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USA - immigrant workers strike to demand equal rights
USA, MONDAY 1 May: Shops, farms, restaurants, meat processing companies and factories closed; parts of New York, Chicago and Los Angeles and other cities are brought to a standstill; workers, school students, perhaps half-a-million in Chicago alone, join in demonstrations and protest rallies across the country...
These strikes, boycotts and protests are all part of the campaign by immigrant workers against a punitive bill in the Senate which will criminalise them. (see box below). The day's action was to demonstrate how vital these workers are to the US economy and why they should have the legal right to work. Many commentators compared Monday's action to the civil rights marches of the 1960s, when Black Americans rose up to demand equal rights.
The following articles by Socialist Alternative members in the US (the Socialist Party's counterpart) explain the background and argue the case for a united working-class struggle against an exploitative capitalist system.
For updates and further material see www.socialistalternative.org
A new force emerges
"¡AQUÍ ESTAMOS, y no nos vamos!" "Here we are, and we're not leaving!" has been the chant of millions of immigrant workers and youth across the country in recent weeks. These massive demonstrations have highlighted the growing role of immigrants in US society and what an enormous political force they could become.
Dan DiMaggio, Socialist Alternative, USA
Over the past 20 years there has been a massive influx of immigrants into the US from poor countries, especially from Latin America and the Caribbean. This is a direct outgrowth of the neo-liberal agenda imposed on the neo-colonial world over the past 25 years.
This capitalist offensive has led to an enormous growth in the gap between rich and poor and fuelled poverty, unemployment, and social breakdown. At the same time, there has been growing demand for cheap, highly-exploitable labour by Corporate America as part of its drive to lower wages and raise profits at home.
But today we are seeing the other, unintended side of this process in the explosive emergence of an immigrant rights movement that has shaken US politics and threatens to detonate wider social struggles in the coming period.
After these massive mobilisations, it will not be easy to push Latino and immigrant workers back into the shadows. As the movement develops and gains confidence, the fight for equality will increasingly be linked to the underlying issues of language rights, the racist criminal justice system, poverty wages, and the lack of healthcare.
The possibility that the current movement could set off wider social struggles - particularly workplace struggles for better wages, working conditions, and unionisation - is a nightmare for big business.
The political establishment is worried about this movement and is seeking to find a way to defuse it. But the sharp divide on this issue will make this difficult.
The debate over immigration has split the Republican Party, reflecting a divide between those representing corporate interests and a more populist wing that rests on a socially conservative, nationalistic base. The Republican Right calculates it can win votes by whipping up racist and nativist sentiments among sections of the white electorate by pushing a brutal anti-immigrant "law and order" agenda.
However, Corporate America wants to insure a continuous supply of cheap immigrant labour. It has no objection to maintaining a regime of terror over immigrants to keep them from unionising and fighting for decent wages, but it felt HR 4437 went too far.
Further, given the scale of undocumented immigration, the current system is becoming unworkable and creates a problem of having unreliable workers who could disappear at any time if they get detained or deported. Instead, more far-sighted sections of the ruling class want a more stable, regularised system of cheap immigrant labour.
Within the current immigrant rights movement, there are significant sections of the leadership who want to subordinate the movement to the needs of the Democratic Party establishment. While the demonstrators have been overwhelmingly working class, the leadership of the movement is more mixed and includes more middle and upper-class Latinos in addition to unions and community organisations.
The Latino community, like all communities today, is divided by irreconcilable class interests. The wealth of the Latino capitalists is based on the low-wage labour of mainly Latino workers.
In building this movement, Latino workers cannot rely on the Latino section of the ruling class. We have already seen this with the major resistance put up by the more conservative and bourgeois sections of the movement to the idea of the 1 May immigrant workers' strike.
The fact that the immigrant rights movement so far has been a mostly Latino movement, with a strong element of Latino nationalism, is an understandable response to the suffocating racism experienced by Latinos on a daily basis.
But to build the strongest movement for immigrant rights, it is essential to reach out to other oppressed immigrant communities - Asians, Africans, Arabs, Haitians, Eastern Europeans - as well as native-born workers, which will be hindered by a Latino nationalist approach. The reason is that in order to seriously take on and defeat Corporate America, it is necessary to build a united movement of the working class.
One which stands for a living wage, jobs, and healthcare for all workers - immigrant and native born. Our enemy is big business. Our slogan must be: "An injury to one is an injury to all!"
HR4437 - a reactionary law
IN RECENT weeks an unprecedented movement of millions of immigrant workers and their supporters have held massive demonstrations and protests in hundreds of US cities. They have demanded that the country's eleven million undocumented immigrant workers be legalised.
These workers - who typically do the lowest paid jobs, often in unsafe and bad working conditions and who are constantly in fear of being deported - are vital to the capitalist economy. They provide a pool of cheap labour for the bosses to super-exploit in order to make massive corporate profits.
What has brought these workers out of the shadows and into taking direct political action has been bill HR4437, passed by the Republican-led House of Representatives last December, which is now before the Senate.
The bill authorises a 700-mile fence along the Mexican border; raises the crime of illegal immigration to a 'aggravated felony' - an imprisonable offence; and criminalises giving assistance, including food and water, to illegal immigrants.
A Republican and Democrat 'compromise' plan, that more represents the interests of big business, which would have created a temporary worker scheme for 350,000 immigrant workers a year, was blocked in the Senate.
Workers of the world unite!
BIG BUSINESS sets up shop in all corners of the world, searching for the cheapest labour and slackest environmental regulations.
Ty Moore, Socialist Alternative, USA
The 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), passed by Democratic President Bill Clinton, allowed US companies to lay off unionised workers in the US and set up sweatshops across the Mexican border.
But while US corporations earn record profits, NAFTA has been a complete disaster for workers in Canada, the US, and Mexico.
US workers have lost around 395,000 jobs, while the new jobs pay on average 23% less. Simultaneously, poverty has exploded in Mexico, with two-thirds of the population now living on less than $3 per day.
Millions of poor Mexican farmers have been driven into bankruptcy after being forced to compete with subsidised US agribusiness (which relies on the cheap labour of Mexican immigrants, who are often paid less than minimum wage).
Immigrants only come to the US out of dire economic necessity, risking death in the desert, suffocation and starvation in shipping containers, or kidnapping and exploitation by smugglers.
Workers of all countries have more in common with each other than with the bosses in our own countries. Although a US worker and Bill Gates are both US citizens, their lives are worlds apart. Typically, a US worker and an immigrant worker are both living paycheck-to-paycheck, struggling to get by, while Mr Gates has billions of dollars.
Our struggle is international, a struggle against corporations that seek to increase profits by pitting workers in different countries against one another in a race to the bottom.
If corporations can push down wages in Mexico and China - or among immigrant workers in the US - they are in a stronger position to demand US workers make similar concessions in order to 'compete'. We see this playing out daily, from the auto industry to software development.
In The Socialist 4 May 2006:
Socialist Party NHS campaign
Socialist Party workplace news
1926 General Strike
International socialist news and analysis