by Bill Onasch
Getting Right With the Law
The not nationally televised prime time speech by President Obama explaining his new executive orders for immigration “reform” occurred as massive numbers of workers and students were winding down an anti-government demonstration in Mexico’s capital. These two events have more in common than coincidental timing.
Since President Clinton drove through NAFTA, workers in all three countries involved have suffered. But Mexico most of all was destined for enormous social and economic upheavals that led to mass migration. Those newly impoverished in the countryside began moving to the cities, sometimes living in cardboard shanties. The population of Mexico City soared to over twenty million. Even the hundreds of thousands of union manufacturing jobs offshored from the USA and Canada couldn’t absorb all the displaced composinos and workers.
While NAFTA, and an alphabet soup of similar deals in other regions that followed, guaranteed unrestricted flow of capital across borders no such rights were granted workers looking for work. But to their mutual advantage, a lot of winking and nodding by both U.S. bosses and the Mexican government facilitated a new mass wave of “illegal” immigration–sometimes at great risk and expense to the migrants. This eased pressure on the Mexican government to do something about unemployment and the money undocumented workers sent back home to families became a significant component of the Mexican economy.
While certainly you will find all kinds in a sample size of eleven million, these workers do not constitute a crisis for the security or well being of residents of this country. Quite the contrary. They have earned a reputation of being hard workers who get along well in communities urban and rural. No longer confined to farm work or day labor paid off the books, they are sought by employers in meat packing, construction, garment, hospitality and many other industries as well.
Even though it is said these workers are “living in the shadows,” in many cases they proved to be more combative in fighting for fair treatment in the workplace than native born workers who look and sound like me. In the December 14, 2008 Week In Review I wrote about a big battle at Smithfield’s mammoth hog operation, employing at the time 6,000 mostly Black and Latino workers in Tar Heel, North Carolina,
“In October, 2006 the company cooperated with ICE in a workplace raid that led to fifty workers being taken into custody–and many others ultimately quitting. In response, over a thousand workers, Brown and Black, walked off the job and rallied with community and clergy supporters. Smithfield agreed to back off their threat of more ‘no match’ roundups and guaranteed no reprisals against those who had protested. Getting nervous, the bosses filed a RICO suit, charging gangster tactics, against the UFCW and Gene Bruskin personally–but the union campaign carried on. Finally, in November, the company dropped the suit, and agreed to a fair election. Both sides pledged to refrain from public attacks. Last Thursday the votes were tallied and the union prevailed 2,041 to 1,879.”
This remains the biggest UFCW organizing victory in meat packing since World War II and a first contract was soon negotiated. The win in Tar Heel helped UFCW bargaining at other plants that had been acquired by Smithfield.
The “furtive” undocumented were highly visible in the Spring of 2006 when they and many allies mobilized strikes and mass marches in 102 cities demanding a path to citizenship. In places like Chicago and Los Angeles the demonstrations attracted a half-million. Unfortunately, the organizers of these mass actions–perhaps the biggest in U.S. history–were convinced by Democrat politicians that they had made their point and should now concentrate on lobbying and mainstream electoral politics. Of course, the undocumented can’t vote but tens of millions of Latino citizens can. There was initially great joy when a Presidential candidate who used a Spanish slogan popularized by the United Farmworkers was elected. But that hope soon faded as deportations escalated.
I’ve never been comfortable with the call for amnesty for these workers. Amnesty is usually granted to those who have committed crimes. Working to support your family isn’t a crime in my book. Exploiting, arresting, deporting such workers is, however, a crime against basic human rights in my view.
Our si se puede President expresses sympathy for the plight of immigrants–while deporting more of them than any previous administration. Just last year, the number expelled exceeded the population of Kansas City. He shares the view of the xenophobic right that these workers are law breakers who must be held “accountable” for their illegal acts. Unlike Ted Cruz and Kris Kobach, he is willing to show limited mercy toward as many as four-five million if they own up to their crime and get “right with the law.”
The lucky can do this by paying fines of several hundred dollars and obtaining proper Social Security numbers to track their paying all taxes–including Social Security and Medicare withholding though they will be ineligible for those benefits or any others. They still have no clear path to eventual citizenship and, of course, still can’t vote. If the next President cancels Obama’s stay of their deportation they will be on a ready made round up list.
I can’t fault whichever tough choice undocumented workers make. It’s a decision I will never have to confront. But I believe the injuries to these workers qualify as an injury to all. Regardless of our color, gender, religion, or place of birth we should all unite in support of a permanent end of ethnic cleansing deportations and demand the granting of all benefits they are entitled through their labor.
And, we should go a step further by demonstrating our moral and material support to the struggles of workers in Mexico to win not only freedom from murderous repression by the corrupt authorities but also a decent standard of living where they call home. Their victory is what is needed for a just solution to the boss-made immigration “crisis.”
Solidaridad obrera no tiene fronteras
An Impressive Win for Patients and Nurses
From an NNU press release,
“Following a worldwide day of actions of 100,000 registered nurses and health workers demanding substantial improvements in safeguards for the deadly Ebola virus, California officials have announced landmark mandatory Ebola guidelines that should be a model for federal and state action for all U.S. hospitals, National Nurses United said today. NNU, which has sponsored two months of actions to upgrade Ebola protections, and its California affiliate, California Nurses Association, praised the new standards released today by the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration (Cal-OSHA) under the leadership of Gov. Jerry Brown.”
I’ll have more to say about this inspiring campaign in coming editions.
Approaching Black Friday
Our Canadian readers get a jump on us Yanks by celebrating their Thanksgiving in October. Our turn comes Thursday. While I don’t offer thanks for blessings to a Higher Power I believe occasional expression of secular gratitude is in order. First on my list would be my wife Mary who has put up with me every day for more than sixteen years–and will be preparing our traditional Thanksgiving pasta fazul.
As a young man I often made foolish personal choices but one decision I’ve never regretted–I signed up for the duration to fight for our side in the class war. I get many forms of support from friends and comrades in the working class movement; some of these relationships go back a half century. Along with many readers of the WIR I have never met in person, they have nurtured my writing projects with suggestions, constructive criticism–and financial donations ranging from two figures to four. Danke.
I hope you feel similarly blessed. Whether you be vegan or turkey gobbler, I also hope you can have a special meal with friends and loved ones on Thursday.
I wish the many daughters and sons of the working class in uniform, especially those in harm’s way in places like Afghanistan and now again Iraq, could do the same. As we note their absence we should redouble our efforts demanding that they all be brought home now where they are loved and belong.
On the day after, so-called Black Friday, I expect to travel up to suburban Gladstone to show support for Walmart workers
During my holiday indulgence there will be no news updates on our companion Labor Advocate blog this Thursday and Friday. The news will return to normal schedule the Monday after.
Once more, I have reached my limit without including all the comments delayed last time and promised for this edition. Next time, for sure.
That’s all for this week.
Free digital subscription to the Week In Review is also available through RSS
Check out our digest of news stories about working class and climate issues, posted Monday-Friday by 9AM Central. on our companion Labor Advocate blog.
Our sole source of operating income is reader contributions. If you can help please visit the KC Labor Donate page.