[Marxism] Obama, like Bush, is not interested in legalization for immigrants

Leonardo Kosloff holmoff10 at hotmail.com
Fri Jul 29 08:10:54 MDT 2011

This interview to Immanuel Ness, who teaches at Brooklyn
college, was done for the organization Razon y Revolucion in Argentina. You can
see the Spanish version here


Q: In what sectors are the immigrant workers mainly inserted
and what are their working conditions?

We must differentiate immigrant workers from migrant
workers. Immigrant workers constitute all those who seek to stay in the United
States, migrants, include those who are temporary workers, or who have
overstayed their visas, usually for work purposes. Migrant workers are employed
in all labor markets in the US economy. However, the vast majority of migrant
workers in the US who have arrived since the 1986 Immigration Law, are living
and working in the US without documentation status. As a consequence, their
wages are significantly lower, and it is more difficult to monitor safety in
their workplaces. In the 1980s, migrant workers have entered an array of
industries, from meatpacking and processing to domestic labor. Workers are
employed under significantly lower wages than their predecessors in virtually
every industry.  As a whole migrant
worker wages or lower, even those who arrive as temporary laborers in the
information technology and hospitality sectors. More evidence shows they
displace US-born workers who had higher wages, fewer hours, and safer working


Q: Are they organized politically or in unions? What
attitude do unions have towards this sector?

In most sectors of the economy, immigrant and migrant
workers are not organized into unions. The US unionization rate in the private
sector hovers at around 5 percent of all workers. While immigrants have
demonstrated greater interest in joining unions, those that seek to organize
are prevented from doing so. In the Hoffman Plastics decision of April 2002,
the US Supreme Court made it almost impossible for immigrants to organize
independently, permitting employers who hire immigrant workers to fire those
without documentation who organize into unions. This is no surprise, as the
draconian legal system in the US is established to protect the capitalist class
and to suppress working class activism. 


Q: Has the situation changed under the Obama administration?

The Obama administration has done little to protect
immigrants—in fact the number of industrial raids of immigrant workers by ICE
(Immigration Customs Enforcement) has increased dramatically. Workers who are
found to be working illegally are arrested and deported back to their home
countries. The Obama administration has sought to pass “comprehensive
immigration reform,” which would further undermine immigrant conditions, while
only legalizing a segment of undocumented workers. By escalating the number of
raids, the Obama administration is seeking to show that it can enforce the
borders, and appeal to the nativist tradition among some workers. But
ultimately the Obama administration supports the growth of migrant labor in the
US, which is also a priority for corporations, who seek to expand the reserve
army of labor by increasing competition from immigrant workers. In this
respect, the Obama administration is not at all different from the reactionary
policies of Bush’s regime. 

Q: The crisis seemed to reactivate the attack against the
working class: against the unions -in Wisconsin, for example- and against
immigrant -with the Law of Arizona and the projects in Florida-. Can you
describe these initiatives and others?

Precisely! The economic crisis is seen as pretext to further
undermine the working class and unionization. The public sector is the core of
the union movement in the US, and about 30-35 % of government workers are in
unions. If the conditions of private sector workers have already been
eviscerated through corporate efforts to oppose unions, they cannot continence
union organization in the public sector. In Wisconsin, and many other states,
both Republican and Democratic governments are seeking to reduce benefits among
public sector workers. These workers are among the last workers who have
comprehensive health insurance and pensions that provide for moderate wages
that have been negotiated by their unions. The attack against the public
sector, is not so much as an effort to reduce budget deficits as a means to
erode working-class power in the US through de-unionization. We can expect
these actions to continue as governors seek to cut budgets for medical care,
education, and social services. A corollary to this is stripping unions of
their rights to represent workers. The Wisconsin protests is just the most
glaring example of the attack on unionization and the working class. However,
while unions try to defend working conditions—they have failed to mobilize
their own members through mass protests, and discouraged strikes as a means to
ensure industrial peace. 

