The following article appears in Proletarian Revolution No. 83 (Fall 2010).
The bulletin below was distributed by LRP supporters who participated in the May 29 mass demonstration in Phoenix, Arizona against the law called SB 1070, which was scheduled to go into effect statewide on July 29. As the bulletin details, this racist anti-immigrant law made it a state crime to be an “undocumented alien” in Arizona and required local police in Arizona to demand proof of citizenship or immigrant status from anyone “suspected” of being undocumented; it also required people to carry their papers with them at all times, deeming it a punishable offense not to have papers immediately on hand.
Since SB 1070 was announced two months ago, the anti-immigrant and specifically anti-Mexican atmosphere in Arizona has been heightened and has led to a widely reported exodus of Latino immigrants who understandably feared the wave of police harassment, arrests and deportations that would follow SB1070’s implementation. While President Obama was on record as opposed to SB 1070, calling it “misguided,” he avoided saying what, if anything, he would actually do about it. Certainly no one could expect to see him, or anyone speaking for him, at protest rallies, stirring up the crowds for a fight against racial profiling and immigrant bashing. No one from Obama’s “team” was among the vast army of about 100,000 protestors, mainly Mexicans and other people of color, who marched six miles in desert heat in Phoenix on May 29 to show their commitment to fight SB 1070.
Eventually, Obama announced that he was supporting a Department of Justice (DOJ) suit against SB 1070. The DOJ lawsuit did not take up the vital issue of racial and ethnic profiling which is key to SB1070 and which is a common form of harassment of immigrants in this country. Instead, the DOJ chose to rest its case on the question of who is in charge: according to the DOJ, immigrant policy must be determined by the Federal government and not by state or local governments or police.
The judge’s ruling was announced at virtually the last minute, on July 28. The ruling barred the implementation of key parts of SB 1070 and is already being appealed. It is expected that the legal fight over SB 1070 could be very prolonged, ending up in the Supreme Court. For now, the part empowering local police in determining immigration status as well as other provisions cited above have been knocked down. But some portions of SB 1070 have gone into effect, notably the language which makes it a crime for day laborers to obstruct traffic while seeking work, an easy charge for racist anti-worker police to make.
The escalating war of scapegoating, racist and violent attacks and deportations is not simply the result of a racist, nationalist American culture or the product of powerful politicians looking to ride immigrant-bashing to electoral victories – though there is all too much racism and nationalism and plenty demagogues willing to encourage those vile, oppressive ideologies. Marxism explains that it is the needs of the capitalist system itself, particularly when it is in the throes of economic crisis, make the increase in scapegoating attacks on immigrant workers inevitable. We in the LRP have pointed out for years that anti-immigrant attacks come from both the Democratic and Republican parties. In this regard, we have campaigned against the various proposals for Comprehensive Immigration Reform that have been raised in order to expose that they are actually anti-immigrant proposals – they all increase repressive measures and the criminalization of immigrants in exchange for promised citizenship for a few down the road. We have also pointed to the specific role of Obama in being responsible for a dramatic surge in the number of deportations, including a tripling of the number of employee records audited for the purpose of getting undocumented workers fired. Obama has also supported a military-style crackdown at the border which, along with record heat this past summer, has led to a spike in the number of deaths of immigrants trying to cross. And murders committed by emboldened law enforcement agents are hardly uncommon.
The Department of Homeland Security issued statement on July 28 commending the judge’s injunction: “ICE works every day with local law enforcement across the country to assist them in making their communities safer and we will continue to do so in Arizona. At the same time, we will continue to increase resources in Arizona by complementing the National Guard deployment set to being on Aug. 1 with the deployment of hundreds of additional Immigration and Customs agents, Border Patrol agents and other law enforcement personnel.”
In this spirit, the plan to deploy 1200 National Guard troops to the border in the beginning of August was Obama’s way of showing that there should be no doubt – he stands for being “tough” on “illegal” immigration. Obama represents a section of the capitalist class that wants to carry out anti-immigrant policies without provoking the kind of protest movement among Latinos and their supporters that was on the rise because of the blatant horror of SB 1070, and without unnecessarily stirring up hostilities with Mexico and sullying America’s “democratic” image abroad. Obama and the Democratic Party surely also hope that their identification with the suit against SB 1070 will boost their approval rating among Latinos, which had slipped significantly from January until recently.
On July 29, only small demonstrations took place in cities in Arizona and across the country, although in fact there is as great a cause for protest now as ever. Yet it is likely that for the moment there are illusions that the DOJ suit, and other suits against SB 1070 signify that real progress is coming. But the truth is, while certain measures may be off the official table for the moment, the political atmosphere that targets immigrants is not letting up in Arizona or anywhere else.
