In Wisconsin, the Latino community is fighting against the proposed state law AB69, which would deny access to driver’s licenses to those without papers. 1,500 people from all walks of life gathered in Milwaukee on December 13 to demonstrate against this law. Two days later, hundreds of workers and some representatives of the Latino community testified against the law in the state capitol building. Not just in Wisconsin, but in many other states, the Latino community is making itself heard by organizing demonstrations, some spontaneous, others more organized, but always with the same message: We are workers, not terrorists! No human is illegal!
The most reactionary, retrograde sectors of the Republican Party (and their allies in the Democratic Party are speeding things up to approve a whole battery of anti-immigration laws. Some of the things being proposed include: building a wall along the U.S./Mexico border; denying citizenship to the U.S.-born children of undocumented workers; and denying all rights whatsoever to anyone living here without papers.
The fact is, the ruling class uses the idea of immigrant workers being “illegal” in order to obtain cheap and expendable labor. “They call us illegal, but no one calls the money these businesses earn through our labor ‘illegal’,” said an immigrant worker in Madison.
The hypocrisy of big business and their government is endless: they hire us at low wages to perform the most dangerous and unpleasant work, and treat us like second-class workers, always with the threat of “checking our social security cards” hanging over us. And yet, we have a special number assigned to us so we can pay into Social Security and other taxes (and we’ll never see a penny of it), and they keep us on the payroll even if they know we are here illegally. If they can make more money by breaking the law and hiring “illegals”, they are happy to do so. It’s only when “illegal” workers stand up for their rights that they are outraged and decide to enforce the law.
For example, a janitorial company in Madison, WI, is waging an anti-unionization campaign using all kinds of threats, including the threat of reporting undocumented workers if they support forming a union. A simple analysis of the situation will make the real reasons for this anti-union and anti-immigrant behavior clear: Say these workers gain just $2 more per hour in wages and benefits as a result of a successful unionization drive, and say that there are 100 workers at this company; this could mean as much as $1,000,000 in added costs per year for the company, money that is currently going towards profits. Is it fair that these companies pocket an extra $1,000,000 a year at the expense of our effort, misery, and health? Absolutely not!
The U.S. has a long history of immigration. It was built up by wave after wave of immigrants; immigrant labor in the fields and the factories was the motor force behind its breathtakingly rapid development (including the millions of “immigrant” slaves that were brought here by force). And we can’t forget that the political and economic policies of U.S. corporations have led the whole of Latin America and the entire ex-colonial world into misery, forcing a massive exodus in search of a better life.
As immigrants without rights, it is easy for the ruling class to gain yet another “benefit” from our “illegal” status. They can blame us for all the evils of society, in particular those they cause themselves. As always, their strategy is to distract, divide, and conquer.
44 million Americans have no access to health care, and wages do not keep up with rising prices. In fact, workers in the U.S. have 20 percent less purchasing power today than they did 30 years ago. Indebtedness and high interest rates are also a colossal drag on working people’s ability to make ends meet. Hundreds of thousands of high-quality jobs are being downsized and off-shored, only to be replaced with low-paying, no-benefits jobs. The Iraq war is costing the U.S. $1 billion a week, while they continue to cut education, health care, public sanitation, and all other social services, leading to a truly tragic situation in the country’s poorest neighborhoods.
None of this has anything to do with immigration. While the Fortune 500 companies report tremendous profits, it is working people that are paying for the crisis with increased misery, fewer rights, and an uncertain future for our families. All of this despite working harder and longer than ever. Aren’t things supposed to get better over time?
So who are the real friends of the Latin American working class? Nearly 160 years ago, Karl Marx explained that in reality, workers have no country, and issued the famous call, “workers of the world unite!” Let’s look in detail at the reasons why we this slogan is more relevant than ever.
Who else can help us? The Senators or members of the House of Representatives? Even if there are a few of them that sincerely want to defend workers’ and immigrant rights, the reality is that under capitalism, “democracy” means that a tiny handful of ultra-rich business men and women control the government. They are certainly not going to support the passing of laws that will hurt their profit margins. They have no connection with the people they supposedly represent. How else can you explain their reactionary policies for education and health care, or even their continued support for the war in Iraq when it is overwhelmingly unpopular?
The only way to make our voices heard is on the streets, in our schools, workplaces, and neighborhoods. The only language these people understand is the language of power. We need to organize and make it clear that we refuse to accept the continuation of these attacks on our rights, wages, conditions, and dignity. Many communities have already taken steps in this direction. The Workers International League and Socialist Appeal support these efforts by our communities and our class to fight back. We call on the labor movement as a whole to fight shoulder to shoulder with immigrant workers and their families against these attacks, which affect us all.
We need to attack the root cause of this crisis, and align ourselves with our natural allies: all those who fight against exploitation and repression. We need to patiently explain that we must fight against this system of exploitation, for the abolishment of all classes, and for a truly democratic society where the majority controls the wealth it creates, if we are to put an end to the exploitation, repression, and misery of our times.
Get involved in the fight against anti-immigration legislation and scapegoating! Get involved in your union and demand genuine class unity against racism and discrimination! Join the Workers International League and fight for socialism – for the nationalization of the commanding heights of the economy under democratic workers’ control!