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News ::
On May 1st, American Labor Will Stand with Undocumented Workers
30 Apr 2002
*why labor is joining the Boston Common May Day Rally to Legalize Undocumented Workers Rights*
On May 1st, America’s original Labor Day, I will be standing out on Boston Common with hundreds of immigrants demanding that the Bush administration grant legal resident status to all undocumented workers currently residing in the United States. Some Americans might find it strange why a union member like myself might take time out of the middle of a work day to demonstrate on behalf of people that they believe are “stealing our jobs.”
But to the Mass. AFL-CIO, to its many constituent unions, and to myself there is no force that could stop us from turning out.
Immigrants not only built this country, but they continue to do so. In fact, many U.S. industries—like the service, apparel, electronic and agricultural industries—would not exist without undocumented workers. Despite this need for immigrant labor, many American businesses don’t back legal status for their undocumented workers because it would then become much easier for these workers to fight for better pay, benefits, working conditions, and, of course, for the right to organize a union.
This attitude is a problem for American workers because undocumented workers are a large group that employers can pretty much exploit with impunity. Minimum and sub-minimum wages are the norm for undocumented immigrants—as are 80-100 hour work weeks, few sick days or benefits of any kind, and generally harsh working conditions. Undocumented immigrants also have a very hard time accessing basic services like healthcare and education, even where it is legal for them to do so—and even as they pay the same taxes as citizens do.
When a large group of workers doesn’t enjoy the same basic labor protections as other American workers then the two groups are thrown into direct competition with each other. Not for jobs themselves, as many right-wing pundits claim, but instead for the conditions of employment. In economic terms, a large group of exploited workers drags down wages and benefits for all the other workers that they are forced to compete with.
The logical response of the American labor movement, then, is to help undocumented workers organize for better conditions on the job; so that we can all thrive together—rather than the two groups fighting each other for an increasingly smaller share of the economic pie. But current immigration law makes this extremely difficult since any undocumented immigrant worker can be arrested by the Immigration and Naturalization Service and deported at any time--a fact which many corporations that use undocumented labor are not only aware of, but take advantage of.
The moment groups of undocumented workers try to organize in any way for better conditions, many of their employers simply pick up the phone, call in the INS for a raid, let their entire workforce get dragged off and deported, take a slap on the wrist from the feds, and turn around and bring in a whole new workforce of undocumented immigrants.
Which is a big reason why Massachusetts unions will be out on the Boston Common with our fellow immigrant workers in support of their just right to legal status in this country.
Yet not the only reason. Another is American labor’s support of massive reforms to U.S. corporate-dominated international finance organizations like the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank that help destabilize the economies of countries like Brazil, Mexico and, most recently, Argentina with harsh programs that provide great speculative opportunities for American investors, but run roughshod over these countries’ social programs, labor laws, and ability to provide decent jobs for their citizens. This process forces people from these countries to travel the globe in search of steady work. For the Central and South Americans who have formed the main base of immigrants locally in the last 20 years, the closest country that fits the bill is the U.S. itself.
Only through enforcement of international labor protections of the type enshrined in the 187 Conventions of the U.N.-based International Labor Organization—over 100 of which the U.S. refuses to sign—can we build a world where people aren’t forced to become economic refugees just so big companies can suck the life out of their countries of origin.
Until then, American workers like myself, the children and grandchildren of immigrants, will take on the fight of millions of undocumented immigrants as our own. I encourage anyone that can make it to join us out on the Common on Wednesday, May 1st from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. at the bandstand near Tremont and Boylston Sts.

Jason Pramas is a member of Service Employees International Union Local 285 in Boston, MA.

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