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Commentary :: Globalization : Human Rights : International : Labor : Organizing : Politics : Race : Social Welfare : War and Militarism
What’s next for the immigrants’ rights movement?
07 Jul 2006
Workers need their own party, one that fights in the streets and at the elections for a platform of workers rights, including full rights for immigrants. The natural base for such a party is the labor unions. In fact, some unions have formed a labor party, but the party, endorsed by eight national unions, hasn't yet run a single candidate in its ten-year history. It is gathering signatures for ballot access in South Carolina, although it hasn't named any candidates yet. But regardless of whether the LP picks a candidate and runs a campaign this year in South Carolina, the union bureaucrats who control its political decisions will never challenge the Democrats. They would rather waste millions of dollars on anti-worker politicians and parties than risk setting in motion the workers, their own members, the class that is bound to upset the bureaucrats' comfortable "partnership" with the bosses, not to mention their own high-paying gigs.
What’s next for the immigrants’ rights movement?
By Fred Bergen

The source of the attack on immigrant workers

US imperialism is facing intensified competition from the other major capitalist powers in Europe and Japan. In volume 26, issue 4 of the Harvard International Review (Winter 2005), economist Deanne Julius attempted to sum up the prospects for US imperialism against the other imperialist powers. She found that while the US still held the largest share of the world Gross Domestic Product (GDP, a sum of the total values of the goods and services produced by each country), its share has been on a declining trend since the peak in 1944. Moreover, while GDP per capita (that is, divided by the total population, measuring the average individual contribution) in the United States is 30 percent higher than Europe’s, Julius notes that Europe’s GDP per capita per hour of work, a measure of productivity, is roughly equal to that of the US. The competitive advantage of the US expressed in its higher per capita GDP is a result of the longer work-days and work-years of the US, and the more extensive integration of women into the wage labor force in the US. In their March, 2005 analysis, Work and Leisure in the US and Europe: Why so Different? Alberto Alesina et. al. show that while women’s participation in wage labor has been growing across all the countries investigated, the level in France and Germany remains about ten percent below that of the US, and the level in Italy more than 20 percent below.

What this means for the workers and oppressed peoples of the world is that the working class in the US is more thoroughly exploited than the workers in Europe, which means that to maintain its world hegemony against Europe, the task of lengthening the working day and speeding up the intensity of work is made comparatively more difficult for the US capitalist class. The potential increases are comparatively smaller and the cost of overcoming working class resistance will grow ever higher. The same relative exhaustion is the basis for the comparatively fierce and unrelenting drive to war and global conquest by the US. US imperialism needs colonies in Africa, Asia and Latin America to apply advanced industrial technologies to workers trapped in low wages by the underdevelopment of the oppressed countries. For their part, if the European imperialists are capable of overcoming the resistance of the European workers to neoliberal measures and union-busting attacks, they can make greater enlargements of the working day and bigger cuts to socially-distributed wages like health insurance, social security, public education, and unemployment insurance.

The position of US imperialism means that racism and other forms of oppression are becoming even more important for the US rulers. Their ability to divide the working class, by denying equal wages and full democratic rights to blacks, latin@s, Asians, native Americans, women, gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgendered people is a crucial lever that enables them to squeeze more productivity and higher profits from the entire working class. As opposition to the war began to grow and US imperialism faced the possibility of a costly and embarrassing stalemate in Iraq and Afghanistan, the US ruling capitalist class launched a new racist campaign against immigrant workers. On December 6, 2005, congressman Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, who had the dubious honor of introducing the USA-PATRIOT act and the REAL ID act (which denied immigrants the right to drivers licenses), introduced the now infamous HR 4437, which contained many repressive measures aimed at immigrant workers.

A historic May Day: the workers respond.

Millions of people, mostly latin@ immigrant workers and their families, took to the streets all across the US on May 1, 2006, International Workers Day. What was most significant about this protest was not its massive size, but its character. Unlike the anti-war parades and marches that have been strictly symbolic, the May Day demonstration was, although in an incomplete and uneven form, a political general strike. Major industries were shut down for the day, as immigrants demonstrated their social power as part of the working class. The strike was limited by the refusal of the union bureaucracy to broaden the strike or even mobilize in any serious way to support it. It also showed the limits of an immigrants rights movement that, while objectively working-class in composition, had no leadership with a clear political perspective oriented toward uniting the working class in struggle against the racist capitalist state. Millions took to the streets to demand basic democratic rights, hoping to stop the racist attacks coming from every side against immigrant workers. Most marched under banners demanding immigration reforms from Congress. When the Democrats stepped in and showed what "reform" would look like, the leadership was left confused and the masses were demoralized.

Enter the Democrats: from McCain-Kennedy to Hagel-Martinez, to today

The attack on May Day, led by the Democrats in the Senate and supported by president Bush, broke apart the superficial unity in the immigrants rights movement and exposed political fault lines that were never far from the surface.

On February 16, 2000, the executive council of the AFL-CIO officially changed its position on the rights of immigrant workers, in a very positive direction: it urged general amnesty for undocumented workers and opposed sanctions against employers of undocumented workers. However, the resolution of the top union bureaucrats also offered a preview of the racist "guest worker" provisions being proposed today: it said "Labor and business should work together to design cooperative mechanisms that allow law-abiding employers to satisfy legitimate needs for new workers ... without compromising the rights and opportunities of workers already here." The unions played a central role in building the 2003 Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride, culminating in a rally of hundreds of thousands in Flushing Meadows, Queens, where a parade of Democratic politicians fed the workers' false hopes of ever getting a fair shake from the bosses' government in Washington. The demand was an undefined "road to citizenship".

