The following statement by the League for the Revolutionary Party appears in Proletarian Revolution No. 84 (Spring 2011) under the headline May Day 2011: The Battle for Immigrant Rights
May Day, the international working class holiday, began in the United States over 120 years ago with the fight for an eight-hour work day. The tradition was revived here in 2006 by the millions-strong immigrant rights movement that culminated in huge protests on May 1 of that year. Since then, however, the struggles of immigrants and other workers and oppressed people have been set back. The need for a united, massive and independent working-class resistance has never been greater than it is today.
The Republican Party is out in front in encouraging racism and proposing the most outrageous attacks on immigrants’ rights. This, however, must not blind us to the Obama administration’s policies that directly and indirectly victimize immigrants and the working class in general. Obama has shifted the Federal immigration strategy away from Bush’s confrontational factory raids, but he has stepped up attacks that get far less public attention and have led to record levels of deportations of undocumented workers. (See Stop the Capitalist War on Immigrants in Proletarian Revolution No. 83 for background on the Obama strategy.) And in the heat of the economic crisis, Obama has also escalated the general policy of cutbacks and layoffs, which hit Black and Latino workers and youth the hardest. Because the Democratic Party is no alternative to the Republicans, revolutionaries champion an alternative strategy, resting on the power of the working class to fight for its own interests.
Keeping Black and Latino people down is a key aspect of the capitalist drive to lower the wages and conditions of all workers, now focused on attacks against public workers by both Democrats and Republicans. Blacks hold disproportionately many public sector jobs, since they have faced less discrimination in hiring there than in the private sector. The attacks on public sector workers, driven by the government’s need to pay for its multi-trillion dollar bailout of Wall Street and its imperialist wars, are shifting yet more wealth from the working class to the capitalists and greatly worsening the economic conditions of people of color.
There are serious obstacles to be overcome in forging interracial and international working-class unity. The capitalist system fosters racism, national chauvinism and other poisons in order to divert the working class from understanding who its real enemies are, and to prevent workers from joining together to more effectively fight back. There have been many examples of workers overcoming these divisions and uniting in struggle. But there have been far too many instances of Blacks, Latinos and other national, ethnic and religious minorities being forced to defend themselves without much help from better-off white workers – and in isolation from each other as well. Nevertheless, a united defense across racial and national barriers is possible – as long as the workers’ movement comes to understand the need to rally around the vital causes of the most oppressed.
The militant immigrant rights movement of 2006 was diverted into electoral campaigns and misplaced faith in the Democratic Party. This demobilization of mass protest action allowed the anti-immigrant forces to get stronger and score a number of victories in the past year.
For example, the Democrats, along with leaders of many immigrant rights organizations and union heads, favored “comprehensive immigration reform” proposals. These fake reform bills contained a lot of dangerous repressive measures, such as enhanced border security enforcement, which would inevitably increase the number of migrants killed or injured. Meanwhile, the “pathway to citizenship” was rather limited. The popular demands for blanket amnesty and equal rights for all immigrants were sold down the river. This terribly compromised and passive strategy allowed the active and uncompromising right-wing anti-immigrant movement to ensure that it got its way. Even a really bad “comprehensive” proposal had no chance of getting passed over the right wing’s strident opposition.
Likewise, the liberal Democrats favored the “Dream Act,” an extremely dangerous measure that makes military service or college enrollment a step toward citizenship. Many poor immigrant youth would have to opt for military service, and some politicians hoped to raise the sagging enrollment rates in the imperialist U.S. army in this way. But this too was defeated, again because the right wing wants to make no concessions to immigrants, not even to encourage immigrant youth to kill and be killed abroad. (See No to the Pentagon’s “Dream Act” in Proletarian Revolution No. 83.)
Two years ago, immigrants and many other workers and poor people hoped that the new Obama administration would bring about a welcome change from the years of mistreatment under Bush and bring great improvements in their lives. But once again, the Democratic Party betrayed its working-class (and even middle-class) supporters. Both parties are dedicated to the service of the capitalist system, even though the Democrats often pretend to be the friends of the working class.
Any capitalist government is dedicated to serving the needs of profits at home and abroad. It was no accident that both Bush and Obama supported bailing out the banks and big capitalists that had run the economy into the ground. Now the Democrats and Republicans continue to make the working class pay the price – with rising unemployment, slashed wages and ever-growing threats to health care, Social Security and other vital services.
Of course, the worldwide capitalist economic crisis is taking away jobs and slamming down living standards everywhere. As unemployment rises in the imperialist nations, the situation in the oppressed countries is all the more devastating. Imperialism makes wars and military interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Ivory Coast, Haiti etc. to terrorize masses into submission.
The working class can beat back capitalist attacks, and revolutionary socialists fight in every workers’ struggle to build as strong a movement as possible. We also argue that the only lasting solution is to get rid of capitalism altogether. Socialist revolution will put the working class in power and replace the current system based on private profit with a society of freedom and abundance. We work to convince the most militant, politically far-sighted and revolutionary-minded workers and youth to join us in building the revolutionary party needed to lead the working class in making the socialist revolution.
