of the whole working class – by lowering wages first of all, getting rid of protections like medical care and pensions, while cutting back on government expenditures for social programs, education, public health, city and state infrastructure, etc., so ever more tax money can be funneled into the accounts of the biggest corporations. While income at the upper levels has skyrocketed over the last decade and a half, that of immigrants without papers and of native-born workers doing similar work has actually decreased slightly.
Black workers have suffered disproportionately from this offensive. A joint study done by researchers at Columbia, Harvard and Princeton Universities, looked not at official unemployment figures, but at the actual employment status of different parts of the population. While the official overall unemployment rate has hovered recently around 5% on average, the actual rate of joblessness among males aged 22 to 30 without a college education is much higher for everyone, black, white and Hispanic, but it is the highest for black men. Actual joblessness of black males who did not finish high school stood at 72%. Among those who did finish high school, but had no further education, the rate was 50%.
This desperate situation that black workers face and the ever worsening situation of white workers sometimes takes expression as an antagonism toward the immigrants – especially since there are forces at work who try to play on and inflame other workers’ fears. And not just right-wing nuts like the Minutemen, but in the halls of Congress itself, and on the media day after day, as well as among some union leaders.
The whole working class has enormous reason for resentment – but that resentment needs to be directed against those who are creating the problems. There is no answer for one part of the working class if it aims its anger against another part of the working class. The immigrants didn’t cut other workers’ wages. They didn’t suppress good-paying jobs. The bosses did. The standard of living of the whole working class is going down because the bosses have been on the offensive, and the workers have offered very little resistance. U.S. capitalism, which profits from exploiting people on both sides of the border, is responsible for this situation.
Capitalism needs a working class that won’t respond to the bourgeoisie’s offensive, and what better way than to have workers blame each other? The bosses want to pit the immigrants against other workers, and pit the immigration police against the immigrants.
The immigrants have been asking for what should be theirs by simple right. They have been working, contributing to the wealth the bosses amass off the workers’ labor, paying taxes, helping make the country run. They should have full legal rights. If the bosses want to hire you, then their government has to recognize you, including with the right to vote.
It’s in every worker’s interest that the immigrants have full legal rights, that they come out of the shadows. Out of simple class solidarity, as well as from their own self interest, the rest of the working class should be supporting full rights for immigrants without papers.
The “reform” that just came from the Senate in no way extends those rights. In fact, it is an attack on the immigrants and an attack on every worker, precisely because it would maintain a part of the working class without rights. The only ones to benefit from this “reform” are the bosses.
The Senate bill couldn’t help but reflect their interests. It was cobbled together and passed at the insistence of every major employer association in the country, starting with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, followed by the National Association of Manufacturers.
As far back as July 1999, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, together with a series of industry associations, formed the “Essential Worker Immigrant Coalition” (EWIC). Despite its name, the coalition included no immigrants among its members, and no workers – only trade associations and companies. This business coalition has been, from the beginning, behind the push to overhaul the nation’s immigration laws. Today, it is made up of 47 different business groups, including, in addition to the Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Chain Drug Stores (among others, Wal-mart), the American Health Care Association, the American Hotel and Lodging Association, and the Associated Builders and Contractors. In its very first statements, the EWIC called for changes in immigration law that, in general terms, run parallel to what the Senate finally passed this May.
In February 2001, George W. Bush, just after taking office, signaled that his administration was ready to push for such a reform. At the end of a visit to Mexican President Vicente Fox’s Guanajuato hacienda, the two presidents committed themselves to pushing for a “guest worker” program and to “controlling” the flow of people without papers across the border. Returning from this visit, Bush uttered the words he would use as a litany ever since – immigrants without papers would have to “earn” a legal status, “get in line” behind those people who “had been going by the rules” – as though the undocumented immigrants hadn’t already been standing in line waiting for years, some of them for 10 years or even more.
