The worldwide capitalist crisis is taking away jobs and lowering living standards everywhere. As unemployment rises in the imperialist nations, the situation gets even worse in oppressed nations. And so, immigrant workers face the worst of both worlds. They are among the first to lose their jobs in the U.S., and it is now even harder to survive in their home countries than it was before.
The solution to this situation of “double jeopardy” will only be found through class struggle. The world is headed toward a great depression caused by the very workings of an imperialist system in deep decay. While imperialism always keeps the masses of the world exploited and oppressed, the system is now becoming more widely exposed. The crisis has already sparked struggles, including massive riots in Greece and general strikes in Guadeloupe and France. “Capitalism doesn’t work” and other anti-capitalist slogans are becoming increasingly popular internationally.
Yet in the center of the imperialist beast, in the U.S., the general level of workers’ resistance is still very low. However this too will change as workers and youth come to see the need to take direct action against the system as the only way to win necessities of survival. Then growing numbers of workers will learn that socialist revolution is the only real solution to unemployment, poverty, hunger, misery and war.
The League for the Revolutionary Party (LRP) advocates the unity of the working class in all possible actions to fight the capitalist attacks happening right now. At the same time, we advocate the building of a revolutionary workers’ party to promote the goal of workers’ socialist revolution. Such a revolution would replace the capitalist state with a workers’ state that would seize control of the economy and lead the way toward creating a socialist society of abundance and freedom, peace and cooperation. However in order to reach socialism, capitalism will not only have to be overthrown in one country; over time, workers’ revolutions will have to take place internationally. For this reason we advocate not just a national party section, but above all the re-creation of the Fourth International, the World Party of Socialist Revolution (see Workers Need International Unity.)
The sheer number of immigrant workers in the U.S., and their concentration in important industrial sectors, make immigrant workers a potentially powerful political force. And the experience of both super-exploitation and racial and national oppression means that layers of immigrant workers can more easily see what is fundamentally wrong with imperialism – as compared to better-off, aristocratic layers of workers. In fact, there have already been displays of immigrant workers’ militancy. In 2006, mass demonstrations and strike actions on May Day shook up the political scene across this country.
Then just in the past years, two key labor struggles found immigrant workers in the lead. The factory occupation at Republic Windows in Chicago got worldwide attention. It happened because immigrant workers demonstrated their willingness to fight, which in turn enabled working-class unity to become established. At first, when the threat of job losses appeared at Republic Windows, some U.S.-born workers talked of calling Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) against the undocumented workers, but others argued against the idea. Eventually there was a unanimous vote to occupy the factory and an inspiring struggle followed.
A similar fighting spirit and hard-won unity among workers eventually led to a significant union victory at the huge Smithfield Foods factory in Tar Heel, North Carolina. For fifteen years workers battled the company in efforts to get union representation, conducting walkouts and protests on various occasions. The bosses depended on classic divide-and-conquer techniques to set immigrants, American Black workers and Puerto Rican workers against each other. The bosses and government blatantly colluded in using ICE raids to try to dampen militancy. Yet over time much of the workforce learned how to overcome the divisions and unite against the company.
These are small examples. But they help point toward the large scale unity necessary to promote equal rights for immigrants and to build a classwide defense of workers’ jobs and living standards.
We all should have the right to hold decent and secure jobs. Yet the economic crisis is destroying lives today and crushing dreams for the future too. The crisis also means that the capitalist ruling class will be even more desperate to secure profits – and therefore intensify its efforts to divide and conquer the working class. Whipping up anti-immigrant chauvinism and racism against Black people and other people of color is a vicious method that capitalism uses to the hilt. The economy is international, the crisis is international, and the working class is international and interracial. Workers and oppressed people will either fight back united or ultimately suffer major defeats.
The poison of national chauvinism in the workers’ movement limits what can be won – and deepens the divisions among workers while avoiding a clear focus on the real enemy. The bosses and the capitalist governments can more easily beef up anti-foreigner policies, while using competition between workers of different countries to take more advantage of all of us. The danger of anti-immigrant bigotry being stoked is particularly significant in the U.S, the most powerful imperialist country in the world. Scapegoating of immigrants for the hardships facing U.S. workers always lets the real culprit, the capitalist system, off the hook. We must all fight against national chauvinism and racism of any kind with commitment and vigor. Unfortunately, this is not what the current leaders of the immigrant rights’ movement or the labor unions are doing.