Only mass working-class action led by immigrant workers can build a defense against the attacks. Massive protests can make the ruling class think twice before moving ahead with their anti-immigrant attacks. But most threatening to the capitalists, and most likely to force them to back off their attacks on immigrants, at least temporarily, would be workplace-based action by immigrant workers like strikes and factory occupations that can show the way to native-born workers in fighting for their interests against the capitalist attacks.
However even the most immediate struggles, let alone the great challenge of overthrowing the capitalist system that drives society’s exploitation and oppression, requite a new political leadership of the working class. As we said in our bulletin:
Workers and youth who already see through the capitalist parties have to join together to build an alternative, the beginning of a workers’ revolutionary socialist party. Even a small force of revolutionary workers can start to fight for the united action of immigration workers instead of the capitalist electoral strategy that was doomed from the start and is now clearly failing.
Just before May Day 2010, the Arizona state legislature adopted one of the most vicious anti-immigrant laws of recent times. The law signed by Governor Jan Brewer – SB 1070 or the “Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhood Act” – makes it a crime to be an undocumented immigrant in Arizona, demands that everyone in the state carry proof of their immigration status and allows cops to stop anyone whom they “reasonably suspect” of being “illegal.” While sponsors of the new law deny it, everyone knows that SB 1070 is a racist attack that targets for harassment Mexican immigrants as well as American citizens of Mexican descent – in a territory that in fact was once part of Mexico! Reminiscent of South Africa’s apartheid-era pass laws, SB 1070 gives a green light to cops in stepping up their already widespread racial profiling and will inevitably hit all Latinos, as well as American Indians, Blacks and all people of color.
Further, as if anxious to flaunt her government’s racism, Governor Brewer also signed into law another measure making it illegal for any course in the public schools to “advocate ethnic solidarity.” This law follows a top Arizona educational official’s complaints that courses on Mexican history are teaching Mexican-American youth to believe that they belong to an oppressed minority. Together, these new laws themselves teach plenty about the reality of racist oppression and the need for solidarity and struggle in response
President Obama and his fellow Democrats in Washington have spoken against SB1070, but so far they have done nothing to stop it. This should be no surprise. Millions of people across this country celebrated Obama’s election and his promise to bring a new sense of compassion and justice to government. But few have been so sorely betrayed by Obama as immigrants. In its first year, the Obama Administration dramatically increased the number of deportations, and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) is aiming to reach a quota of 400,000 “removals” for this year. The Obama Administration has also increased the use of immigration and employment record checks to pressure employers into mass firings of thousands of undocumented workers.
The outrageously racist and repressive nature of Arizona’s new law is being used by supporters of the Democratic Party to argue that, compared to the Republicans, the Democrats are great friends of immigrants. But growing numbers of immigrant workers are seeing through the good cop/bad cop routine of the capitalists’ two main parties. In response, pro-Democratic Party figures in the immigrant rights’ movement are using the Republicans’ more openly racist policies to demand support for the Democrats’ “Comprehensive Immigration Reform” proposals. But as we will explain, the Democrats’ “reform” will hurt immigrants far more than it will help.
It is no coincidence that the rising attacks on immigrants are taking place amid the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. The banks and big capitalists that ran the economy into the ground have been bailed out with billions of taxpayers’ dollars. Now the working class is being made to pay the price – with rising unemployment and cuts in wages, job conditions and social services. While workers’ anger is rising, capitalist politicians figure they can avert the growing potential for working-class struggles by encouraging native-born workers to blame immigrants instead.
The mobilizations of millions of immigrant workers in May Day and other protest actions in 2006-7 defeated the last major attempt to criminalize undocumented immigrants. But under the slogan “Today we march, tomorrow we vote,” the leaders of the movement demobilized the struggle and led it into the dead-end of supporting the Democrats. The revival of anti-immigrant attacks has been the inevitable result. To push back the current attacks, immigrant workers will have to return to the road of mass struggle. Bold, uncompromising struggles by working-class immigrants could inspire more American workers to fight back against the whole range of economic attacks. In this way, immigrant workers can play a leading role in beginning to unite the working class across racial and national lines. Important victories can be won, since mass struggles can force the capitalists to retreat from their worst attacks.
