Jun 26, 2006
On March 10, a massive demonstration in Chicago kicked off six weeks of rallies by immigrants and their supporters. On March 25, more than half a million people in Los Angeles demonstrated, along with numerous young people who walked out of high schools to attend rallies. On April 9 and 10, more than a million people took to the streets in Washington, Phoenix, Dallas, Atlanta and other cities. These demonstrations culminated on May 1 with massive rallies throughout the country. Often, people took off work and school to attend.
But since that outpouring, the demonstrations stopped as suddenly as they started.
Certainly, the immigrants have more reason than ever to take to the streets. Right before Memorial Day, the U.S. Senate had passed the Hagel-Martinez bill, which is an outright attack on every immigrant without papers. Presented as a so-called “comprehensive immigration reform,” the bill was supported by the Democrats in the Senate, along with the Senate Republican leadership and President George W. Bush himself.
Advertised as a “pathway” to citizenship for the “undocumented,” the bill includes harsh new enforcement measures. It calls for the construction of a triple layered wall along hundreds of miles of the border.
Its dense and complicated rules and regulations virtually disqualify most of the 12 million undocumented immigrants from even applying to become legal. Thus it condemns them to remain undocumented and face the same awful choice as now: live and work in the shadows or leave the country. As for those who have the “privilege” to qualify, the reform requires them to pass test after test, pay thousands of dollars in fines and fees, and agree to let members of their family be deported if they don’t have the same status. Above all the reform would force them to keep quiet for long stretches of time, for at least 13 years and probably more, until they finally gain citizenship – or risk being disqualified and returned to an “illegal” status.
Under the guise of “a pathway” to citizenship, the reform actually gives the bosses the legal right to employ a workforce with few if any rights. This “reform” allows the bosses to threaten deportation for anyone who dares protest or stand up for their rights under terms that are much, much harsher than they are under today’s rotten laws.
It is an outright, naked attack against not just immigrant workers, but all workers. By depriving part of the working class of its rights, the bosses then pit those workers against the rest of the working class, thereby pushing down wages and benefits, fostering greater speed-up and worsening working conditions. Hanging over all workers’ head is the threat of more unemployment and misery.
Most of the biggest institutions and organizations that had pushed and encouraged the demonstrations up until May 1 support the Hagel-Martinez bill. Certainly, this includes the big bosses’ coalitions, starting with the Essential Immigrant Worker Coalition, which includes the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The Catholic Church, as well as the SEIU and the other big unions with ties to the Democratic Party, criticize the Senate bill for some of its harsh repressive measures – but still support it, saying that it is a step forward. Large immigrant defense and advocacy organizations like MALDEF or MAPA make only a slightly more harsh critique, but don’t go any further, obviously reflecting the fact that they are tied to the Democrats, with MALDEF also funded by Fortune 500 companies and philanthropies like the Ford and Carnegie Foundations.
As for the myriad pro-immigrant, self-help and defense groups, they make a more realistic condemnation of the Senate bill – only to follow in the wake of the bigger, more powerful organizations, such as the unions, the churches and the Democratic Party, reconciling themselves to it. Their support is rationalized by saying that it is better than HR 4437, which was passed in the House back in December.
This should come as no surprise. The coalition of business, unions and big immigrant rights organizations had called the demonstrations in order to push Congress to enact the kind of legislation that came out of the Senate. As for the unions and the immigrant rights organizations, their political agenda also consisted in putting the Republicans on the spot, and strengthening the Democrats.
Now, many of them, starting with the SEIU, have gone on to form the “We are America Alliance,” whose goal is to lobby Congress to get a law passed, one based on Hagel-Martinez but a little nicer! The “We are America Alliance” is pushing its “Democracy Summer,” which is little more than a registration and get- out-the-vote drive to support the Democrats in the fall election – the very party that worked hand-in-glove with Bush and the Republicans to get the Hagel-Martinez attack on immigrant rights passed in the summer.
In other words, they are trying to mobilize immigrant workers to support what amounts to an attack on their own rights. It is a trap – just at the point that the attacks against immigrant workers’ rights are growing.
Immigrant workers should have only one response – get out in the streets. And they cannot just do it for one day in a symbolic march or boycott that includes their bosses and politicians, that is, their enemies. No, immigrant workers have to carry out a real struggle, against their enemies, including their bosses and the government, by really mobilizing their power through strikes and massive demonstrations. Other workers have every reason to join them.