portland independent media center  
images audio video
newswire article commentary global

immigration | labor

Vicious government repression against immigrant workers on the rise

The recent raids in IOWA and Mississippi are a giant step backwards for all workers. They are part of the employers' divide and rule strategy aimed at taking back from all of us the gains that where made during the great mass movements of the 1930's.
Richard Mellor
AFSCME Local 444, retired
Oakland CA
8-28-08

The May 2007 raid on AgriProcessors, a meatpacking plant in Iowa, made headlines for a few minutes when it was discovered that thirteen year olds were working seventeen hour shifts six days a week. The conditions in the plant were horrific and straight out of a Dickens novel. Quite naturally, such abuses of human beings didn't stop with long hours. Workers, many of them children, suffered constant harassment and were subject to all sorts of mental and physical abuse, "I was very sad. I felt like I was a slave." said one youngster.

The raid was not carried out by state forces intent on rooting out employer abuses; it was not on behalf of workers that this raid took place; just the opposite. The raid was part of the U.S. government's offensive against workers. The target this time was those of us who have the least protection and work in the worst conditions; it was part of the government's scape-goating of the undocumented among us, those nasty illegals that are threatening our economy and way of life. With the economic crisis and corresponding commodity price increases, gas and food in particular, undocumented immigrant workers are coming under increased attack in the media by mouthpieces of big business like CNN's Lou Dobbs. No matter what the crime, if the perpetrator happens to be an undocumented worker, the anxious public will be constantly reminded that this person is an "illegal". They are blamed for everything from selling drugs to children to ruining the dismal US healthcare system. Rarely is the point made that the huge California agricultural economy would collapse with without them, a grueling endeavor where only recently a pregnant migrant worker collapsed and died with heat stroke.

Hatred of undocumented workers and immigrants in general is also whipped up by the employers, their two political parties and their media by blaming them for the exodus of decent paying manufacturing jobs to countries like Vietnam and China. A few years ago it was mostly Mexico that was to blame, but even Mexican workers are too expensive compared to our Asian brothers and sisters. The employers defend their right to the free movement and unrestricted use of capital and it is they who move the job from one place to another in search of the cheapest labor.

It is the US employers that are responsible for the misery of factory workers in the former colonial world and the resulting job losses and increasing misery for workers at home. Blaming immigrants and "foreigners" for taking our jobs has been a very successful divide and rule tactic for the employers, setting worker against worker as we compete for the crumbs from their table.

The raid on AgriProcessors has been followed this week by the largest immigration raid in US history, the savage round up of 600 workers at a plant in Laurel Mississippi. Families have been separated and some of those not taken in to custody have had electronic monitoring bracelets fitted to keep tabs on them. This was done as a "humanitarian" gesture as most of them were women that should be with their families. After all, we are a nation of family values. We don't hear too much about this from the speakers at the Democratic Convention, do we?

One sad aspect of the Laurel raid was that one worker caught in Monday's sweep at the plant said fellow workers applauded as the immigrants were taken into custody. Apparently, it was a tip from a union member that initiated the investigation of workers at the plant years ago. This is according to the feds so it may have been that this nasty character is a plant as opposed to a genuine worker and Union member.

As a long time Union member I feel shame and disgust if the claim that other workers applauded the arrests of their brothers and sisters at the plant is true. But the real culprits here are the Union leaders who fail to unite all workers undocumented or not, in a struggle against the employer's offensive and for better conditions and jobs for all. Instead, they echo the employer's arguments and join their call for protectionist measures, the bosses' fall back position when they fail to drive their rivals from the marketplace. Profit is sacrosanct and must be defended.

Because the Union leaders provide no alternative other than supporting one wing of the employers' against the other in their struggle to see which group can exploit workers the most with the least resistance, working people fall prey to such divisive and cruel behavior. With no unifying plan it's every man or woman for themselves, a positive development for the employers but devastating for working people as it divides us, further reducing our ability to resist the employers' attacks. When Union officials call for rights for undocumented workers this angers native born workers also as it is seen as such hypocrisy, demanding rights for immigrants while they collaborate with the employers in destroying decent Union jobs and supporting massive cuts in living standards for those already here.

John Sweeney head of the AFL-CIO, Andy Stern, head of the Change To Win Coalition, and Ron Gettlfinger of the UAW, were some of the major Union officials at the DNC. John Sweeney spoke from the podium from what I understand although I didn't see it. I'll bet not one of them exposed these big business politicians protectionist rhetoric of caring about American workers and therefore protecting American jobs, something that can only be achieved through international working class unity and action; instead they pandered to it I'm sure.

But working people must have an alternative to the bosses divide and rule strategies, we must develop our 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 cheaper 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. 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 there.

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. (read:  http://www.clnews.org/forums/showthread.php?t=1316)

The bosses at AgriProcessors and the plant in Mississippi have not been rounded up; their wives have not been fitted with electronic monitoring devices. The state looks after them, protects their interests. According to Frank Thomas writing in the Wall Street Journal, AgriProcessors was fined $182,000 for 39 safety violations that were issued against them by the Iowa Division of Labor Services in March. But the fines were "eventually reduced to $42,750." The record of the federal Labor Department is similar, claims Thomas. The only federal fines he could find against the company were in 2006 when the company was fined the huge sum of $2,250.* US prisons are full of workers whose crimes pale by comparison, many of whom are forced to turn to crime thanks to a system that allows employers like AgriProcessors to pay starvation wages and subject workers to physical an emotional abuse; and all employers would all do this if they could. Many more are introducing 19th century conditions as a response to global competition and the total capitulation of the trade Union leadership to this offensive of capital.

There has been no "rounding up" of the heads of the US corporations that paid no federal income tax between 1998 and 2005, and that is two thirds of them according to a recent report published by the GAO (Government Accountability Office). The report also claimed that 68% of foreign corporations doing business in the US avoided corporate taxes during the same period. More than 38,000 foreign corporations had no tax liability in 2005 and 1.2 million U.S. companies paid no income tax, the GAO report claims, this despite trillions of dollars in sales. And we are expected to believe the immigrant looking for work on the street corner or busting their buts alongside us in the factory or serving us at the restaurant are the cause of our declining living standards; we only have to stop and think for a brief moment to recognize that they are victims like the rest of our class.

Working people should think about this for a moment. This tax evasion is literally the tip of the iceberg, a drop in the bucket as they say; these are the thieves in society. The bosses are our enemies here and it is them that need rounding up. Jumping on the anti-immigrant bandwagon instead of showing outrage at the increased attacks on these brothers and sisters is damaging to the interests of all workers as it divides us; and what divides us weakens our ability to go after the real culprits; the bosses and their system.

* Captives of the Meatpacking Archipelago WSJ 8-6-08

 http://www.myspace.com/unionguy510
 http://www.laborsmilitantvoice.org
 http://www.myspace.com/lmvprofile

Subscribe to Facts For Working People, receive it every six weeks as a pdf

homepage: homepage: http://www.laborsmilitantvoice.org