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‘May Day showed revival of class struggle’

Fightback grows against Arizona’s anti-immigrant law

Published May 26, 2010 1:54 PM

Following are excerpts from a talk given by Teresa Gutierrez, co-coordinator of the May 1 Coalition for Worker and Immigrant Rights and a Workers World Party secretariat member, at a May 22 WWP forum in New York City.

WW photo: Monica Moorehead

Workers World Party leaders Larry Hales, Teresa Gutierrez and Larry Holmes were panelists at a May 22 forum on “Fighting racism and fascism in a global capitalist crisis: A socialist and working class perspective.” Go to workers.tv to see the podcasted talks.

Imperialist plunder of natural resources and the attempt to colonize an entire nation and its people is the sum of the history between the U.S. and Mexico.

And today, not only do Mexicans and other immigrants have to seriously endanger themselves, even die to cross that border, Mexicans living on this side of the border cannot even study that history.

So many of the gains that we made in the struggle of the 1960s in particular, like that of the right to learn our history as oppressed people, are being eroded before our very eyes.

But the right to study Chicano, Black, Native American, women’s or lesbian/gay/bisexual and transgender history is not a right that was handed to us. It was a right that we won with our struggle, a right we wrested from the ruling class. And one we will not give up. Many young people sacrificed and even died for those ethnic studies.

The Binational Migration Institute at the University of Arizona’s Mexican American Studies and Research Center issued a study two years ago on the thousands of border-crossing deaths in the U.S. It showed an unprecedented increase in the number of deaths in the deserts and mountains of southern Arizona, with exposure (including heat stroke, dehydration, and hyperthermia) being the leading cause of these deaths.

The increase in deaths “is a direct consequence of the government’s ‘prevention through deterrence’ immigration-control policies that intensified in the mid-1990s.

“These policies include a quintupling of border-enforcement expenditures and a militarization of the border with new barriers, fortified checkpoints, high-tech forms of surveillance and thousands of additional Border Patrol agents stationed along the U.S.-Mexico border.”

The study reports that “migrants are increasingly funneled into the most isolated and desolate terrain of the Arizona-Sonora desert border, resulting in the recovery of more and more skeletal remains. This ‘Funnel Effect,’ as the Institute terms it, occurs when traditional, less dangerous, crossing points are sealed.”

The funnel effect is an important concept to remember. It is one explanation of what is behind SB 1070 and the rise of reaction in Arizona. The U.S. government under Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, as well as Barack Obama now, purposely and intentionally have “funneled” migration to one of the most dangerous and conservative areas in the country.

The fence built along this part of the border cost at least $176 million to construct — money that could have gone to hospitals or schools. The fence includes a 76-mile reservation border as well as privately owned land along the Texas-Mexico border. It was modeled after Israel’s racist colonial apartheid wall. The Department of Homeland Security waived at least 40 environmental and cultural preservation laws in order to build it.

The fence is eagerly supported by Arizona senator, Russell Pearce — best known for his “accidental” e-mailing of neo-Nazi propaganda — and Sen. John McCain.

This funneling effort did not decrease the number of migrants crossing into the U.S.

Response to Arizona’s racist policy: resistance

The new strategy closed off major urban points of migration in Texas and California and funneled hundreds of thousands of migrants through southern Arizona’s remote and notoriously deadly deserts and mountains.

The study also raised that an exponential increase in the number of recovered bodies occurred from 1990 to 2005.

During the “pre-funnel effect” years (1990-1999), the medical examiner’s office handled, on average, the bodies of approximately 14 border crossers per year. In stark contrast, during the funnel effect years (2000-2005), on average, 160 bodies were sent to the medical examiner’s office each year.

There was a significant decrease in the number of recovered bodies of border crossers from northern Mexico and a significant increase in the number of such decedents from central and southern Mexico.

At least 78 percent of the increase in deaths along the entire Southwest border from 1990 to 2003 took place in southern Arizona.

But there is something else going on besides racism and reaction.

And that is the resistance of a huge and vital sector of our class, the resistance particularly of young people, who in this period on this struggle in defense of immigrant rights, are setting the tone and leading the way.

And resistance is the only way to look at the massive May Day demonstrations that took place this year around the country.

Once again May Day became a symbol of a sector of the working class in this country that is flexing its class muscles. No matter the form it may have taken, no matter what the demands, May Day showed a revival of the class struggle in this country.

Despite the repression, despite the attacks, workers are fighting back. This struggle has not gone away. It has not waned.

It is also a sign of things to come. May Day has been forever revived in this country. And sooner or later, more and more U.S.-born workers will embrace the significance of May Day and make it their own as well.

The immigrant movement must understand and understand this deeply, that the struggle for legalization cannot advance, much less win, unless this happens.

Until the working class — all its sectors — rises up and fights back in a general struggle against the ruling class, the right wing will continue to set the agenda.

The struggle for jobs and housing and education must become ever more fused with the immigrant struggle. The struggle for Black liberation must become ever more fused with the struggle for Latino/a liberation.