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How can lessons from immigrant struggle help Occupy Wall Street?

Published Oct 13, 2011 8:41 PM

Teresa Gutierrez
WW photo: G. Dunkel

Excerpted from a talk given by WWP Secretariat member Teresa Gutierrez at the WWP National Conference held in New York City Oct. 8-9.

What I would like to contribute to the discussion is how lessons from the immigrant rights struggle can help Occupy Wall Street.

Washington has continued to foster a states’ rights, decentralized approach to immigration policy. This has opened the door to Tea Party legislation like in Alabama, described as “Arizona legislation on steroids” by the bourgeois press.

The racist legislation in Alabama is not just an attack on immigrant workers. It is an attack on ALL workers. It is meant to divide workers at a time when solidarity and unity are most needed.

The Alabama legislation allows police to demand immigration papers during routine traffic stops. It requires school officials to learn the immigration status of students when they register. The first Monday after this legislation was passed over 2,000 young children did not go to school! The numbers remain high today as frightened families vanish into the night in yet another mass human exodus created by capitalist repression and exploitation.

Repressive policies such as E-verify are being put into place that are damaging for not only undocumented workers but all workers. E-verify is an identification system that is so punitive, so fraught with errors that opponents have pointed out it will create a “colossal tsunami at Social Security offices” as everyone will be forced to prove their citizenship.

Despite the overwhelming repression, the immigrant movement has not gone away. In the vanguard are the Dreamers. Although a complex movement, young immigrants, primarily undocumented, are refusing to stay in the shadows and are risking not only incarceration but deportation by demanding legalization.

We salute these young people and pay tribute to their courage.

One of the main contributions that immigrants have made to the working class movement is the revival of May Day in this country. Since 2006, May Day marches have taken place across the country every single year. They have been primarily immigrant, primarily Latino/a, but every year they reflect more and more the interests of the overall working class in this country. They have pulled out larger sectors of unionists, Black workers, anti-war activists and so on.

There is a lesson from the May Day movement for the movement awakening against Wall Street today. The students and youth occupying Wall Street right now have ignited a fire. It is a fire fueled by unemployment, homelessness, a lack of educational opportunities, a healthy hatred of corporations and the obscenity of Wall Street profiteering.

Revolutionaries and communists are thrilled with this development, even while recognizing its limitations. Even though the current contradictions of capitalism are bringing unprecedented misery to the masses of the world and havoc to the environment, these conditions have nonetheless begun to shed light for those workers who were in the dark.

It does not matter how hard you work or how much education you get, this system could care less about you.

While the struggles that have broken out in the imperialist-capitalist centers of Europe and the U.S. are pivotal and decisive, we must not forget the struggles that began in the nations of the most oppressed.

They began not long ago when women marched in Nigeria against the oil corporations, when the Venezuelan masses wrested President Chavez from the hands of the imperialist oligarchy, when the Zapatistas burst into Chiapas against NAFTA, when the masses of the Philippines took over roads and bridges, when the Bolivians kicked out Bechtel from their homeland and so on.

Truly a global peoples assembly has in some ways already taken place. Truly countless occupations and takeovers have already occurred.

This kind of experience is what immigrant workers bring into this country, and it must be tapped so we can go forward.

Maybe there are language barriers, maybe immigrants do not speak English, maybe they are not bilingual. But neither are most people in this country. Immigrants are just humble — maybe — about being monolingual, while most “Americans” are arrogant at worst or oblivious at best about being monolingual.

So as the talk from OWS emerges about a one-day general strike or the call for no work, no shopping, no school grows, our party will work like hell to build unity. We will work like hell to make sure that oppressed people are welcome and represented and in fact step forward into leadership.

We will work like hell to expose capitalism at every turn and show that, yes, one of the best symbols of the capitalist system truly is Wall Street. But so is the New York Police Department. So is the Supreme Court. So is the New York Times. So is the military on the U.S.-Mexico border.

The capitalist class depends on competition to survive. Our class must depend on solidarity and unity to survive. That is what this call to march to Occupy Wall Street is all about.