The Immigrant Rights Struggle Is A Working Class Struggle

MAY 1ST, 2017
This year’s May First has a historical importance, and many are expecting the strongest mass mobilizations since 2006. The political crisis of the bipartisan system was deepened by the past electoral campaign and the election of Donald Trump has put an unprecedented number of workers, immigrants and youth in the streets: January 21st for the Women’s March, February 16th in a first “Day Without Immigrants”, March 8th on International Working Women’s Day and April 22nd with mass mobilizations for science and against climate change.
By Workers’ Voice/La Voz de los Trabajadores.
Since the Chicago strikes for the 8-hour day in 1886, May Day has been “International Workers Day”. The actual social crisis combines two contradictory factors. On the one hand we witness a blunt wave of racist and anti-worker attacks coming from the new administration “in the name of workers” with right-to-work legislation, deportations, repression and more austerity cuts. On the other hand, we have a historical opportunity to organize workers who want to fight for their rights independently from the establishment of the Democratic and Republican Party which are today discredited in the eyes of the workers. This is why it is very important to take it to the streets on May 1st this year, and whenever is possible organize workplace actions to build solidarity and power at the base.
Trump Is Deepening the Racist and Anti-Immigrant Attacks
Throughout his electoral campaign Trump slandered immigrants, spreading lies and attacks against Mexicans and Muslims, and blaming them for the failure of the Bush and Obama government to provide real jobs and social services to U.S. workers. His first measures in power were to publish the “Muslim Ban” executive order (later reversed by the judges), tighten border controls and lead new waves to raids in immigrant communities. The new administration has decided to continue criminalizing the immigrant population who came to this country running away from poverty, looking for a better life and who have proven to be more hard-working and honest than the corrupt elite ruling this country. In fact, throughout January Trump promised to build a wall with Mexico (which already exists partially and will cost $21 billions)[1], to cut funding to sanctuary cities and to make public lists of undocumented immigrants who have committed crimes to fuel racism in the country.
Deportations are again on the rise, but this is not new. Obama proved to be the “Deporter in Chief” in the U.S. with more than 2.4 million “removals” or deportations, two thirds of them are immigrant workers who had no criminal record or incurred only very minor infractions, like traffic violations.[2] Obama left a very perfected “deportation machine” in the hands of Trump who plans to hire 10,000 more ICE agents and 5,000 more border patrol agents. In 1996, Clinton had put in place a system of “expedited removal” to be implemented within 100 miles of the border for “illegal” immigrants in the country for 14 days and which waives all constitutional rights for those persons, including the right to have an attorney. Obama increased the use of this “quick deportation.” The directives issued by the new administration to expand these “immediate removal” measures across the country in a clear violation of the U.S. Constitution.
This vicious targeting of the more than 11 million existing undocumented workers aims at creating a climate of permanent terror in this growing community and reinforces its exploitation. This is why it should be rejected by all workers and community groups.
