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The Undeclared War on the Middle-Class

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  • Valerie
    Today s Immigration Battle - Corporatists vs. Racists (and Labor is Left Behind) A BUZZFLASH GUEST CONTRIBUTION by Thom Hartmann The corporatist Republicans
    Message 1 of 2 , Apr 1, 2006
      Today's Immigration Battle - Corporatists vs. Racists (and Labor is Left

      by Thom Hartmann

      The corporatist Republicans ("amnesty!") are fighting with the racist
      Republicans ("fence!"), and it provides an opportunity for progressives
      to step forward with a clear solution to the immigration problem facing

      Both the corporatists and the racists are fond of the mantra, "There are
      some jobs Americans won't do." It's a lie.

      Americans will do virtually any job if they're paid a decent wage. This
      isn't about immigration - it's about economics. Industry and agriculture
      won't collapse without illegal labor, but the middle class is being
      crushed by it.

      The reason why thirty years ago United Farm Workers' Union (UFW) founder
      Caesar Chavez fought against illegal immigration, and the UFW turned in
      illegals during his tenure as president, was because Chavez, like
      progressives since the 1870s, understood the simple reality that labor
      rises and falls in price as a function of availability.

      As Wikipedia notes: "In 1969, Chavez and members of the UFW marched
      through the Imperial and Coachella Valley to the border of Mexico to
      protest growers' use of illegal aliens as temporary replacement workers
      during a strike. Joining him on the march were both the Reverend Ralph
      Abernathy and U.S. Senator Walter Mondale. Chavez and the UFW would
      often report suspected illegal aliens who served as temporary
      replacement workers as well as who refused to unionize to the INS."

      Working Americans have always known this simple equation: More workers,
      lower wages. Fewer workers, higher wages.

      Progressives fought - and many lost their lives in the battle - to limit
      the pool of "labor hours" available to the Robber Barons from the 1870s
      through the 1930s and thus created the modern middle class. They limited
      labor-hours by pushing for the 50-hour week and the 10-hour day (and
      then later the 40-hour week and the 8-hour day). They limited
      labor-hours by pushing for laws against child labor (which competed with
      adult labor). They limited labor-hours by working for passage of the
      1935 Wagner Act that provided for union shops.

      And they limited labor-hours by supporting laws that would regulate
      immigration into the United States to a small enough flow that it
      wouldn't dilute the unionized labor pool. As Wikipedia notes: "The first
      laws creating a quota for immigrants were passed in the 1920s, in
      response to a sense that the country could no longer absorb large
      numbers of unskilled workers, despite pleas by big business that it
      wanted the new workers."

      Do a little math. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says there are 7.6
      million unemployed Americans right now. Another 1.5 million Americans
      are no longer counted because they've become "long term" or
      "discouraged" unemployed workers. And although various groups have
      different ways of measuring it, most agree that at least another five to
      ten million Americans are either working part-time when they want to
      work full-time, or are "underemployed," doing jobs below their level of
      training, education, or experience. That's between eight and twenty
      million un- and under-employed Americans, many unable to find
      above-poverty-level work.

      At the same time, there are between seven and fifteen million working
      illegal immigrants diluting our labor pool.

      If illegal immigrants could no longer work, unions would flourish, the
      minimum wage would rise, and oligarchic nations to our south would have
      to confront and fix their corrupt ways.

      Between the Reagan years - when there were only around 1 to 2 million
      illegal aliens in our workforce - and today, we've gone from about 25
      percent of our private workforce being unionized to around seven
      percent. Much of this is the direct result - a Caesar Chavez predicted -
      of illegal immigrants competing directly with unionized and legal labor.
      Although it's most obvious in the construction trades over the past 30
      years, it's hit all sectors of our economy.

      Democratic Party strategist Ann Lewis just sent out a mass email on
      behalf of former Wal-Mart Board of Directors member and now US Senator
      Hillary Rodham Clinton. In it, Lewis noted that Clinton suggests we
      should have: "An earned path to citizenship for those already here
      working hard, paying taxes, respecting the law, and willing to meet a
      high bar for becoming a citizen." Sounds nice. The same day, on his
      radio program, Rush Limbaugh told a woman whose husband is an illegal
      immigrant that she had nothing to worry about with regard to deportation
      of him or their children because all he'd have to do - under the new law
      under consideration - is pay a small fine and learn English.

      The current Directors of Wal-Mart are smiling.

      Meanwhile, the millions of American citizens who came to this nation as
      legal immigrants, who waited in line for years, who did the hard work to
      become citizens, are feeling insulted, humiliated, and conned.

      Shouldn't we be compassionate? Of course.

      But there is nothing compassionate about driving down the wages of any
      nation's middle class. It's the most cynical, self-serving, greedy, and
      sociopathic behavior you'll see from our "conservatives."

      There is nothing compassionate about being the national enabler of a
      dysfunctional oligarchy like Mexico. An illegal workforce in the US
      sending an estimated $17 billion to Mexico every year - second only in
      national income to that country's oil revenues - supports an
      antidemocratic, anti-worker, hyperconservative administration there that
      gleefully ships out of that nation the "troublesome" Mexican citizens -
      those lowest on the economic food-chain and thus most likely to present
      "labor unrest" - to the USA. Mexico (and other "sending nations") need
      not deal with their own social and economic problems so long as we're
      willing to solve them for them - at the expense of our middle class.
      Democracy in Central and South America be damned - there are profits to
      be made for Wal-Mart!