A large part of the problem has to do with the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party is an imperialist party which represents big business interests – as do the Republicans more obviously. The key difference is that a section of Democrats have historically been the ones to claim to defend the workers and the poor to some degree, but they do so primarily to help defuse struggles. They have the main connections with the labor unions and various social movements. And the misleaders of our class push the illusion that the Democrats are really our friends.
From the time of the big marches of 2006, the immigrant movement leaders told workers to place their faith in the election of Democratic Party politicians. We in the LRP, on the other hand, argued that workers can only rely on our own power in struggle to win what we need. We warned that supporting the Democratic Party would prove to be a trap that would see the movement demobilized and betrayed. As we summed up:
In the spring of 2006, millions of marchers, the vast majority Mexican immigrant workers, took off from work and filled the streets of Los Angeles, Chicago and other U.S. cities. But the movement’s leadership – trade union officials, religious and other community leaders – advertised their intentions with the slogan “Today we march, tomorrow we vote.” Accordingly, they diverted the energy of the movement into electoral campaigns for the Democratic Party. They said that when the Democrats controlled Congress, the movement could lobby for a reform bill that would win legal status for the millions of undocumented workers. The effect of the leaders’ strategy was most visible in the low turnout for the May Day marches this year. ... the stark lesson of all mass movements is that mass struggle, not the ballot box, is what wins concessions from the ruling class. Political action must grow out of this struggle and its power, not out of subordination and betrayal to the capitalist parties. (“Immigrant Workers Face Crackdown,” Proletarian Revolution No. 80)
Today, with Barack Obama as President, we are seeing Democrats prepare for further betrayal. Obama revealed his true loyalties with the appointment of former Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano as Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). DHS is of course responsible for enforcing immigration policy, including border security. Napolitano has a long history in Arizona, none of which is good. She sent the National Guard to join the Border Patrol at the U.S.-Mexico border. She enacted the Legal Arizona Workers Act in 2007 which required all companies to use an employment verification program (called “Basic Pilot”) that uses “no-match” letters to harass immigrant workers on the job. Immigrant rights groups rightfully organized angry protests in Arizona against her.
It should be no surprise that in general, the detention and deportation of immigrants have continued under Obama and Napolitano. There are also many examples of desperate people trying to fight upcoming deportations, pleading to the Obama administration for help. In one such horrible example, deportation proceedings were temporarily halted against over 30,000 Haitian immigrants last September after hurricanes did massive damage to their homeland. Now they have again been placed on “final order of removal.” Obama has so far done nothing to rescind these orders.
In one important case, however, protests against ICE raids have forced the Obama Administration to retreat from mass deportations. In late February, ICE officers raided a workplace in Bellingham, Washington, arresting 28 undocumented immigrant workers. But when the community, as well as practically every immigrant rights organization across the country, responded with outrage, Napolitano had to backtrack, stopping deportation proceedings and allowing the arrested immigrants to apply for papers to stay in the U.S. and work.
While the Obama Administration clearly wanted to avoid an uproar in Bellingham, Amy Kudwa, a spokeswoman for the Department of Homeland Security, assured the press that “there was no policy shift and that other worksite immigration inspections had taken place since the Bellingham raid.” (www.cnn.com, April 17, 2009) For now, though, the government does want to alter its image and disassociate itself from the wave of ICE raids that created a scandal under Bush; families were torn apart and workers were treated as guilty until proven innocent in too blatant a fashion. But this government will continue to repress undocumented immigrants, if not so much through workplace raids for the moment then through other means.
In fact, the Obama government is now finding it convenient to use the cover of a “war against drugs” to reinforce border security. Border patrol agents are already infamous for brutal attacks on desperate workers trying to cross into the U.S.. Obama’s appointment of Alan Bersin as “border czar” is also threatening news for immigrants: Bersin was responsible for the infamous Operation Gatekeeper under President Clinton in 1994, which involved a massive increase in border fencing, surveillance equipment and Border Patrol agents in San Diego. This operation forced many Mexican immigrants to find a different route and risk their lives crossing in dangerous desert areas. Thousands of immigrants died because of Bersin’s operation alone.