On September 7, 2001, U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Thomas Donahue was greeted warmly by the House Sub-committee on Immigration when he testified, calling for a “measured” approach to giving a legal status to undocumented immigrants. But what exactly lurked behind that very imprecise word, “measured” and what kind of “legal status” did he have in mind?
Before anyone could find out, September 11th interrupted the push for “immigration reform.” Bush could hardly portray the U.S. as under siege from abroad, carrying out the witch hunt his administration launched against immigrants after September 11, while simultaneously appearing to open the door to “guest-worker” immigrants.
Six months later, however, big business was on the move again, and this time it was looking for allies to reinforce its demands about immigration. It was the beginning of this strange alliance featuring the Essential Worker Immigrant Coalition, immigrant groups – particularly, the National Council of La Raza – as well as the Catholic Church, and finally some unions, most significantly, the SEIU. Those groups were all contained inside the National Immigration Forum, which also included most of the immigrant rights organizations that had grown up after the 1986 “amnesty,” other unions, community groups, plus ... the National Association of Manufacturers.
In April 2002, the EWIC, La Raza, SEIU, the Catholic Church and the National Immigration Forum together issued a press release detailing their goals: “Comprehensive immigration reform rests on a three-legged stool, comprised of shoring up our border security mechanisms, restructuring the Immigration and Naturalization Service and modernizing our immigration laws to be both enforceable and responsive to our country’s labor needs. On April 11, leaders from across the political spectrum joined together to call on President Bush and Congress to enact such important reforms and devise strategies that would make immigration to the United States more orderly, regulated, and legal.”
Already in 2002, under cover of this ambiguous phrase, “more orderly, regulated and legal,” the door was being opened for the attack that was to be mounted against the immigrants.
These immigrant groups and unions, which all claim to take the side of the immigrants, were enlisting themselves in an alliance with organizations of the biggest bosses in the country, the very bosses who have been severely exploiting the immigrants, taking advantage of their lack of legal status, year after year.
No one should be surprised to see the SEIU pushing itself forward in this alliance. When the SEIU left the AFL-CIO, they criticized the other unions for not working hard enough to establish partnerships with the bosses (not that the others haven’t been trying to be good partners for years). In an interview given at the time, SEIU President Andy Stern gave a forewarning of the role it is playing today. He insisted then that the unions needed to find the way “to be good partners with our employers... to speak with a single voice, not just for employers in a company, but in an industry.”
Neither is it surprising to see La Raza and other such organizations take this position: they have long acted as extensions of the Democratic Party among Latinos.
Bush’s announcement in his 2004 State of the Union speech that he wanted a “guest worker” program, indicated that “immigration reform” was finally about to be put on the table. And when the Democrats, as well as the Republicans, put planks in their 2004 election platform calling for some kind of immigration “reform,” it was the indication that the two parties were aligning themselves to give the bourgeoisie what it wanted.
Throughout 2004, the editorial pages of the country’s leading newspapers carried, month after month, reminders to Congress of the need to pass “comprehensive immigration reform.” From the Washington Post and the New York Times out to the Los Angeles Times and the Yakima [Washington] Herald News, from the Provo [Utah] Daily Herald to the Winston-Salem Journal, from the Miami Herald and the Dallas Morning News and every other major Texas paper, to the Chicago Tribune and the Des Moines Register, not to mention USA Today and the Wall Street Journal, the message was the same. The title of a Yakima Herald editorial expressed it all: “Get Cooking on Immigration.”
It was obvious that immigration reform wouldn’t go through Congress before the 2004 presidential election – neither party wanted to take the blame for pushing through a law that might appear as providing more competition for jobs, in a situation where large parts of the working class already faced the threat of joblessness. But everyone expected that after the election was over, so-called “comprehensive immigration reform” would be passed. After all, business had made it explicitly clear that it wanted it. Both parties stood for it. The major – and most of the minor – bourgeois papers were editorializing for it.
