Only struggle can win legalization!
As Washington reveals its long-awaited legislation on so-called “immigration reform,” the issue of strategy and tactics for immigrant and worker rights becomes ever more important.
The struggle for the rights of the working class against the ruling class is a weighty topic, to say the least. What workers and oppressed people should fight for and what they can win under the capitalist system require a great deal of thoughtful, strategic analysis. The struggle for immigrant rights is no exception.
The new legislation appears to be the opposite of what the movement has been fighting for, not just in recent times, but historically.
The 844-page bill now before the Senate is called the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act. Referred to as S. 744, it is sponsored by a bipartisan group of eight senators and supposedly had the input of many established labor and immigrant rights groups. But it has also had a heavy hand from many corporations, including Coca-Cola, Google, Facebook and undoubtedly agribusinesses.
Its congressional authors include some of the most anti-immigrant politicians around, like Sen. John McCain (R) from Arizona, ground zero for racism and repression. And Sen. Charles Schumer (D) from New York, who has been exposed for receiving millions from the corrections industry. And Sen. Marc Rubio (R) from Florida, a Cuban-American conservative hostile to the Cuban Revolution.
This bill bodes ill for immigrant workers — and all workers.
Long, hard, winding path
Seven years ago, as a result of a heinous anti-immigrant bill sponsored by Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R) from Wisconsin, millions of immigrant workers, mostly undocumented, rose up to launch the current civil and workers’ rights movement around immigrant rights.
It has had ebbs and flows, but this movement remains strong. In 2006, it helped revive May Day in this country.
Hundreds of millions of workers around the world have long marched in their interests on May 1, but here that had been replaced with the sleepy September Labor Day, which had few teeth. Labor Day has unfortunately reflected the views of a labor leadership that accommodated to the program of the Democratic Party instead of independently fighting for workers’ rights. The attitude was, “Sorry, but this is all we can get.”
Yet the workers in this country face one of the greatest economic and social crises of our times. The capitalist system, having reached a dead end, is raining hell on the people here and around the world. There is a full onslaught against the workers, unbridled war and misery at the very same time that the ruling class, the 1%, have become obscenely richer.
A new report says that almost half the people of New York City are poor or near poor. (New York Times, April 21) Nearly half the city!
Yet Mayor Michael Bloomberg is the seventh-richest person in the country, with a net worth of $27 billion. (Forbes, March 11)
Corporate 8 block path to legalization
The bipartisan group in Congress, referred to as the “Gang of 8,” issued S. 744 on April 17. The bill, most of which was arrived at behind closed doors, is sweeping on immigration policy. But the one thing that workers and their advocates have marched for since 2006 — legalization — is not seriously addressed.
Workers came out of the shadows in great numbers, held the largest demonstrations ever in some cities, lobbied, sat in and purposefully got arrested in detention centers — all for the right to live and work in this country legally. It did not matter what placard they carried or what flag they waved, legalization was what spurred on the movement.
That is not what S. 744 is about. The bill will make legalization so expensive, so time consuming that the vast majority of the over 11 million undocumented will not benefit.
Instead, it continues to reflect the interests of the ruling class and is meant to control wages and workers. Instead of Congress working to provide education for young workers already here so they can get good-paying jobs, the bill wants instead to bring in skilled workers from abroad. This will result in a massive “brain drain” from countries under the thumb of imperialism.
The message from S. 744 to young workers is: “McDonald’s is your only path.”
The only answer is to organize and fight back, not only in this country but with cross-border solidarity.
Criticism from immigrant groups
Although the Gang of 8, as well as Washington and the established labor leadership, say that all the immigrant rights groups and all “labor” are behind the proposed bill, that is not correct.
The response from many important grassroots groups, like Derechos Humanos in Arizona, has been critical. The National Day Labor Organizing Network, based in California, has issued important talking points on the bill. The Dignity Campaign from the Bay Area has established a counter-bill that raises abolishing U.S. foreign policies that are the source of so much forced migration.
In New York, the May 1st Coalition, the Migrant Power Alliance, Families for Freedom, DRUM and others have opposed the bill, and some have already held actions in front of Sen. Schumer’s office.
Here are some criticisms of the bill:
• The United African Organization points out that it eliminates the “diversity program,” which issues 55,000 visas to immigrants from underrepresented nations in the U.S. In the past, Africans comprised around 30 to 50 percent of those who received these visas.
• Derechos Humanos says, “The most significant part of this proposed legislation … is the dramatic escalation of a ‘war zone’ environment, particularly along the border regions, which comes at an obscene expense (an additional $5.5 billion to the $18 billion spent last year).”
• Immigration Equality points out that S. 744 omits the Uniting American Families Act, which recognizes lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer families. The National Center for Transgender Equality writes that of the more than 11 million undocumented, more than 260,000 are LGBTQ and more than 20,000 are transgender.
Two of the most ominous and controversial parts of the bill are around the guestworker and skilled visa programs, which primarily affect farm workers and workers in the high-tech industry.
The Binational Front of Indigenous Organizations says, “The Guest Worker Program would place farm workers in a vulnerable position.” Rosalinda Guillen, from a Washington state farm worker group, worries that once undocumented agricultural laborers gain legal status, they would face competition from guest workers.
Journalist David Bacon writes: “Even more direct labor supply schemes will be part of the Senators’ bill. Currently the three main official guest worker visa programs, H1B, H2A and H2B, allow employers to recruit about 250,000 workers [per year]. … The AFL-CIO and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce announced agreement on yet another such program, called the W visa. It would allow employers to recruit workers to fill labor shortages documented by a new Federal commissioner.” (Truthout, April 17)
According to Bacon, “Making a deal on a new guest worker program is a means to win over Republicans. … Communications Workers of America President Larry Cohen warned, ‘CWA will monitor any proposed changes to visa programs like the H-1B visa, which are sought after by business but have cost U.S. technicians and other workers tens of thousands of jobs.’”
At a time of such high unemployment, how can S. 744 be justified?
Legalization can be won through struggle
The immigrant and workers’ rights movement is at a turning point.
It can go along with Washington and the mainstream view and accept S.744 quietly, although assuredly with great sadness and disappointment. Or it can launch the next phase of the movement.
The undocumented have earned legalization a hundred times over. Exploitation and racism should be illegal, not workers. Every single worker in the world is entitled to a living wage, adequate healthcare and education. That is neither a pipe dream nor ultra-left sloganeering. That is a reality that Washington and Wall Street owe the workers who made them so rich.
The massive problems and attacks demand a massive, militant fightback. Shouldn’t the next phase of the struggle be one where each community, each nationality, each organization, each union local, each neighborhood, each region in the country is not working on its own, but is uniting in a massive movement to build the kind of national response to S. 744 that is desperately needed?
Isn’t it time to link the struggle against mass deportations to the struggle against mass incarcerations? To link the struggle for education, healthcare, jobs and against war to the struggle for legalization?
Isn’t it time to go on the offensive in the finest traditions of the labor and progressive movements when sit-ins, occupations and strikes were the order of the day? These struggles, which were not far-fetched or ultra-left, won real concessions from the bosses, the bankers and the politicians.
It will require political education and deepening roots among the working class. But it can be done.
It does not matter what Congress is doing. What matters is who is in the streets fighting, occupying and striking for our rights.
This can be a righteous road to victory for all workers.
Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, John Brown, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Lolita Lebron and all those in the 19th century who fought and died in the struggle that led to May Day may have been told it couldn’t be done. They proved it could be done. So can we.
For more responses to the bill, visit www. may1.info.