Sep 10, 2001
The Bush administration used the highly publicized official state visit of Mexican President Vicente Fox in early September to publicize a push for what it is calling “immigration reform.” There are currently an estimated four million “undocumented” immigrants from Mexico living in the U.S. without legal authorization. But there are also millions more undocumented immigrants from Asia, Europe, as well as the rest of the Western Hemisphere.
The Bush administration has yet to formally present a fully fleshed out immigrant reform plan. But Bush has already made it clear that what he means by “immigrant reform” is not an extension of full legal rights to all immigrants.
The centerpiece of the Bush immigration reform plan is an expanded “guest worker” program that it is assumed will be run along the same lines as the current U.S. guest worker program in agriculture. Under this program, guest workers may work only for the employer who contracted them, and when the contract ends – or when they lose their job for some other reason – by law they must return home. Workers also have no right to form a union. Anyone who even dares to speak out risks not only losing his or her job, but also being kicked out of the country.
The new “reform” might give a kind of legal status to millions of immigrants without papers. But under a guest worker program, the workers remain completely at the mercy of the bosses and are forced to continue to accept the worst forms of oppression and exploitation at the hands of their bosses, landlords, merchants, as well as the government itself.
This is a reform only for the bosses, who want to have the best of both worlds. On the one hand, they want to continue to have the possibility to tap into a vast reservoir of workers living under desperate conditions, who are completely at their mercy, a form of indentured servitude. On the other hand, they don’t want the hassle of worrying about the legality of the situation. They want this super-exploited and super-vulnerable workforce to be legalized.
Of course, the fact that a major part of the working class is forced to accept such conditions is an attack not just against these immigrant workers, but against the entire working class. Bosses can threaten that if workers don’t accept worse pay and working conditions, there are “guest workers” who will. And with unemployment growing, many workers, including from families of more established immigrant workers, can feel threatened by the more recent immigrant workers.
Of course, this is nothing new. This country was built by waves of tens of millions of workers who came or were brought here as cheap labor from other countries, starting with the slaves brought from Africa and the indentured servants from Europe. And the bosses have always tried to divide and pit the newest wave of workers against the older established workers, making them compete with each other for jobs, pay, etc. – a competition that has benefitted only the boss.
To put an end to this competition means to demand decent, livable wages for everyone, across the board. It means to fight for wages and conditions to be determined not company by company or even industry by industry but for the whole working class. We all work. We all need a certain amount to have a decent, comfortable life.
Corporate executives and politicians may say that it’s unrealistic to demand that every worker be paid a decent wage. Why? They pull down 10 or 20 million dollars per year. If they can’t find the way to give us what we need, then take their bonuses from them. Put corporate profits back where they belong – into the wages of workers who produce them.