Capitalism is sliding toward another depression that will dwarf that of the 1930’s. The only way the system will be able to survive is by dramatically intensifying the exploitation of the working class, and that means increasing the oppression and super-exploitation of immigrant and all workers. If the capitalists are forced to retreat from their anti-working class attacks one day, they will return to them the day after. We believe that the only solution is working-class revolutions that overthrow capitalism and build a socialist world of freedom and plenty in its place.
History teaches that the threat of sweeping racist attacks against immigrants cannot be underestimated. During the Great Depression in the 1930s, more than 2 million Mexicans were driven from the United States in the so-called “repatriation,” a majority of whom were actually U.S. citizens. Mainstream capitalist politicians are not yet considering such broadly racist policies – for one thing, they still want to super-exploit cheap immigrant labor.
Today, most capitalists do not want to get rid of immigrant workers so much as they want to take advantage of harsh laws and restrictions to increase their vulnerability, so that they fear to fight back against exploitation. The bosses offer the worst and poorest paying jobs to immigrants, since super-exploitation helps boost profits. The scapegoating and super-exploitation of immigrants serve the capitalist class as a whole by keeping wages and working conditions down for all workers. If one sector of the working class is held back from fighting for a better deal, that lowers the floor for all. That is why even those Democratic and Republican politicians who claim to be on the side of immigrants do not favor straightforward legalization or amnesty for all.
Immigrants will continue to arrive, often risking death or arrest, as long as the chance exists to find jobs to help them survive. The imperialist countries super-exploit the poorer nations of the world. They use ”free trade” policies to open the semi-colonies of the so-called “Third World” to greater exploitation, demanding austerity measures and compelling local rulers to meet the demands of the imperialist markets. As a result, the imperialists make huge super-profits, local rulers get rich, and the local economy is decimated. This process leads to the destruction of jobs by the millions, and the remaining jobs often pay below-survival wages. Understandably workers flee these conditions and migrate to the wealthier countries, even though these are ruled by the imperialists that destroyed their home countries.
Obama has pulled away from the high profile ICE workplace raids that marked the years of the Bush Administration, but he has replaced them with “desk raids” that can attack many more immigrant workers with less ICE manpower. A couple of different techniques are used.
The entire mainstream political debate in the U.S. over immigration is tied up with the idea of “Comprehensive Immigration Reform” (CIR) – including Obama and the Democrats, some Republicans, immigrants’ groups like La Raza and Reform Immigration for America (RIA), and the labor unions. CIR is a particularly complicated ruse, made up of small carrots and big sticks. First, it insists that what immigrants need is not unconditional amnesty for all the undocumented but instead a package of proposals that includes some gains along with further repressive measures. Secondly, the promised “comprehensive” reform never gets enacted, but repressive measures do.
For several years Democratic politicians and their friends have promoted the idea of a “pathway to citizenship” as the centerpiece of CIR. All the proposals have called for a very restricted possibility of citizenship. Only a small percentage of undocumented immigrants who have been in the U.S. for a number of years and who can pay large penalty fees would get that prize.
CIR would satisfy the needs of some capitalists, not of immigrant workers. It would mean a deepening attack on immigrants, coupled with a more orderly and controlled immigration system that addresses the ever-evolving labor needs of the bosses. This year CIR is represented by the Schumer-Graham bill in the Senate and the Gutierrez bill in the House. The Gutierrez bill contains more concessions to immigrants, but still contains repressive measures like E-Verify, and in any case it has been sidetracked in favor of the Senate bill. Here is what the National Alliance of Latin American & Caribbean Communities (NALACC) said about the Senate bill in its statement of April 19:
We have Senators Schumer (D-NY) and Graham (R-SC) to thank for opening our eyes. In an Op-Ed piece published on March 19, 2010 in the Washington Post, they outlined a blueprint comprised of four pillars that would be the foundation of their CIR proposal: More border enforcement; a biometric social security card; a future temporary employment program for foreign workers and a “tough but fair” path to legalization that would require undocumented immigrants to admit they violated the law as an initial step on that path.
NALACC goes on to ask, “Given the fact that we have been living under a highly punitive, inhumane, and anti-family immigration policy regime since at least the early 1990’s, ... In what way is the Schumer-Graham blueprint going to reform what is now wrong with immigration policy?” It would not. Adopting either one of these fake “reforms” would be an attack on immigrant workers, not a step forward.
Moreover, it is exactly the strategy of compromise that encouraged the right wing to push laws like the racist Arizona bills. The failure of Obama and the Democrats to stand for full immigrant rights and to produce a massive jobs program played a huge role in creating the current anti-immigrant atmosphere.
