Socialist Alternative

Immigrants’ Rights are Workers’ Rights — The Case for United Struggle

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On March 21 of this year, the immigrant worker rights movement was reborn with hundreds of thousands protesting in Washington, D.C. An “”immigration reform” bill is being discussed in the halls of power, co-sponsored by Democrat Charles Schumer and Republican Lindsey Graham. While many immigrants’ rights activists are excited for the prospect of this bill passing, the legislation would leave many workers as indentured servants under a guest worker program while tax-payer money would be wasted on militarization of the border.

Glenn Beck’s and Lou Dobbs’ TV shows are filled with stories about how undocumented immigrants are destroying America. This is an absolute lie! Big Business wants and needs immigrants. In fact, immigration helps corporations make higher profits with cheaper labor. If anything, immigrants are helping to float the economy while corporations destroy it and take billions of our tax dollars in bailouts while they’re at it. According to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, undocumented noncitizens paid almost $50 billion in federal taxes from 1996 to 2003 (testimony of The Honorable Mark W. Everson, Commissioner, Internal Revenue Service, before the House Committee on Ways and Means, July 26, 2006).

To drive down the wages of all workers, undocumented immigrants are harassed and threatened with deportation hanging above their heads like a guillotine’s blade. Treating people who are underpaid, overworked, and often far from home like criminals is unjust, showing the mentality of big business. Keeping millions of workers in a state of terror drives down our ability to organize and fight back. The biggest fear the bosses and super-rich have is the working class, united and organized, standing up against their small minority of super-investors.

On January 24, 2007, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents raided the Smithfield Meat Packing Plant in Tar Heel, North Carolina. Twenty one workers were harassed and arrested, under the guise of calling workers to the office for “random drug tests.” This raid, like the numerous others that year and since, had ripple effects through the whole plant and the surrounding communities. Many families were left torn apart; other people were left afraid and confused.

This raid, meant to strike fear into the hearts of immigrants and native-born workers alike, was intended to bust the union drive, but it made workers more determined. For years before, the workers at the plant had been trying to join the ranks of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union; each time, the voters were intimidated and final votes were dismissed by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). However, less than a year after the raids, the workers joined the UFCW in January 2008.

With each passing day, we see corporations shopping around, country to country, for the cheapest labor, for the most exploitable workers. As multinational corporations extend their reach further, we feel the pains of jobs being taken away for the sake of bigger profits for the super-rich. These greedy bosses attack workers around the world, across borders, and here in our own backyards.

People came from all over to the U.S. in search of a better life, which as meager as it may be is often better than their homeland. This has far more to do with pressures from corporations and laws that drive down wages and rights. The passing of “free trade” agreements like NAFTA and CAFTA crippled the economies of many of our neighboring countries. Many had no choice but to leave behind their family and home on the hopes of something better. How can we fault people willing to give up so much just so they can earn enough to survive?

Many of the rights we often take for granted – the weekend, a minimum wage, child labor laws, pensions, and other benefits – were won through mass action championed by the unions. It was the influx of immigrants into the unions, bringing fighting traditions from the labor movements in their homelands, that helped lead to victories. The struggle for better wages and benefits is far from over. If millions of our brothers and sisters are denied full legal rights and citizenship, then we will be hard pressed to win living-wage jobs and good benefits.

As long as the working class, native born and immigrant alike, stands against itself, we will see more jobs disappear; wages will become stagnant — even lessen — and we’ll be easy prey for the profit-addicted, war-mongering bosses. In order for us all to come out ahead, we need to stand shoulder to shoulder against our common enemy. Socialist Alternative calls for unconditional and immediate amnesty for all undocumented workers living in the U.S. This is a basic human and democratic right, which will make it much easier for undocumented workers to begin to organize, unionize, and fight back.

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