[Marxism] do the bosses use immigrants to drive down wages?

Bonnie Weinstein giobon at sbcglobal.net
Tue Apr 25 12:55:48 MDT 2006

Dear Comrades,

My grandmother was an ILGWU garment worker in New York and, indeed, it was a
high-paying job--especially for women. There was a real sex division in that
the "cutters" and other, higher-paying jobs went exclusively to men. Before
she got a job in a good union shop she worked piece-work. That's when she
used to come over and tell of the fist fights she had at work about who was
going to get the next batch of work first.

The people who handed out the new batches were, of course, men. This led to
rivalries between women who finished their batches at the same time and the
women who gave favors to the men who handed out the work. They got theirs
first. There were many other such tails she would tell but one thing was for
sure--everyone had to work at a feverish pace. When she got the union job,
things were much better for her. She was even able to retire pretty
comfortably. She used to tell me I should go into the trade but I went to
work with her one day and saw how hard the job was and how miserable were
the conditions--I wasn't interested.

There was, in the late '50s and early '60s a big influx of Puerto Ricans
into the garment industry and my grandmother would describe a racist filled
atmosphere at work of old immigrant against new. (My grandmother came with
her family from Odessa, Russia in 1910. She was nine years old at the time
and went to school for a short time then went to work beading purses when
she was still a little girl and had worked ever since in the garment
industry. Her father was a house painter by trade.) My dad would argue with
her and try to explain how the racism hurts both of them and allows the boss
to get the upper hand. She eventually understood what was happening.

Of course, by the time I left New York in 1966, the drastic changes
Capitalism brought to the American garment industry were already well
underway. My Grandmother retired just in time. Everyone eventually, lost
their jobs. 

Now the old factories and warehouses are being turned into condos. I saw a
"fix-it" show on TV about a guy who bought one of the buildings and turned
it into a condo with the top two floors his personal penthouse with a glass
"Summer House" on the roof with an Olympic-size swimming pool overlooking
downtown Manhattan--what a pad that was!

The American garment industry today is made up of non-union sweat shops
tucked away in cities around the country filled with undocumented workers
working for slave wages; and giant American Corporate factories stationed in
countries where workers are sold at the lowest rate and businesses can
freely transport their profits across those borders and into their own
American pockets. It's just good business.


Bonnie Weinstein, 
Socialist Viewpoint Magazine

On 4/21/06 5:45 AM, "Andrew Pollack" <acpollack2 at yahoo.com> wrote:

> I'm glad Dave confirmed my recollection of the sequence of events in
> meatpacking, i.e. unionbusting first, then widespread use of immigrants.
> In the meantime I refreshed my memory about a similar (more prolonged)
> sequence in garment. Herbert Hill's dissection of the ILGWU's racism in
> Jacobson's "The Negro and the American Labor Movement" shows how the  mostly
> Jewish and Italian leadership of the ILG allowed the bosses to  drastically
> lower wages and benefits once the union membership had  become predominantly
> Black and Puerto Rican. He also details the  undemocratic structures hindering
> fightback against this (despite some  valiant efforts). The long-term result
> was the eventual pushing out of  Blacks and Puerto Ricans from the industry
> and their replacement with  Chinese and newer Latino groups. That is, once the
> bosses had changed  what had been the highest-paying manufacturing jobs in the
> country  (hard to believe, huh?) into poor-paying, they were emboldened to
> take  the next step, to turn them into subminimum-wage jobs.
> I believe this overlapped in time with the increasing export of garment jobs,
> but forget when that began in earnest.
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