Arizona’s SB 1070 is designed to terrorize the mainly Mexican immigrant population of Arizona. The law means that individuals can be arrested if they are not carrying proper documentation. It is a threat to all those who could be under suspicion, i.e. Latinos and other people of color, not just undocumented immigrants. The law also attempts to stop “sanctuary cities” by allowing private citizens to sue local law enforcement organizations if they do not enforce immigration law.
The governor’s assurance that there would be no racial profiling in Arizona is a blatant lie. Most people of color know that racial profiling and police misconduct are rampant in the U.S., as the police do their job of harassing communities of color. The Arizona law clearly gives a green light to further escalation by threatening immigrants with deportation. It is an endorsement of the racist roundups of Latinos that have been carried out by Maricopa County sheriff Joe Arpaio, under previous laws signed by former governor Janet Napolitano, now Obama’s Secretary of Homeland Security.
Marxists understand that racially biased law enforcement is pervasive throughout the United States, since the role of the police is to repress the working class, especially communities of color. The new law will not only allow increased harassment; it will especially terrorize undocumented workers with the threat of breaking up families, driving them further into the shadows and sending the message that they have nowhere to turn when abused or exploited by their employers. And it will encourage the racially motivated attacks on Latinos and immigrants that are on the rise, insuring that those attacked know that they cannot turn to law enforcement to protect them or prosecute their attackers.
Many immigrant rights activists are calling for a boycott of Arizona in response to the new law. We in the League for the Revolutionary Party (LRP) are not in principle opposed to a boycott, but we point out that boycotts are generally a weak strategy that fails to mobilize the full strength of our class to challenge capitalist profits. We hope that the May 29 march in Phoenix will be a spur to frequent and even more massive actions.
Advances for immigrants’ rights cannot be won by supporting the Democratic Party. Workers and youth who already see through the capitalist parties have to join together to build an alternative, the beginning of a workers’ revolutionary socialist party. Even a small force of revolutionary workers can start to fight for the united action of immigration workers instead of the capitalist electoral strategy that was doomed from the start and is now clearly failing. The huge immigrant marches and demonstrations in 2006 stopped Congress from passing the viciously anti-immigrant Sensenbrenner bill, and had the potential to spark wider struggles of the working class. Immigrant workers, together with other anti-racist workers, can play that role again.
When the working class understands the power that it can wield through collective actions like mass demonstrations and strikes, then it can fight for political measures our class really needs by hitting capitalism where it hurts and shutting down profit making. Mass actions also serve to unite the working class across national, ethnic and racial lines, bringing together union and non-union workers as well as the employed and the unemployed.
In fighting for mass actions by immigrants and other workers, the League for the Revolutionary Party expects that the most revolutionary-minded, politically conscious layers of workers and youth will learn in the course of their struggles that the source of their oppression is not just a cabal of anti-worker politicians but the capitalist system itself. Our goal over time is to convince fellow workers to join with us in building the only party that can really fight for workers’ interests – an internationalist revolutionary party that aims to lead the working class in overthrowing capitalist rule here and abroad.
Today the working class in the U.S. looks weak and badly divided. On top of the perennial racist and anti-immigrant campaigns, these days the economic crisis drives workers increasingly to compete with each other for fewer jobs and an ever-shrinking economic pie. Workers must recognize the need to fight all forms of racism and national chauvinism. By defending themselves from this society’s denial of equal rights, Latino, Black, and immigrant workers can play a key role in pointing the way forward for all workers – as the 2006-2007 marches showed.
The worldwide economic crisis today is sparking bigger and more radical mass struggles. In Europe today, where a revival of the financial crisis is breaking out, workers in Greece and other countries are engaging in mass protests and general strikes to prevent the ruling classes from making them pay for the crisis.
While the class struggle in the U.S. is still generally at a low point, the economic and social conditions will inevitably force more strikes and struggles. The wave of terror against immigrants takes place at a time when the situation for all workers in the U.S. is getting worse. There is a real basis for unity, if a revolutionary party leadership can be built to provide a way forward. Such a leadership would combat all forms of racism while fighting for jobs for all at good wages and guaranteed quality health care for all, among other necessities. It would point the way to a revolution in which the working class would seize state power and replace the capitalist state with a workers’ state on the road to socialism.
The task of workers who understand the need for socialist revolution is to join together to show the way to their fellow workers. That is why we stand for an internationalist workers’ revolutionary party. Composed of the most politically conscious and militant workers and youth, together it would fight alongside our fellow workers in order to strengthen the working class, win victories and prove the need for revolution.