The international capitalist system operates by subjecting hundreds of millions of people in oppressed countries to super-exploitation. Thus millions of families cannot survive in their native countries and are forced to emigrate to the imperialist countries to find work. The influx of people from Mexico into the U.S. is one of the biggest examples in the world, and in the past decade the influx of people from Central America has also been very significant.
Once they arrive, capitalists are able to take advantage of immigrant workers’ desperate circumstances and super-exploit them. Immigrants are forced to do the hardest jobs for the lowest wages, and they are denied the rights that workers in this country have fought for and won. Because they lack these protections it is much riskier for them to fight for better wages and working conditions.
Nevertheless, the struggles of immigrant workers have been remarkable. The most massive outpouring of struggle in decades was carried out in 2006 to protest against vicious anti-immigrant legislation in Congress and to demand equal rights and amnesty for all immigrants. The marches drew over a million in Los Angeles, close to half a million in Chicago and Dallas, plus hundreds of thousands in several other cities. In some cities the mass participation served to shut down businesses for the day. While there was some talk in the immigrant movement of building for a general strike, these proposals did not get the backing of the mass workers’ organizations, the trade unions. Nor were new independent organizations created that could take the struggle forward. Thus the potential for immigrant workers’ movement to exert its power and to spark a broader, united working-class struggle was allowed to pass.
In the absence of a working-class fightback, the economic crisis has hit immigrant workers especially hard. The anti-immigrant chauvinists have exploited the economic crisis, treating immigrants as scapegoats and blaming them instead of the system for the increasing unemployment among native-born workers.
One reason for the increased deportations under Obama is his government’s “Secure Communities” policy, an intensive high-tech deportation program under which everyone stopped or arrested by police in participating counties has their fingerprints automatically sent to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement unit (ICE) to check for immigration violations. The policy is wide open to all kinds of abuses. The information is sent to ICE at the time of arrest, not at the time of conviction, so ICE can take action to deport people before they ever have a chance to defend themselves against the charges made against them. Racist police officers have a great incentive to find any pretext to arrest people they suspect of being undocumented. Even victims of domestic violence who call the police have been deported under this program.
Obama opposed Arizona’s notorious SB 1070 bill, which encouraged racial harassment by allowing officials to demand proof of legal status from anyone “suspected” of being undocumented. And now the courts have struck down its worst provisions, on the grounds that they give too much power to local police to carry out enforcement duties that belong to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). For immigrants, of course, the key problem is not whether it is local or Federal officials who harass and deport them!
Obama and Janet Napolitano, the head of DHS, are playing a double game: they deport more immigrants than Bush did but try to come off as more humane and reasonable. Napolitano claims that the main purpose of “Secure Communities” is to focus on deporting “violent criminals,” but nationwide 28% of the program’s deportees were not convicted of any crime, and another 32% were convicted only of a minor traffic violation or a misdemeanor. Thus this program is carrying out the kind of harassment and victimization that was intended under SB 1070. It has already expanded to 686 jurisdictions in 33 states, and the DHS aims to extend it nationwide by 2013. Opposing “Secure Communities” must be a key part of the struggle to stop all deportations.
Even as the courts suspended Arizona’s SB 1070, Georgia passed its own anti-immigrant law modeled after Arizona’s. This and the copycat bills proposed in a dozen other states show that occasional legal defeats will not stop the racist attacks; only mass struggle can do that.
This spring, a package of immigration bills was passed in Utah in March, referred to as the “Utah plan.” Many mainstream commentators praised this plan as a big improvement over Arizona’s SB 1070. But this legislation still gives the police the power to inquire about people’s immigration status. It would also give Utah the right to offer two-year “guest worker” status to undocumented workers who are already in the state. This is a dangerous trap: it encourages undocumented immigrants to come forward and enroll in the program. But after the two years expire, their official status as temporary workers would make them easier to deport.
This approach is designed to address the needs of employers looking for cheap temporary labor. Guest workers are denied most of the rights citizens have on the job, and even the rights officially provided on paper can be grossly violated. Mexican workers went through the experience of the notorious “bracero” guest-worker program from the 1940’s to 1960’s, in which immigrants were brutally exploited and then cheated out of compensation. Supporters of immigrant rights should oppose the Utah bills and all guest-worker programs, as well as the Arizona-type bills in Georgia and elsewhere.
If the immigrant rights movement is to revive and become an effective fighting force, it must seize opportunities to unite with broader numbers of workers, especially Black workers who have been the prime victims of racism through this country’s history and who have a powerful and militant tradition. Black workers who can already see through the divide-and-conquer scheme of the ruling class are in a good position to fight for united action with other victimized workers.
