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Immigrant struggle lifts up all workers

Published Apr 27, 2006 8:02 AM

A giant has awakened in the heart of imperialism.

The “invisible” workers who for decades have been vilified and exploited in quasi-slavery conditions, who get up at dawn to pick the vegetables and fruits we all eat, who work in the crowded and many times unsafe areas of restaurants, shops and food processing plants, who clean and tidy hotels and homes, who take care of children and toil in so many areas for a meager wage with no benefits—they have awakened to take their rightful place in the history of the working class struggle in the United States.

They are spearheading a revival of working class struggle with a call for a boycott and strike on May Day. Not even a massive roundup by Immigration of more than 1,100 undocumented workers in many areas of the country on April 20, clearly aimed at turning back this movement, has dampened its ardor.

At no time in the recent history of this country, since the courageous African-American movement for civil rights, has a struggle so shaken the very foundations of the imperialist order. Hundreds of thousands of undocumented workers and their allies have been in an almost constant mobilization across the country, sparked by anti-immigrant legislation approved last December by the House of Representatives.

The Sensenbrenner-King bill, which declares itself to be for “Protection of Borders, Anti-terrorism and Illegal Immigration Control,” represents the most vicious racism of the ultra right in this country. It also attempts to stimulate the vicious xenophobia that was purposely whipped up after 9/11.

Even though other immigration bills are pending in the Senate, not one calls for full rights or amnesty for undocumented workers. Basically, what has been going on there is a debate between the ultra right and the right.

This struggle happens at a crucial time in the U.S. The Bush administration is embroiled in the so-called global “war on terror,” which includes the quagmire of war and occupation in Iraq. Nevertheless, the U.S. still intervenes in Afghanistan and threatens Iran, North Korea, Venezuela and Cuba, funneling hundreds of billions of dollars into military aggression.

At the same time, social services at home are totally underfunded. The budgets for schools, health care, public housing, repairing levees, inspecting meat, even veterans’ benefits—virtually all programs that provide the support and services people most need—have been drastically cut or eliminated.

In the private sector, there are massive layoffs and a corporate offensive to cut pensions and health care, even in unionized jobs. A close look at health care alone highlights the critical situation for the masses in the U.S. A recent study by the Commonwealth Fund, a private health-care policy foundation, found that in just four years the proportion of people lacking health care coverage soared—from 28 percent in 2001 to 41 percent in 2005.

According to Karen Davis, president of the Fund, “The jump in uninsured among those with modest incomes is alarming, particularly at a time when our economy has been improving. If we don’t act soon to expand coverage to the uninsured, the health of the U.S. population, the productivity of our workforce, and our economy are at risk.”

Immigrants aren’t responsible for any of this. Capitalism is.

At a slower pace and not as extreme, the cutbacks and layoffs here are creating conditions similar to those that have driven the immigrants to leave their own countries in search of work. Their homelands have suffered under financial demands imposed by the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, which work in the interests of U.S. corporations.

The immigrant workers’ struggle is also an antiwar struggle. Immigrants are well aware of the economic war that Washington has launched against their countries, aided at times by the Pentagon—as in Plan Colombia, which gives U.S. military and economic aid to a regime that allows death squads to crush unions. While the economic penetration is mostly carried out through so-called “free trade agreements,” they are accompanied by the buildup of U.S. military bases throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. And economic strangulation can also be an act of war, like the sanctions were in Iraq.

Millions of undocumented Mexi cans have had to cross the border because the devastating and genocidal NAFTA trade agreement, which Mexico was pressured to sign by the U.S., bankrupted its farmers.

Their fight is not only for recognition and respect for their own rights, but for each and every working person here who is under attack by greedy corporations that wage war at home and abroad to meet their insatiable thirst for profits. What workers won in past struggles is being taken away.

The undocumented workers who participate in the May Day Boycott are especially courageous, and their action will strengthen the entire working class in the United States. As Roger Toussaint, president of the transit workers’ union in New York City and himself an immigrant worker from Trinidad & Tobago, said to a rally before he was jailed for leading the transit strike, “You have to take risks in order to win.”

Our undocumented brothers and sisters are taking that risk. The workers’ movement, the anti-war movement and progressives in general should strive to support their efforts in every way possible—for it will benefit all. Their struggle is our struggle. They are part of the working class here, not outside of it, and they are the most exploited part.

By raising the banner of mass struggle and taking a path independent of both Republicans and Democrats, they are setting a tone of resistance, challenge and defiance that is so needed to show the true power of the workers and end this long period of retreat.