On May Day, the day of international workers’ solidarity, it is vital for all workers to stand on the side of the world’s most oppressed. As the crisis of late capitalism deepens, imperialism’s attempts to save its dying system lead to more exploitation, instability, war and violence. One result of this is that one in seven people globally are now either an internal or international migrant, forced to flee oppressed nations that have been torn apart by wars, civil strife and desperate poverty. Such immigrants and refugees are among the most vulnerable and super exploited workers in the world.
The recent mass drownings in the Mediterranean Sea of hundreds of African and Arab people fleeing the violence and poverty ravaging their homelands is one of the latest atrocities to receive international attention. Closer to home, the many hundreds of individual deaths of Mexicans, Central Americans and other immigrants along the U.S.-Mexico border each year is a chronic nightmare. The numbers that die trying to make it to the U.S. are not reliably reported, if at all.
All over, the capitalists claim they oppose mass immigration; but we see them happy to employ immigrants without papers all the time, taking advantage of their vulnerability to super-exploit them, demanding that they accept the lowest wages and most dangerous working conditions. Then the same ruling classes turn around and show the most callous inhumanity when scores die along the dangerous journey to new lands they are forced to endure as “illegals.”
The European ruling classes, in the face of the horrendous human disasters that imperialism has created in Africa and the Middle East, are now scrambling – not to find homes and jobs for the refugees – but to find ways to prevent so many of them from escaping the miseries in their own countries in the future. The U.S. and European ruling classes do nothing to prevent such tragedies. Their overriding concern is not to aid immigrants and refugees but to use and abuse immigrant labor and divide and conquer the working class internationally. A powerful response to this horrific situation can best be found with the united actions of working-class and oppressed peoples – immigrant and native-born, documented and undocumented – to fight for and to defend the rights of all immigrant workers, as a key part of building a defense for all oppressed and working people.
The League for the Revolutionary Party (LRP) believes that an overall solution will not be possible without the overthrow of the capitalist system, and the building of a new world that is based on meeting human needs; only the working class, in alliance with all oppressed people, has the potential power to overcome the power of the capitalists and establish revolutionary societies on the road to socialism.
The explosion of global migration has made it easier than ever for capitalists to take advantage of an expanding pool of workers with insecure status. This setup enhances the ability of the capitalist ruling class internationally to divide and conquer the working class – which in the end drives down wages for all.
Reactionary racism and national chauvinist ideology is perpetrated by the ruling classes of the world in order to justify abusive treatment of immigrants, people of color, and oppressed ethnic groups. But the sick and totally false proposition that any given race or ethnicity is better than others also infects working class mentality, especially (but not only) in imperialist countries. Too often the rulers who are generally responsible for the most terrible crimes and terroristic acts against humanity can go about their business without significant uproar or protest coming from the native population.
We live today in a cruel world where capitalism fosters bitter and unnecessary competition between human beings over jobs, resources, and goods. The rivalry set in motion by capitalism, even for people to attain basic needs, is now the material basis for racism, chauvinism, sexism and other reactionary poisons in our societies. Over time, especially with the experience of big struggles for common goals, more workers and youth will be able to see through all the cynical political methods and maneuvers of the ruling class. Workers can learn to reject the idea of scapegoating immigrants and other oppressed peoples for the problems that are really coming from the system itself. And genuine socialist societies will be able to provide abundantly for all and eradicate much of the basis for all these ills.
The political landscape for Arab and African immigrants that live in Europe is very bleak (which underscores the desperation that must be involved in motivating more Arab and African immigrants to continue to take huge risks to get there.) Poisonous pro-Western chauvinism and various anti-immigrant campaigns and actions against Muslim and Arab people are on the rise across the European Union.
Anti-Muslim and anti-Arab attacks notably spiked as a consequence of the US-led “war on terror”‘ since 9/11. But hate crime activity against Muslims and Arabs has being fueled even further in Europe – where anti-immigrant hatred more centrally targets Muslims, Arabs and Africans as the main “minority” population – and where the growth of right-wing nationalist parties is very ominous.
A horrific turning point occurred in France after 12 employees, mainly journalists, were killed in January 2015 at the office of the magazine Charlie Hebdo where they worked in January 2015 – by two men affiliated with the Al-Qaeda branch in Yemen (which took credit for the attack.) The act was considered to be retribution for racist anti-Muslim cartoons in the magazine; indeed Charlie Hebdo had an established reputation for putting out cartoons that were outrageously insulting to the Muslim community, an oppressed community already under siege in France and elsewhere.
The murder of journalists was an act of terror and totally indefensible. But these cartoonists were hardly heroic figures. In fact the LRP believes that the racist cartoons should have been the subject of mass protest activity. A key task is raising working class consciousness in France and elsewhere about the need to oppose racism in any form or guise, and the need to defend Muslim people is paramount in this type of situation.
More Muslim people live in France than any other country in Europe and their maltreatment has been notorious for a long time. Predictably, the French government, in league with every imperialist ruler in the world took the opportunity of the Charlie Hebdo killings to hype up the defense of French “democracy” and “freedom of speech” against Muslim and Arab people in general, whether French citizens or not. The result was a tremendous increase in crimes against Muslims and Arabs, in the sweeping way that oppressed minorities are always treated in these circumstances.
