Over the past few weeks, there has been an explosion of mass demonstrations, job actions and student walkouts by immigrants in the US. Millions have taken to streets. According to press reports, on 10th April, two million joined demonstrations in more than 120 cities. Nearly a million protested the previous week in Los Angeles. Hundreds of thousands protested in both Chicago and Dallas. According to police estimates, 350,000 to 500,000 marched in Dallas, last Sunday. Demonstrations throughout the country have drawn in tens of thousands of immigrants, primarily Latino and overwhelmingly working class.
The rallies were sparked by the passage of bill HR 4437, in the House of Representatives. This bill intends to turn immigration into a federal felony. It would even make aiding an undocumented worker into a crime. This would threaten mass arrests of teachers offering English as a second language, doctors treating injured undocumented workers, community centers offering services to immigrants; the list goes on and on.
Protesting immigrants held up signs saying: We are workers, not criminals and No human being is illegal. Others warned: Today we demonstrate tomorrow we vote.
The reactionary, vigilante anti-immigrant Minutemen, and the most right-wing section of the Republican Party, claim that immigrants are a drain on society in the US. However, immigrants put 7 billion dollars into social security and get little in return.
Undocumented immigrants, for the first time ever, were sent to die in US uniforms on foreign soil in the US war for oil in Iraq. One worker on a demonstration carried a sign that said: Bush: My Mexican Son Died in Iraq.
Undocumented immigrants live overwhelmingly in the poorest areas of the US; they have no voting rights, and they have much less access to social services. Reality shows that immigrants are not a drain on US society. In fact, US capitalism is a drain on immigrants.
The mass outpouring of anger over the introduction of Bill HR 4437 is a classic example of the whip of counter-revolution spurring the working masses into action.
To maintain momentum and build on successes, the immigrant rights movement will have to not just fight against HR 4437 but also take up the issues of low pay, amnesty, papers for all undocumented workers and the dire need for healthcare for all working class Americans.
HR 4437 will not likely be passed into law. The US ruling elites rely on immigration. The big corporations like paying their workers low wages. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, there are currently between 11 million and 12 million immigrants in the US, with no papers and no authorization to remain in the country. Many of these are employed by employers, who ask no questions and pay very low wages. Most work cleaning houses of the wealthy, clean the hospitals, collect the garbage etc. Low wages mean more profits to line the fat pockets of the rich.
This bill was introduced so that a section of Republicans could make their socially conservative voting base happy. After all, it is an election year. The divisions that have opened up within the Republicans exposes their contradictory role as a party that both represents the interests of big business and plays to a voting base of Christian fundamentalist and socially conservative elements.
Illusions in McCain-Kennedy Bill
Another bill introduced into Congress, the McCain-Kennedy Bill, more accurately represents the position of the US elites. They want to grant amnesty to some workers, but they also want to hold the threat of deportation over the head of millions. The threat of deportation can discourage workers from organizing in the workplaces and communities for more rights and better living conditions. Unfortunately, there are a lot of illusions in the McCain-Kennedy Bill throughout the developing movement, especially amongst the leadership. For instance, Senator Ted Kennedy spoke at the immigrants rights Boston rally, and the Service Employees International Union, which represents hundreds of thousands of immigrant workers, gave glowing endorsement to the McCain-Kennedy bill.
However, the McCain-Kennedy bill is no answer to the right-wing, anti-immigrant onslaught. The main backer of this bill is the Essential Workers Immigration Coalition (EWIC). The EWIC is made up of the union-busting heads of the hotel, construction, restaurant and custodial industries. The interests of the rich are reflected in the language of the McCain-Kennedy bill. Guest workers given amnesty would be deported if they go for more than 60 days without a job. Fearing firing and deportation, guest workers would be less likely to organize in the workplace.
McCain and Kennedy also call for the further militarization of the US-Mexico border; already, an average 400 immigrants die trying to cross the border every year. The billions proposed to be spent on militarizing the border are desperately needed for healthcare, education, public works programs, and relief for the victims of Hurricane Katrina.
The labor movement should be playing a leading role in the fight for immigrant rights. The AFL-CIO, historically anti-immigrant, changed its position in the 1990s, adopting a more pro-immigrant stance. Leaders in the AFL-CIO have, to their credit, opposed both HR 4437 and the McCain-Kennedy bill.
Now, momentum is being gathered rapidly for a May 1st immigrant general strike. The labor leaders need to take this opportunity to both educate native-born workers about the importance of immigration reform and to organize the unorganized immigrants that will be participating in this strike into unions. Job actions and solidarity demonstrations of native-born workers should be organized in support of our undocumented brothers and sisters.
It is in the interests of all working class people to fight for immigrant rights. The corporations are to be blamed for low wages, not our fellow workers. If undocumented workers are kept constantly in fear of deportation, then the strength of all of us at the bargaining table is diminished. The corporations try to create a race to the bottom. Only through common struggle can we win decent wages, conditions, pensions and benefits for all. In short: an injury to one is an injury to all!
Solidarity Across Borders
Solidarity is needed across borders as well. This issue begs the question: Why are so many millions willing to endure possible death, separation from their families, and isolation from their native communities and language, just to get to the US?
The answer lies in the policies of big business around the world, particularly the practices of US imperialism. On 1 January, 1994, the North American Free Trade agreement (NAFTA) became the economic backdrop for hardships throughout the US, Canada and Mexico. This agreement amongst politicians and big companies helped to destroy US industry, take away land from Mexican small farmers and impoverish millions. Flint, Michigan, a former center of the US auto industry, became a ghost-town; sweatshops were set up throughout Mexico. In the mid-90s, immigration from Mexico increased dramatically. The disastrous NAFTA policy was urged by the Clinton administration and the Democratic Party, which is no friend of working people and the oppressed.
Throughout Latin America, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank have given loans with major strings attached. Some countries pay the majority of their budget towards these financial institutions. The IMF and World Bank urged “structural adjustment programs,” code word for the destruction of the state sector, mass privatization, the erosion of workers’ rights and the elimination of environmental protections. The decline of living standards in Latin America led many to flee their home country for the US. These neo-liberal attacks also led to a growing fight-back throughout the region.
These policies are not just because of bad politicians or mean CEOs; they are the logic of capitalism. In competition for profits, only the most ruthless survive. That’s why Wal-Mart is now the US’s biggest employer.
The working class needs to respond to the worldwide corporate onslaught with global solidarity. Through a fight for decent living conditions, we can win struggles; recent events in France show that. International resistance is necessary to combat the corporate attempt to establish a race to the bottom; that’s a race that we lose, and only the billionaires will win, if the working class does not unite to organize a fight back and build an alternative.
To ensure permanent victories, we need to win through struggle, to transform the entire system. We need a society based on human need and international workers’ democracy, not corporate greed and attacks on workers rights. We’re fighting for a world in which people can decide where to live, based on need, not on limited access to resources.
Socialist Alternative (CWI in the US) participates in the immigrant rights movement in many cities throughout the country. We campaign for May Day. We put forward a strategy and a program to win immigrant and native-born workers to the necessary struggle to change the planet. This includes the need to build an alternative party, for all working people, to oppose the pro-big business Republicans and Democrats. Join us in our fight for a socialist world!