With the election over, the leaders of the two parties working together introduced the bill in May of 2005, the “Secure America and Orderly Immigration Act of 2005,” introduced into the Senate by John McCain and Ted Kennedy, and into the House by Jim Kolbe, Jeff Flake and Luis Gutierrez. It was the precursor of the bill that finally passed the Senate this May.
But then something strange happened on the way to passing the bill. Bush lost the “political capital” he had bragged about after his re-election. With his poll numbers plummeting, some Republicans began disentangling themselves from his coattails. Many of them dredged up what got them elected in the first place, blatant appeals to the various prejudices of the right-wing Christian fundamentalists. This was especially true in the House, whose members are up for election every two years, and which had already seen two very close elections in districts that were usually safe Republican districts.
The House Republicans began to rant about abortion, same-sex marriage, flag burning, evolution, the lack of prayer in the schools. And so forth. Among other things, they began to beat the drums against immigration reform, spewing out racist and xenophobic slanders against people from other countries, especially against Mexicans, the single largest immigrant group, accusing them of harboring terrorists while bringing in drugs and crime.
At the very end of 2005, Sensenbrenner and other stone-age House Republicans rushed through a bill that, among other things, would have ordered deported all 11 million immigrants without papers. It would have turned into felons those who continued to remain inside the country, as well as those who gave them any aid, including medical personnel, religious people, social service agencies. And it would have built 700 miles of fencing on the border with Mexico.
The fence – which any ten-year-old could have figured how to scale – was obviously nothing but a symbol, an electoral ploy on the part of some increasingly desperate Republicans. But the proposal to deport 11 million immigrants – stripping the labor force in many industries – had to have teed off the bosses. They saw these head-in-their-rear-end Republicans sacrificing the bourgeoisie’s interest just so they could get elected. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce rushed off letters by fax warning House members that any one who voted for the measure would be penalized in the Chamber’s annual ratings of lawmakers.
Bush’s close advisers, with Karl Rove in the lead, were equally livid. They had long cultivated the Hispanic vote, starting when Bush ran for governor of Texas. While counting on the Christian fundamentalists, they knew that bloc wasn’t big enough by itself to guarantee the Republicans a permanent majority status. Thus Bush had also attempted to present himself as the friend of Hispanics, trying to portray his proposal for a guest worker program as a bonanza to Mexicans, and going out of his way to appear as the good friend of Mexican President Vicente Fox. Bush already had made inroads in 2000, but in 2004, he got as much as 45% of the Hispanic vote, according to Los Angeles Times polls. As recently as 1996, the Republican presidential candidate had received only 21% of that vote, according to the same poll.
Top leaders of the Republican party called House Republicans on the carpet. The House leadership rushed to amend the bill to change “felony” to “misdemeanor.” But there was a sticky fly in their ointment: by the House rules, they couldn’t do it, since the final vote had already been scheduled. They needed a unanimous vote by both parties to suspend the rules. The Democrats sensing political advantage in this whole fiasco, refused to suspend. Either no bill would be passed, or it would go with “felony” left in the language. Sensenbrenner and company, who were looking to the next election, went with “felony.”
In fact, from the standpoint of the bourgeoisie’s interests, Sensenbrenner provided a kind of advantage. The House bill demonstrated how bad things could get – just the way hard-cop-soft-cop plays out in the streets. As the Senate calmly worked on “comprehensive immigration reform,” more and more amendments were attached to the McCain-Kennedy bill. Senators explained they had to include many of the House provisions – otherwise they couldn’t get the vote they needed in the House. The Senate added a fence. It included severe restrictions on employers – only, of course, to remove them when they got faxes from several hundred business associations. But the Senate went the House one better, declaring that the U.S. is an English-speaking nation. (Apparently, listening to the way their president butchers the language, they felt they had to make that clear!)
Finally, on May 25, the Senate passed its bill, now called the Hagel-Martinez compromise, named after the one immigrant in the whole Congress who came here without legal papers, Mel Martinez who came from – where else? – Cuba!