Obama is following the same basic policy of prioritizing “border security” that Bush did. Bush also at one time promised to support “comprehensive” reform – but always ended up arguing for repression first. This is a particularly complicated ruse. First immigrants are told to trust the idea of “comprehensive” reform – which in reality is a package of proposals that includes some good things but also includes more repressive anti-immigrant measures. For this reason, the LRP has opposed the “comprehensive” reform proposals that have come out. Secondly, the promised “comprehensive” reform never gets enacted anyway, and instead just repressive measures get enacted. (See our articles in “Democrats and Republicans, Enemies of Immigrant Workers” in Proletarian Revolution No. 78 and “Immigrant Workers Face Crackdown” in PR No. 80 for a detailed critique of the bills.)
For several years Democratic Party politicians and their friends have promoted the idea of a “pathway to citizenship” as the centerpiece of their vision of “Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR).” In fact, some Republicans support these proposals too. All the proposals called for a very restricted possibility of citizenship. Only a small percentage of undocumented immigrants who have been in the U.S. for a certain number of years and who can pay large penalty fees would get that prize.
In fact, the term “comprehensive” never meant that the reforms would provide amnesty and equal rights for all immigrants – and citizenship for all who desired it. Rather, the big reforms were supposed to provide U.S. imperialism with a “comprehensive” or total plan to deal with its needs – to both control and exploit the flow of immigrant labor. The politicians’ aim is to keep the vast majority undocumented, vulnerable to ICE raids and deportation – and thus less likely to protest the abuse of employers. But various misleaders have continually promoted the idea that “comprehensive” reform, if attained, would be something wonderful for immigrants – which has always been far from the truth.
Now these supposed friends of immigrants are pushing the illusion that Obama can be pressured into getting such comprehensive reform enacted. But there are significant differences within the capitalist ruling class over immigration policy; it is widely admitted that comprehensive reform won’t get through anytime soon. Along these lines, the rhetoric being pushed by Obama, Napolitano and their political friends today is one which emphasizes respect for the “rule of law.” The big argument is that immigrants have to first come clean with the forces of law and order as a pre-condition to gaining some supposed future undefined legalization. The idea is to win political support from the right by showing how much they support “law and order” first.
Groups which supported Obama enthusiastically in the election are now also supporting this “rule of law” approach to immigration reform. For one, Ali Noorani, the director of the National Immigration Forum, wrote that “reforming our immigration system includes encouraging undocumented immigrants to come out of the shadows and get into the system and right with the law.” (New America Media, January 27, 2009.)
As to how this “rule of law” strategy came into play for the Obama Administration, that too is a revealing matter. It was the firm of top Democratic strategist Stan Greenberg that had recommended in no uncertain terms that Democrats and their friends mobilize around this law-and-order message:
We must be tough and smart to get our immigration system under control. It is unacceptable to have 12 million people in our country living outside the legal system. We must secure the border but we must also require illegal immigrants to register and become legal, pay their taxes, learn English, and pass criminal background checks.
Those who have a criminal record or refuse to register should be sent home. (americas.irc-online.org/am/5884)
So undocumented immigrants should voluntarily come forward and register with government authorities, without any guarantees, and in fact without any clear idea of what kind of registration and “legalization” they have in mind. And if undocumented immigrants don’t do that, the Democrats and other supposed immigrant rights advocates say they should be deported! This is a criminal betrayal.
In April the two major union federations, the AFL-CIO and Change To Win, put forward a joint immigration policy proposal. The unions proposal states: “The adjustment process must be rational, reasonable and accessible, and it must be designed to ensure it will not encourage future illegal immigration” (AFLCIO Press Release, April 14, 2009). Thus they support the maintenance and enforcement of restrictions against immigration.
