The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

The divisions the bosses try to impose on the working class

Apr 24, 2006

On April 9 and 10, more than a million people took to the streets in Washington, Phoenix, Dallas, Atlanta and other cities protesting HR 4437, the House-passed anti-immigration bill, which would criminalize not just undocumented immigrants, but anyone who helped them.

Much of the business community quietly encouraged these demonstrations. Some business organizations even took credit for helping to build them. “We didn’t expect when they all started to be this successful and to get that many people involved,” said Angelo Amador, director of immigration policy for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “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 out. This time it did.

For months, business lobbyists and trade groups had been pushing for the “moderate” alternative to HR 4437. “Lobbyists representing small and big business and trade groups... had been staking out the U.S. Senate night and day” (New York Times, April 15) to get an immigration “reform” bill passed.

According to the New York Times, some trade groups vowed to withhold campaign contributions from any politician who continued to support the anti-immigrant HR 4437 because “that will severely harm or destroy the industry.” Instead, John Gay, the co-chairman of the Essential Worker Immigration Coalition, which represents thousands of companies, big and small, in the hotel, service and trade industries, said that their members must “contact their senators and let them know that the compromise that was struck [in the Senate] is alive and well, and is a good deal that should be supported.”

Of course, these companies are supporting immigration “reform,” like the Senate “compromise” bill, because it is a good deal – for the U.S. bosses. U.S. bosses in many industries, including farming, garment, food manufacturing, furniture manufacturing, construction, janitorial services, hotels and restaurants already depend to a great extent on “undocumented immigrants” to do their work. Immigration “reform” would legalize the situation making what these companies do perfectly legal.

For the workers, though, it would be a different story. Sure, these companies and politicians hold out the hope that what they call immigration “reform” will bring more rights for immigrants, eventually legal residency, and for some, much later, citizenship. But under the terms of the Senate bill, many of them will never be legalized, much less citizens. Moreover, what the bill’s supporters don’t say is that for those who are “legalized,” these workers will still have few, if any legal rights for the next ten years.

This would leave immigrant workers living under a form of indentured servitude. They would be practically “owned” by their boss. If they dared stand up to demand something better, the bosses could not only fire them, but also have them deported.

The bosses are already taking advantage of “undocumented” workers. Even when big companies don’t directly hire “undocumented” immigrants, they outsource part of the work to companies that do. Thus, the bosses pressure workers who earn a bit more to either accept less, or to be replaced by someone who will accept less. And several big companies – such as Delphi, the giant auto parts maker that is trying to drastically force down its workers’ wages and benefits – undoubtedly want direct access to this most vulnerable section of the working class.

The use of more desperate, vulnerable labor to drive down the wages and working conditions of all workers is nothing new. Capitalists have always been on the hunt to take advantage of fresh sources of desperate and vulnerable workers. In the past, part of that workforce came from people forced out of the countryside, whether they were sharecroppers, farm hands or small family farmers and ranchers. For hundreds of years, this supply of labor from the countryside was supplemented by the labor of millions of slaves, who had been ripped out of Africa. Later, there were constant new waves of immigrants, who were so desperate they braved long and unsafe voyages over the sea and tried to survive in a strange land in miserable hovels.

The immigrants were discriminated against, hounded, segregated and persecuted – while the violence against black people left a 450-year history of deprivation and bitterness.

The history of the U.S. working class is a history of divisions and workers used against each other, with the lowest paying jobs reserved for the most recent immigrants and the greatest unemployment permanently reserved for the black population. But at critical times, both immigrant and native-born workers, black and white, all organized together, fought for higher wages, shorter working hours and better working conditions. In so doing, they built large and powerful unions.

Today, immigrants have demonstrated their anger against this society that criminalizes them. What a tragedy if their anger were to be harnessed only to push through a law that serves the interests of the bosses.