The ball was now in the House’s field, and the House punted!
On June 24, the U.S. House of Representatives’ Republican leadership announced that it would schedule at least a dozen hearings in different cities over the summer concerning the question of “border security.” The New York Times took this to be a signal that Congress would pass no “immigration reform” compromise until at least after the November elections, if then. Newsday, by contrast, explained that key Senators and Representatives were already meeting behind closed doors to iron out the final bill, with the stalling by the House serving as a way to build support for the Senate bill.
When the House passed the Sensenbrenner bill, the immigrant organizations and trade unions in alliance with the bosses’ organizations went into high gear to bring out support for the Senate bill – although they very rarely mentioned the Senate bill. Instead, they denounced the Sensenbrenner, using it as a rallying cry to bring out a protest.
While the Essential Worker Immigrant Coalition and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce handled lobbying duties in Congress, the other organizations began to prepare the ground for demonstrations protesting against Sensenbrenner. Local immigrant rights organizations representing various nationalities enrolled, as did those organizations like MAPA, which had long played a role tying the Hispanic vote to the Democratic Party. And the SEIU released many of its staff people and organizers to work full-time in the coalition; they soon stepped forward as spokespersons in many cities. (Even when they weren’t in front, it’s obvious that the SEIU played a big role in the decisions that were being made behind the scenes.)
The foreign-language media, especially the Spanish radio stations, began to talk about the Sensenbrenner bill day after day after day. And disk jockeys at many of these stations became the main source of information about proposed demonstrations. It was often the most popular DJs who were identified with the idea of the demonstrations, like Rafael Pulido (El Pistolero) in Chicago and Eduardo Sotelo (El Piolin) in Los Angeles. And even when the Spanish and other foreign language media didn’t overtly call for people to join the demonstrations, they kept the focus on them. For example, Esteban Creste, the news director for one Chicago TV station, innocently explained:“Telemundo Chicago, a Spanish-language TV station, began its coverage blitz 1½ weeks before a recent rally.... While we were not trying to mobilize people, it might have prompted people to decide to go there.”
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a pastoral letter to be read out in every church denouncing Sensenbrenner and warning parishioners that the church was being attacked. And it used its pulpits as did many of the Hispanic evangelical protestant churches to publicize the demonstrations.
Many of the bosses who hired illegal immigrants turned a blind eye to worker absences during the demonstrations – when they didn’t outright encourage their workers to go. Some companies, of course, threatened their workers, but many more were favorable. Some companies went so far as to provide buses. Cargill and Tyson, big meat processors, closed plants, as did many smaller companies.
The first demonstrations pleased the bosses no end. And they said it – and even took credit for the demonstrations. Speaking of the marches, Angelo Amador, director of immigration policy for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, quietly bragged to a New York Times reporter: “We didn’t expect when they all started for it to be this successful and to get that many people involved. You always push that threat and say, ‘Well we’re going to hold you accountable, we’re going to tell everybody,’ and one out of 10 times it works. This time it did.”
The politicians pushing the reform chimed in. After the first big Los Angeles demonstration of March 25, Senator John McCain told the Washington Post that “turn-outs in the hundreds of thousands – particularly among Hispanics – at recent rallies in Los Angeles, Chicago and Washington helped galvanize support for the bill.” The demonstrators may not have known that their marches were being used to back the Senate bill – but McCain did.
Ted Kennedy went so far as to tell the Post that the churches deserved the credit for turning out so many people in support of the “guest worker” plan. In fact, the demonstrators who poured into the streets would have been the first to denounce a “guest worker” program.
Even though the campaign to bring out people had been well-funded, massive, with full access to the media, supported by politicians and many well-known figures, what happened must have made the politicians take serious stock. The immigrants responded in massive numbers – and not only undocumented immigrants, but all those others who had their papers and came just out of solidarity. By many accounts, there were more people with papers, than those without, who participated.
