The following article was published in Proletarian Revolution No. 79 (Winter 2007)
The massive demonstration in Los Angeles last March, and the even greater outpourings across the nation on May Day, put the immigrant working class on the center stage of American politics. The upsurge was largely spearheaded by undocumented workers. Union leaders, along with the mouthpieces of various agencies that specialize in “immigrant advocacy,” all had to admit one thing: the powerful displays of militancy were neither foreseen nor created by them. These misleaders then proceeded to collude with Democratic Party politicians to try to squelch the enormous momentum that had been created.
First, they peddled the notion that “comprehensive reform” -- as advocated by the Democrats as well as Bush himself -- was the answer to the attacks on undocumented workers. This is a grand fraud perpetrated on the masses of undocumented workers and their allies. Any reform coming out of Congress will be full of repressive and divisive measures. The immigrants’ misleaders only ask that a small carrot be included along with the big stick. (See Democrats and Republicans, Enemies of Immigrant Workers, in Proletarian Revolution No. 78.) Serious demands like full amnesty, let alone genuine equality for all immigrant workers, will be the last things found on their agenda.
Another treacherous diversion was the suppression of mass action in favor of a pro-Democratic electoral push. Nothing has ever been won by people of color or the working class in this country without massive struggle. The superexploitation of Black, Latino and immigrant labor is a cornerstone of U.S. imperialism’s strategy of securing profits. No nifty legislation is going to stop this as long as imperialism and capitalism exist.
Revolutionaries always warn that reliance on the Democratic Party is a deathtrap for movements of struggle. And in the case of undocumented workers, forced to exist on the edge of American society, the deadly consequences can be immediate. In 2006, violent border patrols continued unabated -- raping, beating and murdering countless victims. For those who make it across, the desperate daily battle to survive just begins. And for those who get to work here, the norm is an insecure job under virtual slave labor conditions. Meanwhile, the risk of deportation remains unabated. And all this would continue under whatever “compromise” the Democrats and Republicans may come up with.
Workplace raids escalated throughout 2006. On December 12, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) police raided meat packing plants owned by Swift & Co. across six states. This operation, touted as the “mother of all raids,” was designed to be the biggest single roundup in this country’s history. Over 1300 mostly Mexican workers were grabbed on the ominous-sounding charge of “identity theft.” The size of the raid was matched by its recklessness. In an often-repeated scene, agents in SWAT uniforms burst into the plant in Greeley, Colorado with hundreds of handcuffs. Workers were bussed off incommunicado to unnamed detention centers and stripped of all rights to communicate with families or legal aid.
Out of all the summary arrests, at most 220 indictments on criminal charges, including spurious claims of “identity theft,” have been executed. Many of the arrested workers have already been deported to Mexico. Most of the others, arrested on "administrative" charges, spent weeks in jail under harsh conditions. The identity theft charge is intended to stifle sympathy and to criminalize immigrant workers whose only real “crime” is that they need to work so that they and their families don’t starve to death. It is meant to cover a campaign of terror against immigrant workers, who are actively seeking means to fight back against their exploiters and their wretched conditions.
But the genie is out of the bottle. Immigrant workers have learned the potential of their collective power, as evidenced by the demonstrations last spring. And despite repression and the betrayals by their leaders, they have continued to resist on a number of fronts.
On November 17, over a thousand workers, largely Mexican, walked out of the giant Smithfield Packing Company plant in Tar Heel, North Carolina, the world’s largest hog slaughterhouse. The immediate cause was the firing of about 75 undocumented workers by the company, on the pretext that the bosses had “discovered” problems with their social security numbers. (Such claims have been on the rise by companies and the government, mainly in union and pro-union plants.) After a few days, Smithfield management caved in and granted the workers’ major demands. This victory stands as a potent reminder of what can be gained by workers’ mass action.
Mexican workers have a specific history of struggle in the U.S. And with their growing militancy and centrality in the American economy, they and other immigrant workers are now the most promising and inspiring sector within the American class struggle. It is their potential to spark the wider class struggle that the bosses and the government fear the most.
The revolutionary workers of the LRP join with our immigrant fellow workers and all who support them in outrage against the relentless attacks. The enemies of immigrants are waging an active war, and they must be stopped. A mass defense can be built -- but only if politically conscious workers fight against the treacherous politics of the current leaders.
The way forward must include a struggle in all the mass organizations, especially unions with large numbers of immigrant workers, for a return to serious mobilizations now. All anti-immigrant measures must be stopped. We propose fighting in the unions and elsewhere for a perspective of preparation for immediate widespread protest strikes against workplace raids when they happen. The only way to stop raids and other acts of provocation against immigrant workers is by unleashing the power of the working class. A movement led by immigrant workers can show other workers that their real interests lie with a united mass struggle -- rather than allowing the bosses to turn workers against each other. In this spirit, we hope to convince more and more fellow workers of the need for a general strike against all the capitalist attacks.
Immigrant workers suffer special oppression but also face a problem shared by workers in general. The proletariat has tremendous objective power, but an array of entrenched misleaders of various stripes stands in the way. Above all, politically conscious workers have to band together to build the foundation of the revolutionary party -- so that imperialism and capitalism can be overturned once and for all.