The main concern of the labor bureaucrats leading the union federations is to restrict the number of immigrants allowed to work in the U.S. permanently, not to protect their rights and working conditions as they claim. This is demonstrated by the fact that the unions now have united to make a major concession to guest-worker programs by proposing an “independent commission” to determine the number of both permanent and temporary immigrant workers to be allowed to enter the U.S.: “The system for allocating employment visas – both temporary and permanent – should be depoliticized and placed in the hands of an independent commission that can assess labor market needs on an ongoing basis and – based on a methodology approved by Congress – determine the number of foreign workers to be admitted for employment purposes, based on labor market needs.” Thus the unions’ proposal would allow for increases in the number of temporary “guest workers” as long as the independent commission determines the capitalists’ labor market needs require it.
It is a political crime for anyone in the workers’ movement or the immigrant rights’ movement to support any type of temporary or guest-worker program. These programs only allow immigrants to work in the U.S. for a restricted length of time, and they are tied to a particular employer. Workers can get sent back if they don’t get along with their employer, and they have no permanent union rights.
The League for the Revolutionary Party stands for Complete, Unconditional Amnesty for Immigrant Workers Now! Of course we also support other partial reforms that can truly benefit immigrant workers. Yet unfortunately, as we have already proven, the thrust of what the capitalist politicians are proposing now are more repressive measures. It is also true that anything less than full amnesty will always leave immigrants open to attacks and persecution.
Of course, we know that without building a powerful mass movement of our class, it will be impossible to win big gains for immigrant workers and all workers. We put forward our demand for amnesty, as well as other demands, to show the kinds of strong measures that a serious movement can fight for. We have to start pushing this perspective in the existing labor and immigrant rights organizations today. And we also have to fight for a perspective of mass action, such as general strikes, as the way that the working class can best exercise its power to halt capitalist profit-making and fight for political measures our class really needs. A general strike can unite the working class across national, ethnic and racial lines, and it will unite union and non-union workers, as well as the employed and the unemployed. Mass actions such as general strikes go a long way to developing workers’ consciousness of their class interests and power, making it more possible for our class to produce its own political leadership.
Most of all, we hope to convince our fellow workers to join with us in building the only party that can really fight for workers’ interests independently of capitalist dictates. That is an internationalist revolutionary party with the goal of overthrowing capitalism here and internationally. Immigrant workers suffer special oppression but also face a problem shared by workers in general. The working class has tremendous potential power when mobilized in mass struggle, but an array of entrenched misleaders of various stripes stands in the way. That is why politically conscious workers have to band together to build our own revolutionary party – so that the misleaders who stand in the way of workers’ struggles can be pushed aside, and imperialism and capitalism can be overturned once and for all.
The bloodiest world terrorist and mass murderer is still the U.S. government. With the expansion of the occupation of Afghanistan, missile attacks on Pakistan and the continued occupation of Iraq, Obama is already proving to represent a continuation of past policies. And the Obama administration will bring no solution to the deeply institutionalized racism of U.S. imperialism, perpetuated here and around the world. Obama carries out policies that represent the fundamental drives of the imperialist system he represents.
On the other hand, every step we take towards building the necessary movement and revolutionary party to challenge this system is an aid to ourselves and to our fellow workers and oppressed around the world. Karl Marx’s famous prediction of the inevitable economic decay of capitalism is proving true before our eyes. In 1847 he wrote the Communist Manifesto, which he ended by proclaiming, “Let the ruling classes tremble at a communist revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win.” Marx wrote during the Industrial Revolution, when the lives of factory workers in England were already so miserable that he felt they had nothing to lose by rebelling against their masters. Of course rebellions are risky, but Marx saw that when workers joined together in collective action against the ruling class, and became conscious of their political mission, they could win – and by taking state power they could change the world.
In recent times many politicians have argued that revolutionary Marxism has been permanently discredited by the dictatorial reality of the Stalinist regimes that ruled in its name. But the Stalinist regimes of Russia and Eastern Europe were really state-run capitalist societies, they only pretended to stand for communism and Marxism. The collapse of these Stalinist states by the early ’90’s was the result of the same capitalist economic crisis that has now broken out in the West.
If capitalism continues for too long, the worst is yet to come. Not only is another great depression inevitable, but it will lead to an escalation of conflicts between the competing imperialist powers over markets and natural resources, paving the way toward another world war. We believe that for immigrant workers, and for workers and youth in general, Marx’s words will become more true now than ever. There is no time to waste. If you agree with our views, if you want to fight the system, join with us to build the party that immigrants and all workers need.