Demonstrations rolled around the country, starting with 100,000 in Chicago on March 10; perhaps half a million in Los Angeles on March 25; several millions total in at least 100 cities over the April 10th week-end. The April demonstrations were by far the biggest outpouring up until then and, overall on the national level at least, would remain the biggest.
After April 10, many proposals were floating around, but the one that took hold was the one for a nation-wide boycott on May 1, suggested perhaps by the movie, “A Day without Immigrants.” Even in the timid way it was put forward – it’s a boycott, not a strike, no it’s not really a boycott, it’s only a respectful demonstration, don’t do anything to cause disruption, wear white to show your peaceful intentions – even with all that, the big groups that had called for the earlier demonstrations got cold feet.
The Spanish stations began to discourage a “boycott.” So did the Catholic church. Both warned about the possibility of firings or deportations. The Bush administration very conveniently arranged a high-publicity raid carried out against a number of factories belonging to a single company as a warning. The Essential Worker Immigrant Coalition sent out advice to its member organizations on how to oppose the idea of a boycott, without counterposing themselves to the people who had been demonstrating so far. La Raza said a boycott would be “counterproductive.” SEIU staff people said it was a weapon that should be “held in reserve for when it’s really needed”! Counter-proposals were floated – teach-ins, indoor meetings after work or school, petitions, write your congressmen, prayer meetings, etc. Some bosses did what the Las Vegas casino owners did: asked their workers to come to work on May 1, where the day would be commemorated by everyone, boss included, signing a miles long petition addressed to Congress. And where there were demonstrations, many were scheduled twice during the day, so people wouldn’t have to lose work on the day of the “boycott”!
In some cities, Mexican immigrants called in to the Spanish radio stations somewhat annoyed by the shift of stance by the DJs who up until then had been called the “best organizers of the movement.”
It should not have been so surprising. No more than the English-speaking media is the Spanish media “independent.” The same kind of people own it and dictate policy. When the ruling layers of this society thought the demonstrations could be helpful in moving their bill through the Senate, the Spanish media supported them, just like the major English-speaking media supported the demonstrations. When the ruling layers decided the demonstrations had gone far enough, the media withdrew their support.
In many cases, it’s the same corporations and financial interests behind the scenes of both the English and the Spanish media – not to mention the same political interests. The biggest Spanish radio and TV chains are Telemundo, owned by NBC, which itself is owned by GE; Univision, owned by Jerry Penenchino, one of George Bush’s biggest contributors; Mega Broadcasting, owned by an Anglo natural gas company executive. The one major network owned by someone Hispanic is Spanish Broadcasting System, started by Raúl Alarcón a wealthy former newspaper publisher in Cuba and strongly opposed to the Cuban Revolution. The Alarcóns are even bigger Bush contributors than Penenchino – and they are linked to Senator Martinez whose name is on the Senate bill just passed. And here’s an interesting aside: in Chicago, the two radio stations that really pushed earlier demonstrations are WOJO, owned by Univision and Bush’s pal Penenchino; and WLEY, owned by Spanish Broadcasting System and Bush’s other pals, the Alarcóns!
The print media is not different. The Tribune Corporation, which owns the English-language Chicago Tribune, also owns Hoy in Chicago and Hoy in Los Angeles. Impremedia, which owns La Opinion in LA and El Diario/La Prensa in NYC and La Raza in Chicago is funded by a consortium composed of Clarity Partners, BMO Halyard Partners, ACON Investments and Knight-Paton Media. The Chairman and CEO of Impremedia is Douglas W. Knight, a wealthy Canadian, who has his hands in publishing enterprises stretching from Toronto Canada to Houston Texas.
The push for May 1 had gone too far for it really to be stopped. May 1 saw a great outpouring, but in most cities the numbers who demonstrated were fewer than the previous demonstrations – with a few important exceptions, especially Chicago, where it was significantly larger, and Los Angeles, where it was of a similar size as the earlier demonstration. Nonetheless, the fact that so many demonstrated around the country on the same day reinforced the sense of common interests – and also of the immigrants’ possibilities for using their forces.
