There were some guys at work asking people to sign a petition
denying undocumented workers driving licenses. I campaigned
against it and wrote this piece which I distributed in the lunch rooms
and on the job. It was to answer the arguments put forward by
the employers, genuine workers and racists. I wanted to also give a
little historical background.
Undocumented Workers Are
Not The Enemy Of labor
It's hard for me not to feel anger at the eagerness with which
some working people join multi millionaires like Arnold Schwarzenegger
and corporate politicians like Gray Davis in denying undocumented
workers driving licenses.
These brothers and sisters are among the most abused and brutalized
sections of the working class in this country. They are the butt
of racist jokes and humor and are terrorized by contractors who hire
them to exploit their precarious position and rich people who want
cheap servants. After working excessive hours at low pay doing
jobs most Americans avoid, they are set upon by the landlords who
rarely fail to look a gift horse in the mouth.
I hate to admit that some working people join this bandwagon out of
sheer meanness, the opportunity to step on someone when they're down,
someone weaker and less fortunate than themselves. But
underlying most opposition among workers is the question of economics,
of the job market. Due to their situation, undocumented workers
work for lower wages, are less able to organize and are seen as a real
threat to good paying jobs. The employers, despite their phony
patriotism and hysterical xenophobia spread through the airwaves by
their mouthpieces like Rush Limbaugh and Michael Savage, profit
handsomely from the undocumented among us.
While allowing an undocumented worker a drivers' license does me no
harm whatsoever, denying them one serves to increase the misery and
terror that many of these brothers and sisters face daily. It is
almost impossible to have a job in California and no vehicle to take
you to work. The undocumented will be forced to drive whether
they have legal licenses or not. A legal license would merely remove
some pressure on these people. Supporting this move would be an
act of solidarity between those of us that are so-called legal and
those of us that aren't. What would be important to them would
come at no cost to us and would strengthen our (Labor's) ties with
So when we are confronted with this issue it is important for us to
look at it two ways as far as I am concerned. Firstly, the
employers will always use one section of the working class against the
other in their efforts to maximize profits and keep wages low and
unions out. This is a given regardless of their public
statements about aliens and immigrants ruining America. It is in
our interests to support unions organizing the undocumented and
strengthening their rights so that when the employers use them against
us we will have built a solid base of support among them.
Secondly we do have to deal with the issue of "illegal"
immigration. Obviously a huge influx of workers whether skilled
or unskilled does tend to depress wages and, like any other commodity,
labor plays by the law of supply and demand, increased labor without
corresponding job increases favors the buyer of labor not the seller
of it. So I think while we support immigrant rights domestically
it is important to address the issue of increased immigration through
our southern borders. But let's look at some of the contributing
factors to South/North migration.
Let's look at El Salvador for instance. In 1932, shortly after
seizing power, Maximiliano Hernandez Martinez slaughtered some 30,000
Pipil Indians who had revolted against the giant landowners.
With U.S. support he banned all Unions and ruled in the interests of
the ruling elite until 1944. The coffee magnates that he and
subsequent regimes supported with U.S. help took over so many small
farms that the number of landless peasants in El Salvador quadrupled
between 1961 and 1975. Hundreds of thousands left the country
looking for work. Where do you think many of them
Supported by El Salvadore's Catholic Church a movement toward
democracy developed in the late 60's and 70's that gave El
Salvadorians some hope for a better future. But the more this
movement developed the more repressive the oligarchy and its military
dictatorship became. A civil war erupted in 1979 after an army coup
aborted the results of a democratic election. During the next
two years right wing death squads supported by the U.S. hunted down
any dissidents; more than 8,000 trade unionists were murdered or
abducted during this period.
Siding with the El Salvadorian oligarchy, the U.S. government provided
them with $3.7bn in aid from 1981-89, 70% of this money was for
weapons and war assistance. Such was the terror in El Salvador
that thousands of people fled north to the U.S. to escape death or
torture. Incidentally, up until 1999, every Taleban official was
on the payroll of the U.S. government; another U.S. foreign policy
measure organized labor supported.
Guatemala is similar. In 1954 a CIA sponsored coup overthrew the
democratically elected government of Jacobo Arbenz on behalf of the
United Fruit Co. and other big landowners. Arbenz had introduced
land reforms that threatened the domination of the United Fruit
Company over Guatemalan society. Only 2% of landowners owned 72% of
the arable land, much of it unused. United fruit alone held
600,000 acres of mostly unused land. The Guatemalan colonel that
the CIA selected to replace Arbenz immediately outlawed hundreds of
trade unions and returned more than 1.5 million acres to United fruit
Instrumental in planning the coup were the Dulles brothers, Secretary
of State John Foster Dulles and his brother, Allen Dulles who was
director of the CIA. These two also helped orchestrate the CIA
coup that overthrew the secular democratic government of Mossadegh in
Iran in 1953 and replaced him with the murderous Shah. They were
former partners of United Fruit's main law firm in Washington.
By 1985 some 75,000 people were dead or had disappeared at the hands
of the Guatemalan dictatorship; a huge amount in this tiny country.
Some 150,000 Indians fled to Mexico and beyond. Many of the brothers
and sisters we see on the streets as day laborers are from this
Similar situations occurred throughout Central and South America as
rebellions against the domination of U.S. corporations over society
were suppressed by the U.S. government and its stooges. It is
important for us to understand this aspect of the migration north of
working class people, particularly the indigenous population that was
viciously persecuted by U.S. sponsored regimes. Tragically, the U.S.
labor movement through the AFL-CIO and its departments blindly
supported these policies and coups.
Economic policy has also contributed to the uprooting of workers and
forcing them north in search of a living. NAFTA has had negative
effects north and south of the border. Many good union jobs have
been lost in the U.S. and in Mexico 1.3 million farm jobs have been
lost since 1993, due to subsidized U.S. food imports. It is no
wonder that during that period Mexicans working illegally in the U.S.
more than doubled; people have to eat. NAFTA is not good for
U.S. or Mexican workers.
So the labor movement must develop its own response to these issues
rather than allowing big business, through the two political parties
that it controls, to set the ground rules. We must support immigrant
rights domestically and not fall in to the skape-goating trap while at
the same time assisting the growth and development of labor
organizations in other counties where poverty is rife. Most people
emigrate because they can't feed their families.
But even if these workers and peasants don't come here to the US,
staying in their home countries will have basically the same effect.
It will increase the supply of labor, further driving down wages
(labor's price) and increasing the rate at which capital invests since
there would be even greater profits to be made there. Obviously this
would mean further job losses here in the U.S. Thus, we cannot escape
the affects of the conditions of those workers and peasants, no matter
if they come here or stay in their home countries. The only real
difference is that if they come here, the effects of this forced
competition are more visible to us. We can bury our heads in the sand
and ignore the conditions in such countries as El Salvador, Mexico,
etc., but that in no way means that those conditions don't affect us
just as much. Therefore, our only choice is to join with them,
wherever they are, in a united struggle to improve wages and
conditions, as well as democratic rights, whether they be here or
Of course, this means opposing U.S. foreign policy, which has actively
suppressed democracy and trade union rights in these countries in the
interests of the giant multi-nationals. It also means a struggle
within the AFL-CIO whose leadership has blindly supported U.S. foreign
policy that has installed and/or supported one ruthless dictator after
another in these countries.
South Area Service Center
Sources: Harvest or Empire: Juan Gonzalez
Business Week: Is NAFTA Worth It? (12-22-03)
teaches the people the moral
conceptions of cannibalism are the strong devouring the weak; its
theory of the world of men and women is that of a glorified pig-trough
where the biggest swine gets the most swill." -James Connolly