Posted to www.marxmail.org on March 30, 2006
On today's Common Dreams website (a pro-Democratic Party outlet founded by nonprofit foundation entrepreneur Don Hazen), there's a completely rancid article on immigration written by Thom Hartmann, an Air America radio host and author of such groundbreaking books as "Focus Your Energy", which is described on his website as a way to succeed in business even if you suffer from Attention Deficit Disorder. Just what suffering humanity has been waiting for. Although I lack the patience to do a thorough study of Hartmann-thought, he strikes me as a combination of New Age hustler and woozy-headed liberal.
He basically describes "illegal immigration" as a corporatist plot to keep the wages of U.S. workers down. In order for him to establish his progressive bona fides, he invokes the late Cesar Chavez as an ally:
"The reason why thirty years ago United Farm Workers' Union (UFW) founder Caesar Chávez fought against illegal immigration, and the UFW turned in illegals during his tenure as president, was because Chávez, like progressives since the 1870s, understood the simple reality that labor rises and falls in price as a function of availability."
Actually, as Hartmann acknowledges in the very next paragraph, the actions were taken against scabs: "In 1969, Chávez 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."
At any rate, given the sad state of the UFW as documented in the recent LA Times series, the last thing one would want to do is build a progressive politics based on uncritically accepting whatever Cesar Chavez did.
Hartmann believes that the elevated status of the American working class is attributable to some degree by its ability to exclude immigrants from the dining table. "[T]hey 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." Yes, we don't want to dilute our precious stock, do we?
Hartmann cites a wikipedia article to back up his argument: "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."
This dingbat doesn't seem to understand that this "sense" was driven by racism and xenophobia and not out of any desire that native workers get a better life.
"The eugenics movement persuaded policy-makers in the United States — the nation of immigrants — that unrestricted immigration was a serious threat to the nation's health. In 1924, the government passed the Johnson Act, setting limits on the number of immigrants who could come here from various nations. The limits were designed to encourage immigration from northern Europe and to discourage immigration from the rest of the world, southern Europe included. The law was effective; the number of immigrants plummeted.
"The Johnson Act turned out to be one of the most lethal bills ever passed. Fifteen years after its passage, Jews trying to escape from Nazi Germany were refused asylum in America. It is not possible to know how many Jews would have fled to the United States if they had been welcome. Of the six million Jews who died under Hitler, would 10,000 have been saved by a more hospitable policy? Would half a million people have been saved?"
Continuing along in his racist and ignorant fashion, Hartmann writes:
"At the same time, there are between seven and fifteen million working illegal immigrants diluting our labor pool. [Don't you love it how he is so fixated on "dilution"? Somehow I am reminded of Jack D. Ripper and his worries about "precious bodily fluids" in Dr. Strangelove.]
"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."
Excuse my profanity, but this is unvarnished bullshit.
Unions can only begin to flourish when they understand that all working people have the same class interests. Some of the most positive steps taking place in the union movement today are the direct result of the participation of "illegal immigrants" as this 3/15/2001 Christian Science Monitor article demonstrates:
Jerry Dominguez can often be found wandering the streets of New York. On this winter afternoon he stops outside a West Side grocery store where a Mexican worker is tending buckets of bright flowers.
"How much do you make here, amigo?" he asks. "How many hours do you work here?"
It turns out the worker, whose name is Elias, earns less than the minimum wage, but doesn't complain out of fear of deportation. He is exactly what Mr. Dominguez is looking for.
The founder of the Mexican-American Workers' Association, Dominguez is on the front lines of an unusual union-organizing campaign. His recruits are the largely invisible people who work long days and nights for meager pay and no benefits – the estimated 300,000 to 500,000 Mexican immigrants like Elias who work in New York.
After decades of seeing undocumented immigrants as the enemy of working-class Americans – taking valuable jobs – unions are beginning to embrace small organizing initiatives among foreign workers in a quest to expand union ranks.
Last April, more than 8,000 Los Angeles janitors, mostly undocumented Hispanics, joined the Service Employees International Union and won a pay increase of 26 percent over three years.
Simultaneously, the powerful AFL-CIO – long one of the groups most vociferous about the threat posed by illegal immigrants – reversed its position on key issues involving foreign workers. AFL-CIO President John Sweeney has called for an amnesty for America's 6 million illegals and an end to sanctions against employers who hire them.
Now, some unions are trying to organize undocumented workers by launching neighborhood-to-neighborhood campaigns like the one here in New York, recalling organizing efforts of 50 years ago.
"They're now going back to the model of making coalitions in communities," says Kate Bronfenbrenner, a labor expert at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y.