The Arizona law that seeks to criminalize immigrant workers,
and permits police to profile those who they think are living in the US without
documentation was considered a major attack against the rights and civil
liberties of foreigners as well as US residents who are viewed as undesirable
in the US. In a number of states, nativist and xenophobic sentiment has grown
among legislators who are seeking to appeal to the nationalist interests of
revanchist workers. The Arizona law was overturned by the 9th Circuit Court. At
the same time, initiatives to criminalize immigrants and migrants are advancing
in other states, such as Utah, and Florida. These laws are pushing immigrants
further into isolation, and contributing to a decline in their wages and
working conditions. In brief, while some business opposes these efforts, which
reduce the size of the reserve army of labor, capital can also take advantage
of the anti-immigrant feelings by further driving down wages and imposing
despotic conditions on immigrants. While anti-immigrant policies are driving
immigrants into the shadows of society, capital can still secure the labor,
only now immigrants have fewer rights and protections.


Q: Is the working class in general and the immigrants in
particular planning to take any measures against these initiatives?

Workers and immigrants have not stopped struggling against
capitalist abuse and the further decline of wages and working conditions. We
are seeking a revival of Mayday protests, which in 2006 brought out millions of
immigrant and migrant workers in major cities throughout the U.S. Immigrant
efforts to mobilize themselves have not diminished as a result of the corporate
assault on all workers. However, traditional labor unions that are led by
entrenched bureaucrats have mostly not defended the interests of immigrants and
other workers who are not members. They have engaged in concessionary
bargaining. Consequently we seek the formation of new forms of worker
organization, such as ROC United, representing restaurant workers and DWU, for
domestic workers. These organizations are willing to mobilize immigrants and
allow immigrants to mobilize themselves in these two sectors of the economy.
While the organizations are not formally recognized as unions, they are
engaging in class struggle and winning wage increases through protests and
legal actions.


Q: Do you see a reactivation of the North American working
class in defense of its conquests?

A reactivation of the North American working class will only
occur with the unification of workers of all nationalities. Capital has always
sought to divide workers by focusing on differences. But to revitalize a
militant working class it is necessary for labor to overcome these differences
and forge a militant movement against the corporate onslaught. This requires
native-born and foreign-born members of the working class to unify and to
understand that their struggle is identical. If workers fail to unify on the
basis of class rather than identity, the fascist tendencies in US society may
expand and conditions may worsen even further than today. Still, I maintain a
positive perspective given the militant history of US and all North American
workers against business. The question is agency and timing. As far as agency,
traditional unions do not have the capacity or interest to mobilize immigrant
and low-wage workers—and would like to return to the past New Deal era of
stable collective bargaining without strikes. However, workers will not advance
their conditions without militancy and strike actions. Ironically, the effort
to render unions illegal in the public sector could contribute to a new wave of
strikes and mass actions. As the class compromise of the last 75 years is
undermined by capital, we must not forget that capital was most interested in
creating a docile working class. Without legal parameters for struggle, workers
will undoubtedly use new means to counter capital’s offensive.


Q: This year the immigrants are organizing a march for May
day. Can you describe what the principal demands are and if you believe that
the massive strike and march of 2006 can be repeated?

As in the past, immigrant workers are seeking legal status
in the US. But the mass immigration strikes of 2006 were during a time when
immigration reform was a possibility. Today the prospect of comprehensive
immigration reform is not on the horizon. Moreover, the Obama, like Bush are
not interested in legalizing all immigrants, but just a fraction. Many
undocumented immigrants would be forced to return to their countries and
reapply for legal residence. I do not think most immigrants seeking to stay in
the US would want to return home, as the promises on the basis of empty
promises of the US government. The government really wants to create a mass
temporary work force that it can use and send back on a seasonal basis. The
Mayday struggle of this year remains legalization of immigrants. While
immigrants want to become “legally” regularized in the labor force with proper
documentation, most of these same activists oppose the details of legislation.
Most leftists believe strongly that we are better off without comprehensive
immigration reform than those that are proposed by the government. But make no
mistake, immigrant demands for rights and their self-organization will remain a
major theme of Mayday. 

La lucha sigue.


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