That pushed the organizers to take an even more giant step backwards. Those who had at first used their control over the media, their control of resources and their influence with different organizations to push the demonstrations forward now moved in unison to pull them back. No longer were demonstrations on the order of the day, they had been replaced by calls to lobby Congress in order to get the Senate bill passed – and then to get the House to agree to it. Immigrants were warned that more demonstrations could interfere with the “legislative process.”
Certainly, some voices were raised in protest to this derailing of the mobilization. And in isolated fashion, locally, some people tried to call for demonstrations. But the big demonstrations had been prepared by organizations who were looking to feather their own nests at the expense of the immigrants, by serving the interests of the bourgeoisie. When the decision was made behind the scenes to call a halt, the immigrants were not prepared for that. They were left by themselves without any organization representing their interests that was able to call for further nationwide actions. But that’s exactly what needed to be done in the face of the attack being mounted against the immigrants by the Senate.
Some organizations that had been in the different coalitions severely criticized the Senate bill, but they had no other actions to propose to those who had demonstrated, except to say that it might be better to leave the legal situation the way it is – that is, with all these millions in the shadows. That’s no answer at all!
With the halt to the demonstrations, the organizers began the drumbeat for the next elections. In fact, that idea had already been floated almost from the beginning, with the signs in the demonstrations proclaiming, “Today we march, tomorrow we vote.” What could that mean, other than to vote for the Democrats and for some Republicans who pretend to be friends of the immigrants – even while those parties are joined carrying out a massive attack on them!
While SEIU organizers hint that maybe immigrants could join the Labor Day parades organized by the unions, the SEIU clearly viewed this whole affair as a grand opportunity to build up electoral support for the Democrats and to ingratiate itself still further with the bosses trade organizations. Does the SEIU expect to be granted bargaining rights from grateful employers in those industries which depend on immigrants? It would certainly be in keeping with the deals they cut in the last few years with the nursing homes in California, where they supported the nursing homes’ attempt to reduce state regulation in hopes of gaining bargaining rights over the workers employed by the nursing homes.
The role of the unions should have been to welcome the immigrants, to help them be integrated with the rest of the working class, to organize a fight for their rights and to defend the wages of everyone and the right to a job for everyone. It is the only way to keep the bosses from dividing workers against each other, while keeping a free hand for themselves. This is what organizations representing the interests of the working class would be doing today. The fact that the unions don’t do it, simply reflects the fact that they don’t organize a fight of the workers on any issue.
The problem in front of the rest of the working class is not to fight against immigration, but to work to assimilate those immigrants as part and parcel of the working class. The addition of all these new workers only reinforces the working class, strengthening it – if workers don’t let themselves be divided.
If not for the importation of labor – whether in the form of indentured service, slavery or economic immigration – this country would not exist today. From the beginning, labor was imported, under its various forms. And although the bosses have always used the importation of labor as one of the means to serve their own interests, including to weigh on wages, this has not prevented the working class from fighting and improving its situation – and often with immigrants or the former slaves in the forefront of the struggles. To the extent that the U.S. working class is still better off than workers in most countries, it’s because of those fights made in common.
Sometimes it seems as though capitalism has all the cards in its hands. But the turn-out of the immigrants to demonstrations called by forces working against their interest, in fact defending the interests of their enemies, shows that capitalism can still set in motion – in the words of Marx when speaking more broadly about the working class – its own gravediggers. Wouldn’t it be a wonderful irony if the immigrants misused in this fashion were to decide to fight for their rights, and in so doing break out of the straitjacket of this alliance with the bosses, looking instead to the rest of the working class, bringing the rest of the working class with them to make a fight against all the attacks going on today, and first of all a fight for jobs for everyone.