At the moment the two sectors have been kept divided. While the hostility to Blacks and Latinos by some white workers and middle-class people is obvious, the system encourages hostilities between Black and Latino people as well. One agency for this is the Democratic Party, which often poses as the champions of oppressed people in contrast to the blatantly racist Republican right. But the Democrats have effectively derailed many struggles for equality and justice and set up different groups of oppressed people to fight over a shrinking pie. Also, because of the economic crisis and the loss of millions of jobs, there is increasing competition for jobs among workers, and for basic services and resources among poor communities. That can take the form of desperate competition between Black and Latino people, especially among youth whose unemployment rates are skyrocketing. There is even resentment against new immigrants amongst those who have a longer residence in the U.S.
The National Urban League recently released its annual State of Black America report for 2011, and for the second year in a row it also analyzed data for “Hispanic America.” The Executive Summary of the report indicates that Black and Hispanic people are severely disadvantaged in general compared to white people, both economically and through other forms of social discrimination (www.nul.org/). The report states that “important shifts ... have taken place over the course of the recession. For example, while the indices of labor force participation and income reveal stagnation, employment-population ratios and home ownership rates reflect lost ground. The only variables showing increased equality – unemployment and uninsured – do so at the cost of worsened conditions for all.”
In other words, there is a decreasing gap between the proportion of Black and Hispanic people who are unemployed and uninsured and the proportion of white people without jobs and insurance, but only because the conditions for white people are getting worse, not because Blacks and Latinos are making gains. Thus the data demonstrates both the continued plight of people of color – and the growing material basis for a common fight for white workers who are also under the gun.
The immigrant rights movement was set back because of its pro-Democratic Party leadership and strategy. But there is potential for the movement to revive, if it can develop a different battle plan, one that is based on the power of the working class to unite in mass struggle rather than hoping for help from false friends in the Democratic Party.
The potential for mass working-class struggle in this country today, as well as the need to overcome the influence of pro-Democratic party leaders, was most recently seen in the outbreak of protest against attacks on public-sector unions in Madison, Wisconsin. The mass protests led to calls for a general strike against the attacks. But just as the immigrant protests of 2006 were derailed by the mainstream leaders using the slogan, “Hoy marchamos, mañana votamos” (“Today we march, tomorrow we vote”), the Wisconsin protest was diverted into Democratic electoral campaigns, this time with the cry, “trade your rally signs for [voter registration] clipboards.”
Nevertheless, Madison pointed to what the future has in store. The level of class struggle in this country could grow very rapidly and suddenly, and immigrant workers as well as Black workers have to play a leading role. Blacks, Latinos and anti-racist white workers can play a leading role in changing the consciousness of their fellow workers as struggles grow. As more workers see that the capitalist class is attacking them, they will be increasingly open to see that the same capitalists are using anti-immigrant chauvinism and racism to divide and conquer all workers.
The call for a general strike was widely popular among Wisconsin workers. As we show in our statement on Wisconsin, the union leaders failed to rally other layers of the working class by taking up broader issues, such as the cuts in services that affect all workers and poor people. Revolutionary socialists argue for demands such as End All Restrictions on Immigration, Complete Amnesty Now! and Stop All Racist and Chauvinist Attacks! As well, we raise demands like Jobs For All and A Program of Public Works to solve the unemployment crisis and provide the quality services and infrastructure the whole society needs. But such measures, and many others equally critical, cannot be fully and permanently achieved so long as capitalism and imperialism continue to exist.
Through the experience of powerful struggles, workers will see that real victories are possible and also come to see the necessity to get rid of the capitalist system entirely. The most politically conscious workers and youth must join together to build a new, revolutionary party leadership of the working class that can show the way forward in winning workers’ immediate demands while raising consciousness of the need for socialist revolution. In this vanguard party, Black, Latino and immigrant workers and youth will play a very large role, given greater experience and awareness of the ways in which racism and exploitation combine to prop up the system.
The struggle for socialist revolution in the U.S. can only succeed as part of the international working-class movement. Capitalism and imperialism carry out their exploitation and oppression on an international scale, and the fight to overthrow their rule must be international as well. Thus the revolutionary working-class parties in each country must unite in an international organization. We advocate the re-creation of Trotsky’s Fourth International, the world party of socialist revolution. On this May Day, an international workers’ holiday in a year of growing international working-class militancy, we appeal to all who share our perspective to join us in the fight for a socialist future.
The Anti-Muslim Campaign
Another important phenomenon on the American political landscape is racial profiling against Muslims in the years after the 9/11/2001 attacks on the World Trade Center. Since that time Muslim immigrants have been stereotyped as “terrorists” and have been targeted for detention and deportation. Last year the most prominent attack was the campaign against the mosque in lower Manhattan, falsely labeled the “Ground Zero Mosque.” (See Defend the “Ground Zero Mosque”! Stop Attacks on Muslims and Immigrants! in PR 83 for details.)
Most recently the Senate hearings led by Representative Peter King, head of the Homeland Security Committee, stoked the idea that the entire American Muslim population should be suspected of terrorist sympathies. Just as Latino and Black people have been viciously stereotyped and scapegoated for the ills created by capitalist society, Muslims are cast as an enemy that is threatening a safe and good life for American families. Anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim campaigns are obviously interrelated and must be fought together.