Immigrants: A Key Sector of the U.S. Working Class
Immigrant workers constitute a key and growing sector of the U.S. working class: in 2015 they were 43.3 million (13.5% of the total workforce), and in 2016 the Current Population Survey calculated that immigrants and their U.S.-born children number approximately 84 millions (27% of the total population).[3] While the current administration and many sectors on the right argue that foreign-born workers are “stealing” the jobs of Americans, the trends and sectors of employment of immigrant workers show the opposite. Immigrant workers are used as a “reserve army of labor” to do the hardest, most dangerous, and lowest paid jobs that U.S.-born workers don’t want to do, and they are the first ones who get fired in times of crisis. Their irregular legal status is used to increase the exploitation and oppression in the workplace. Today, immigrant workers perform 45% of all privately-contracted labor in private homes with almost no right to negotiate their employment conditions, and they occupy roughly a third of the jobs in the textile and apparel industry, agriculture, accommodation and food industry.[4]
Facts also show that the accusation of undocumented immigrants being “freeloaders” are unfounded and false. Quite the opposite, most of the existing calculations show that they pay billions of taxes despite receiving no to very little benefits. The 2016 report of the Institute of Taxation and Economic Policy asserted that “Undocumented immigrants contribute significantly to state and local taxes, collectively paying an estimated $11.64 billion a year. Contributions range from almost $2.2 million in Montana with an estimated undocumented population of 4,000 to more than $3.1 billion in California, home to more than 3 million undocumented immigrants”.[5] Further, a paper on this matter published in The Atlantic last year concludes to a similar injustice: “the chief actuary of the Social Security Administration, estimates that about 1.8 million immigrants were working with fake or stolen Social Security cards in 2010, and he expects that number to reach 3.4 million by 2040. He calculates that undocumented immigrants paid $13 billion into the retirement trust fund that year, and only got about $1 billion in benefits. “We estimate that earnings by unauthorized immigrants result in a net positive effect on Social Security financial status generally, and that this effect contributed roughly $12 billion to the cash flow of the program for 2010,” Gross concluded in a 2013 review of the impact of undocumented immigrants on Social Security.”[6]
The bosses rely on this split in the workforce across national (and also racial and gender lines) to pit immigrant workers and U.S. born workers against each other in order to lower wages and benefits, and continue the race to the bottom that affects all of us. This division in the working class prevents a united fight for living wages, union rights and full benefits (healthcare, vision, dental, pension, paid vacation, etc.) for all. One of the major reasons that explains why the U.S. is the only “industrialized” country that lacks any real labor protection and minimum standards is because the major corporate powers have been able to keep this divide and the labor movement has not been able to mobilize all workers to impose a national labor law that would pump up all wages, with automatic increases with inflation, 2 weeks minimum paid vacation for all and full free healthcare and pension rights.
The new mobilizations of immigrant workers in February and now on May 1st represent a historic opportunity, not a threat, for the rest of U.S. workers and the labor movement to shift the relation of forces with employers and the government and impose new rights, living wages and welfare legislation. Furthermore, immigrant workers bring many experiences of struggle from their respective countries and strengthen the labor movement. When immigrant workers strike they remind the ruling class in this country that it cannot function and make profits without immigrant labor. By striking, workers show the weakness of those at the top. Yet, they also show the strength of all workers embedded in the collective strike action by demonstrating where worker’s power lies: at the point of production and circulation of commodities and the insurance of basic services, and not in the ballot box.
The Labor Movement and the 2017 Calls for A Day Without Immigrants
Many national community groups, like Cosecha, and local coalitions like Oakland Sin Fronteras, A Day Without Immigrants SF and others have called for large demonstrations and strikes on May Day to defend immigrant rights and workers rights in general and continue the mobilization against the new policies implemented by the new government. Many protests, like in February 16th, are being organized by social media and local committees.
This year, for the first time in decades, some sectors of the labor movement are coming together to call for mass participation and some for militant action, like strikes, on May First. In California, the SEIU local USWW, which represents 40,000 janitors and security workers in the private industry, has called for a strike, and has been joined by the national labor network of food workers, the Food Chain Workers Alliance- which represents 300,000 members across the country, among which some key locals (UNITE HERE in New York, UFCW Local 1500 in New York and UFCW Local 770 in Los Angeles). The 4 national labor federations that broke the neo-liberal vote discipline imposed by the AFL-CIO by supporting Sanders in the primary (Amalgamated Transit Union, Communication Workers of America, United Electrical Workers and National Nurses United), joined the new platform by Sanders “Our Revolution”, and issued a joint statement “A Day Without Immigrants” committing to mobilize their members to the mobilizations: “As leaders of the unions who supported Bernie Sanders for president, we refuse to go down that road of hatred, resentment and divisiveness. We will march and stand with our sister and brother immigrant workers against the terror tactics of the Trump administration…On May 1, 2017 millions of immigrant workers will engage in public resistance to the Trump administration. In some places that resistance will include labor strikes and boycotts. Millions will march in cities and towns all across the country. We pledge to support these protests and will urge our organizations’ leaders and members to participate in whatever way we can.”[7]
All of these labor unions have formed a national coalition with Cosecha, a community organization that defends immigrant rights, to mobilize this year for May 1st which is an important step forward.[8] Furthermore, in California the Emergency Education Conference organized by Labor Rising in the Bay Area called for an education strike of teachers and students, and the Alameda and San Francisco Labor Councils have issued resolution supporting the mobilizations and action on May 1st pressured by the rank and file members.