Three years later, we still haven't even gotten on that road and not one Democrat in Congress (nor any Republican) is proposing full citizenship rights for all immigrants. Yet the orientation of the union bureaucracy and its imitators among the reformist activists remains the same: pressure the Democrats to "do the right thing" and hope that they are listening. In the service of such a pathetic agenda, any and all principles can be left by the wayside. The new reformist slogan, as always, vague enough to mean absolutely nothing and offend absolutely no one, but still absolutely incapable of moving the Democratic politicians, is "Comprehensive Immigration Reform".

The Democrats' version of "Comprehensive Immigration Reform" was the McCain-Kennedy bill in the Senate, which later became the Hagel-Martinez bill. These bills were chock-full of racist provisions designed to drive immigrant workers further into the margins of society, making them more vulnerable and easily exploited. If passed, it would have mandated the deportation of over two million people. It included a "guest worker" program, a euphemism for 21st century slavery: for immigrants lucky enough to qualify, they would be allowed to stay in the US only with the good graces of their bosses.

Because many congressional "representatives", facing a November election, felt the need to grandstand on their anti-immigrant racist credentials, the Sensenbrenner bill and the Hagel-Martinez bill could not be successfully reconciled. But the government-issue anti-immigrant campaign is going full speed ahead. National guard troops have been dispatched to the border, highly publicized raids and round-ups are being carried out to cause fear and confusion, walls and fortifications are being built, and the Republican candidate for Governor in Arizona, trying to one-up the Democrat incumbent Janet Napolitano's declaration of a "state of emergency" on the border last year, has proposed nazi-style work camps for captured migrants, who would be forced to build more sections of the border wall. This campaign has stirred the depths of the filthiest scum of capitalist society, the racist vigilante mobs that are the breeding grounds for American fascism, and the Minutemen and similar groups are on recruiting campaigns in every state.

But what do the activists who helped build the May Day demonstrations think should be done next? There will be a "National Grassroots Immigrant Strategy Conference" in Washington DC on the weekend of July 28-30. It is called by the National Immigrant Solidarity Network, a coalition of NGOs and activist groups. None of the proposals published so far by the conference organizers includes an element of mass mobilization that can harness the power of organized labor's rank and file. The March 10 movement in Chicago, another broad coalition group, did not endorse the May Day strike, but did call for a national demonstration in September. None of the leftist and socialist parties or groups has made a clear proposal for a united front action this fall for immigrants rights; it seems they are all waiting to hear from the July conference in DC. And over the heads of all the organizations in the movement hangs the dilemma of the 2006 Congressional elections. The unions have launched a campaign to register immigrants to vote (those, that is, who are allowed to vote): who can they vote for this November?

The truth is that workers have no party of their own. The Democrats have shown once again that they will not stop the racist anti-immigrant campaign: they are the anti-immigrant party, along with their Republican collaborators.

A perspective for the movement

What is needed to stop the racist anti-worker offensive was shown to us on the streets of the US on May Day: a political general strike. We challenge the unions to follow the lead of the May Day strike on US labor's official holiday: Labor Day. No matter how incomplete labor's demands are, they will not be met without a show of force. The workers can make the bosses pay for their racist laws. All the groups, coalitions, parties, and networks that consider themselves part of the immigrants rights movement need to unite for a massive mobilization on Labor Day, with the common demands of "No to racism" and "Full citizenship rights for all immigrants".

Workers need their own party, one that fights in the streets and at the elections for a platform of workers rights, including full rights for immigrants. The natural base for such a party is the labor unions. In fact, some unions have formed a labor party, but the party, endorsed by eight national unions, hasn't yet run a single candidate in its ten-year history. It is gathering signatures for ballot access in South Carolina, although it hasn't named any candidates yet. But regardless of whether the LP picks a candidate and runs a campaign this year in South Carolina, the union bureaucrats who control its political decisions will never challenge the Democrats. They would rather waste millions of dollars on anti-worker politicians and parties than risk setting in motion the workers, their own members, the class that is bound to upset the bureaucrats' comfortable "partnership" with the bosses, not to mention their own high-paying gigs.

Some activists, claiming to be the builders of a "broad movement" have accused Working Class Emancipation of "sectarianism" because we take clear political positions and argue for them within the movement. This is slander, pure and simple. We are not out to build a small socialist church, but a mass workers party that can unite all the struggles of workers and oppressed people and lead them to their only logical solution: the conquest of power by the working class. But we recognize that an essential precondition for this is the political independence of the working class. This is why a movement that is "broad" in the direction of non-profit groups, middle class activists, and all kinds of halfway compromises with the Democrats, and on the other hand strikingly narrow in terms of democratic control by the workers through their mass organizations, is going nowhere fast. We will defend our right, and any worker's right, to raise slogans and make criticisms that do not reflect the consensus of a few self-appointed movement functionaries. Our principles are unity in action and freedom of criticism.

As a fighting socialist propaganda group, we welcome all working class and youth militants who can see that socialist revolution is the only way out of capitalism's global crisis of war, racism, womens’ lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender oppression, and poverty to join us. Together we will be on the front lines of all the working class struggles against capitalist oppression and against the working class' own bureaucratic machines.

Capitalist "democracy" in the US was built on slavery and the genocide against the native Americans. On July 4, 1852, Frederick Douglass, an escaped black slave and leading fighter for black liberation in his time, said:

"What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery ... a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than ... the United States, at this very hour."

The fact that under capitalist rule, full democratic rights, for immigrants, blacks, women, and all workers and oppressed people, can be nothing but an empty promise and a hypocritical sham is as true today as it was in Douglass' time. The only way out is socialist revolution and the emancipation of the working class, a class that has no need for racism and oppression.
See also:
http://htttp://groups.yahoo.com/group/labor_action/

This work is in the public domain
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