United by abuse, workers need unity to win
A sign held by a marcher at last year's Labor Day immigrant rights rally in Fresno caught my attention. In hand-written letters, the sign justly declared that the "land belongs to those who work the land." Of all the signs held proudly that day, this one has stayed with me.
Of all the current social movements, the immigrant rights movement is best positioned to affect the kind of change needed to bring justice and dignity to all working people; its strength rests in the international migrant experience and the undeniable and unquestionable position of migrant workers in the world today as a single oppressed group - one that reaches across boundaries of ethnicity, nationality and gender - united by the kind of poverty that can only come about in a world where capitalist profit and greed are worshipped and labor is ridiculed.
In spite of its attempts to drive a wedge between migrant workers and "native" workers in the United States, business clearly regards labor as a single entity -- a tool of production that has as its purpose the means to produce wealth for a very small part of the population. Workers are uniformly attacked, taken advantage of, the first to be blamed for reduced profits and the first to lose money so business owners won't have to. The immigrant rights movement seeks to empower workers both socially and politically, to demand what is rightly and justly theirs.
What is rightly and justly theirs is the land and all the fabulous riches and wealth that the land produces. The resources of the earth have no value without the power of labor and the people who provide that labor.
Yet in spite of the potential, working people continue to lose ground in the fight.
A New York Times article (Aug. 28, 2006), reports that "The median hourly wage for American workers has declined 2 percent since 2003, after factoring in inflation. The drop has been especially notable, economists say, because productivity -- the amount that an average worker produces in an hour and the basic wellspring of a nation's living standards -- has risen steadily over the same period."
Simply put, business is doing better and workers are doing worse. Working people have less money to feed, clothe, and house their families. Many workers -- an ever increasing percentage of the entire working class -- cannot provide even these basic necessities. Migrant workers, in particular, suffer disproportionately.
In an interview with Monthly Review magazine, Nativo Lopez, the National President of the Mexican American Political Association, portrays this situation succinctly. He says that "If all workers (labor) produce value, wealth for the country, immigrant workers do so to a greater degree. They do not enjoy a collective bargaining agreement, vacations, pensions, health insurance, etc. as do many other workers -- particularly those who belong to a union. Therefore, they are producing greater value for the employer."
On the one hand, business owners see it in their best interest to have and to promote, in practice, a divided working class -- a working class of documented and undocumented workers. On the other hand, business finds profitability in uniting these workers through abuse: low pay and no benefits. A unified, equally protected working class is the strength and power that will move workers towards the goal of ownership of the wealth and riches of the land. Ironically, perhaps, it is business's abuse of working people that will fuel the urgent need for unification.
The demand for permanent residency for immigrant workers in the United States is valid and righteous. It must be a cornerstone of any political or social movement in a land that proclaims on the world stage its commitment to equality.