These are very promising steps coming from the labor movement to take action in solidarity of a key sector of the working class under attack, but they are not enough. Today, in such an historical conjuncture and facing increased racist attacks against a growing sector of workers and right-to-work legislation, the AFL-CIO leadership and the labor movement as a whole should endorse and organize mass mobilizations and explore all the avenues to allow and support workers who want to participate in the strike actions, and launch a national emergency campaign to unionize immigrant workers, especially the undocumented ones.
Instead the central labor federation of the U.S. prefers to continue “business as usual”, aiming to reach “good deals” with employers and the Trump administration on the backs of the workers, and refuse to take a clear, strong and defiant position against raids, deportations and supporting full political rights for all workers, regardless of nationality and legal status. This is a costly mistake that hurts all workers. A new, emancipated, labor movement is needed, that plays an active role in mobilizing workers with full participation and control by rank and file workers, and without any allegiance to the Republican or Democratic Party. Labor Rising and other independent local and regional union initiatives which are calling for mobilizations are a good step in this direction.
We Need an Independent and Grassroots Organization of Immigrant Workers
The immigrant movement in the U.S. is at a crossroads: many immigrant workers and families want to organize to oppose and stop the raids, fight for better working conditions in the workplace, and unionize. But there are not yet strong regional much less national independent organizations that can give confidence and provide the organizing tools and resources for workers and community members to do so.
Many existing organizations like Chirla in L.A., which are linked to the Democratic Party, have betrayed and stifled the development of a truly powerful immigrant movement. Since 2015, we have seen a new organization formed, Cosecha, that has been emboldened by the election of Trump. Cosecha put the call for the February Day Without Immigrants and has taken some important political positions like “non-cooperation” with police and state authorities and reliance on workers mobilizations, strikes and mass action instead of the useless traditional lobbying of politicians: “Cosecha believes in using non-cooperation to leverage the power of immigrant labor and consumption and force a meaningful shift in public opinion” and “doesn’t rely on traditional tactics or dance with political parties. Instead, we’re going on the offensive and calling for a series of strikes and boycotts to show that this country cannot function without immigrants[9].
On February of this year Cosecha had a successful National Assembly in Massachusetts with more than 350 participants, and promise to wage “a year of resistance” against the government and to plan an escalated wave of immigrant worker strikes around May 1st. We think Cosecha is right to advocate in favor of the strike weapon, and we think the majority of the labor movement should join in solidarity with the strike call. We also believe that it is key that Cosecha develop a democratic and bottom-up method of organizing of the strike, and other actions, through local committees which empower rank and file workers, puts forward a true political program of demands to unite workers, and supports the right of self-defense of workers when attacked by police or racist militias. While the demands for “permanent protection, dignity and respect for the migrant community” are important, it is even more important to take a clear position of independence from the two establishment parties and to assert that all immigrants deserve full citizenship rights, the right to have a union, an end to police harassment and brutality, full access to social services and equal pay and benefits, and the de-militarization of the U.S. borders.
Let’s build a militant May 1st in all our cities and start building today the grassroots and independent organizations immigrants need to defend their rights, and the necessary alliance between the immigrant movement and the most combative and democratic sectors of the labor movement to defend workers and immigrant rights!
All Out on May 1st!
For a Day Without Immigrants!
No Retaliation Against Immigrant Workers Taking Action!
Stop the Raids Now!
Full Papers and Equal Rights for All Immigrants!

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