      Similarly, there is nothing compassionate about handing higher profits
      (through a larger and thus cheaper work force) to the CEOs of America's
      largest corporations and our now-experiencing-record-profits
      construction and agriculture industries.

      What about caring for people in need? Isn't that the universal
      religious/ethical value? Of course.

      A few years ago, when my family and I were visiting Europe, one of our
      children fell sick. A doctor came to the home of the people we were
      staying with, visited our child at 11 pm on a weeknight, left behind a
      course of antibiotics, and charged nothing. It was paid for by that
      nation's universal health care system. We should offer the same to any
      human being in need of medical care - a universal human right - in the
      United States.

      But if I'd applied to that nation I was visiting for a monthly
      unemployment or retirement check, I would have been laughed out of the
      local government office. And if I'd been caught working there, I would
      have been deported within a week. Caring for people in crisis/need is
      very different from giving a job or a monthly welfare check to
      non-citizens. No nation - even those in Central and South America - will
      do that. And neither should the United States.

      But if illegal immigrants won't pick our produce or bus our tables won't
      our prices go up? (The most recent mass-emailed conservative variation
      of this argument, targeting paranoid middle-class Americans says: "Do
      you want to pay an extra $10,000 for your next house?") The answer is
      simple: Yes.

      But wages would also go up, and even faster than housing or food prices.
      And CEO salaries, and corporate profits, might moderate back to the
      levels they were during the "golden age of the American middle class"
      between the 1940s and Reagan's declaration of war on the middle class in
      the 1980s.

      We saw exactly this scenario played out in the US fifty years ago, when
      unions helped regulate entry into the workforce, 35 percent of American
      workers had a union job, and 70 percent of Americans could raise a
      family on a single, 40-hour-week paycheck. All working Americans would
      gladly pay a bit more for their food if their paychecks were both
      significantly higher and more secure. (This would even allow for an
      increase in the minimum wage - as it did from the 1930s to the 1980s.)

      But what about repressive regimes? Aren't we denying entrance to this
      generation's equivalent of the Jews fleeing Germany? This is the most
      tragic of all the arguments put forward by conservatives in the hopes
      compassionate progressives will bite. Our immigration policies already
      allow for refugees - and should be expanded. It's an issue that needs
      more national discussion and action. But giving a free pass to former
      Coca-Cola executive Vincente Fox to send workers to the US - and thus
      avoid having to deal with his own corrupt oligarchy - and to equate this
      to the Holocaust is an insult to the memory of those who died in
      Hitler's death camps - and to those suffering in places like Darfur
      under truly repressive regimes. There is no equivalence.

      It's frankly astonishing to hear "progressives" reciting
      corporatist/racist/conservative talking points, recycled through
      "conservative Democratic" politicians trying to pander to the relatively
      small percentage of recently-legal (mostly through recent amnesties or
      birth) immigrants who are trying to get their relatives into this
      country by means of Bush's proposed guest worker program or the many
      variations thereof being proposed.

      It's equally astonishing to hear the few unions going along with this
      (in the sad/desperate hope of picking up new members) turn their backs
      on Caesar Chavez and the traditions and history of America's Progressive
      and Union movements by embracing illegal immigration.

      Every nation has an obligation to limit immigration to a number that
      will not dilute its workforce, but will maintain a stable middle class -
      if it wants to have a stable democracy. This has nothing to do with
      race, national origin, or language (visit Switzerland with it's ethnic-
      and language-dived areas!), and everything to do with economics.

      Without a middle class, any democracy is doomed. And without labor
      having - through control of labor availability - power in relative
      balance to capital/management, no middle class can emerge. America's
      early labor leaders did not die to increase the labor pool for the
      Robber Barons or the Walton family - they died fighting to give control
      of it to the workers of their era and in the hopes that we would
      continue to hold it - and infect other nations with the same idea of
      democracy and a stable middle class.

      The simple way to do this today is to require that all non-refugee
      immigrants go through the same process to become American citizens or
      legal workers in this country (no amnesties, no "guest workers," no
      "legalizations") regardless of how they got here; to confront employers
      who hire illegals with draconian financial and criminal penalties; and
      to affirm that while health care (and the right to provide humanitarian
      care to all humans) is an absolute right for all people within our
      boundaries regardless of status, a paycheck, education, or subsidy is

      The Republican (and Democratic) corporatists who want a cheap labor
      force, and the Republican (and Democratic) racists who want to build a
      fence and punish humanitarian aid workers, are equally corrupt and
      anti-progressive. As long as employers are willing and able (without
      severe penalties) to hire illegal workers, people will risk life and
      limb to grab at the America Dream. When we stop hiring and paying them,
      most will leave of their own volition over a few years, and the
      remaining few who are committed to the US will obtain citizenship
      through normal channels.

      This is, after all, the middle-class "American Dream." And how much
      better this hemisphere would be if Central and South Americans were
      motivated to stay in their own nations (because no employer in the US
      would dare hire them) and fight there for a Mexican Dream and a
      Salvadoran Dream and a Guatemalan Dream (and so on).

      This is the historic Progressive vision for all of the Americas...


      Thom Hartmann is a Project Censored Award-winning best-selling author
      and host of a nationally syndicated daily progressive talk show carried
      on the Air America Radio network and Sirius. www.thomhartmann.com His
      most recent books include "What Would Jefferson Do?" and "Ultimate
      Sacrifice" (co-authored with Lamar Waldron). His next book, due out this
      autumn, is "Screwed: The Undeclared War on the Middle Class and What We
      Can Do About It."

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