The Spark

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

The bosses and politicians stand in the way of immigrant workers learning English

May 22, 2006

The U.S. Senate passed an amendment to its immigration bill that declared English the “national language” of the United States. Already, 24 states have passed similar laws.

The politicians who pass such laws hypocritically claim they are needed “to unite” the country. What lies. English-only type laws play on xenophobia, that is, the fear of people from other countries and cultures. This fear is used to whip up support for depriving immigrants of their basic political, economic and social rights. Just look at how the government used xenophobia after the attacks of 9-11 to whip up support for going after immigrants of Middle Eastern descent, for example. In fact, this country has a long history of the bosses and the government carrying out racist campaigns against so-called “foreigners,” who happened to be Irish, Catholic, German, Jewish, Polish, Chinese, Mexican – even as the bosses and government carried out even more virulent and violent campaigns against black people as a part of a divide-and-conquer strategy which has been used to impose worsening conditions on the entire working population.

Workers – immigrant and native-born – don’t have to be lectured by a bunch of politicians or have a law passed to stress how important it is to speak a common language. In the work place, effective communication is a necessity – and not just for safety reasons. When workers don’t speak a common language, it makes it easier for the bosses to sow divisions and create animosity between them. The lack of a common language makes it more difficult for workers to organize together to fight in their common interests. And that is on top of the need to speak and write the language of a country in order to be more fully integrated and be able to more fully participate in its social, political and cultural life.

But it is the bosses and the government themselves that stand in the way of workers and their families learning the English language quickly and completely. First of all, by making so many immigrant workers put in extremely long hours, the bosses deprive them of the first thing they need to learn a new language: time. On top of that, the politicians have cut funding in education so much that millions and millions of workers have to get on long waiting lists just to have the chance to finally get into a class. As for their children, they are most often relegated to crowded and underfunded schools which don’t have nearly enough teachers, classrooms and text books and where conditions are so harsh in many ways they resemble prisons more than schools.

It’s no mystery what’s needed for people to learn a language quickly and efficiently. All it takes is time and resources. Rich people send their children to schools that teach a language in an intensive manner in small classes, through what they call “immersion” in that language. Various branches of the government, starting with the military, have special schools that do the same thing – and often even quicker. U.S. corporations do the same thing when they send their executives and professionals overseas.

Yes, all workers and their families should speak and write English fluently. That is why all workers should demand that their bosses give them the time off to study and learn it with pay, as well as force the politicians to increase education funding enough so that their children can attend small classes taught by well-qualified teachers so that they too can be “immersed” in the language – just like the children of the wealthy.