A month after the Charlie Hebdo event in France, the murder of three Muslim students in Chapel Hill, North Carolina occurred in February. The U.S. media played down the nature of this crime perpetrated by a white American, to say the least. Had a Muslim American killed a white American, the U.S. media would have been raging against the murder! The fight against racism and chauvinism in the U.S. must take on each of these hate crimes with full vigor.
It is also true that the majority of immigrants in the U.S. are from Latin American backgrounds. History has already shown that they will play a central role in any struggle on U.S. soil – as well as in their countries of origin. Latin American immigrants do not generally suffer from the “terrorist” stereotype, but are nonetheless horribly victimized and stereotyped in so many ways.
Despite a history of militant upheavals, within recent years misleaders have pushed the immigrant rights movement onto a narrow electoral path. Especially with the rise of Obama into the presidency, the main theme became the idea of Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR). Over time this involved various legislative proposals that were heavy on repressive border enforcement, while offering an onerous path to citizenship for only some people. Yet every “comprehensive” proposal was effectively held up by the right wing of Congress, which openly favored only more repression.
President Obama in power has increased formal deportations and enforcement to record levels, well-earning the title of ‘Deporter-in-Chief’. Even with Democratic control of both Houses of Congress, Obama was unable to pass even a very bad “Comprehensive Immigration Reform” bill. Most recently he tried to carry out an executive order which would have involved some of the measures of the Comprehensive Reform; but even this step is currently being held up by the courts.
Immigrants, especially the undocumented, have paid a price in blood and suffering for this electoralist strategy of depending on Democrats to push through legislation. This emphasis on voting for Democrats has been pushed by unions, establishment immigrant rights organizations, and others. Border deaths have spiked, as have hate crimes against immigrants, usually Latinos. Obama’s specific policies have also led to major increases in the number of people detained by Immigration and Custom Enforcement officers (ICE), and more recently, also a spike in the number of immigrants sentenced to prison, mostly for the crime of repeat entry attempts into the U.S. As bourgeois commentators have pointed out, these activities should more appropriated by considered a civil offense, according to the pre-existing norms of the already repressive immigration law in this country.
Not surprisingly, the conditions for the undocumented at ICE detention facilities, as well as at Criminal Alien Requirement (CAR) prisons, which are exclusively reserved for immigrants, are brutal. Ten percent of the spaces at CAR prisons, are officially allotted to be isolation units, which is double the official amount in the standard U.S. prisons, for example. In fact immigrants have organized hunger strikes with coordinated outside protests in a number of places, and there was a uprising at one of the worst CAR prisons in Texas.
Largely because of the history of Latin American immigrant struggle and their key role in the working class, the current situation for immigrants in the United States holds more promise than in Europe now (despite the diversions and setbacks the movement has experienced in recent years, as described above). A large part of the American working class has sympathy for low wage workers, including for immigrants. Some of this sympathy is a lasting aftereffect of the great uprising of 2006-7, when across the U.S., millions of immigrants, mainly from Mexico and other Latin American countries, organized, marched, and effectively shut down some cities and businesses briefly. It was a tremendous event which shook up the country and effectively stopped a particularly ominous right-wing anti-immigrant bill that was posed at the time. The unexpected mass outpouring of immigrants raised consciousness about immigrant rights as a just cause. At the same time it demonstrated that immigrant workers when engaged in concerted action have a certain ability to exercise class power. Misleaders subsequently wasted the momentum and betrayed the aspirations of the mass movement by pushing electoralism, instead of spreading a strategy of mass action to other sectors of the working class. Nevertheless the historic impact of millions of immigrant workers bravely taking action has not been erased.
There is another strong reason for hope, in large part because of the historic Black Lives Matter movement that rose up in the summer of 2014, in response to the police murders of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Ohio and then Eric Garner on Staten Island, New York. Ferguson in itself represented the most significant militant uprising this country has seen in years and has also had a profound impact on consciousness in this country. For months, protestors in Ferguson, braved brutal police repression to keep the fire of the movement burning. This crucible has inspired a new generation of fighters, many of whom have remained suspicious of the Democratic Party and wary of so-called self-appointed “community leaders” who shill for them, as well as hostile to Republicans. This movement has currently been stalled – but it is far from decisively defeated. It already inspired millions, both in the US and around the world, about the possibility of a bold fight back and about joining in solidarity with those oppressed by police violence and racism and repression.
In sum, a strategic aim in the US has to be the maximum unity of poor and oppressed people and the whole working class. To succeed, any movement must break with the Democratic Party or it will be limited to what the capitalist establishment is prepared to accept. Today, for example, the promising low-wage workers’ struggle for a living wage has raised the slogan of a “Fight for 15,” based on the fact that all working people need at least $15 an hour as a starting minimum wage to provide basics for themselves and their families. Most working class-people, and good parts of the middle class, sympathize with this cause; but workers and youth have not been really mobilized together in a sustained struggle with a powerful fighting strategy to win it. Mass rallies and marches, and even serious strikes, are possible tactics that haven’t even really been tried. Rather the “Fight for 15” movement has been tightly controlled by the union bureaucracy with a history of selling out many workers’ struggles in the past and with close ties to the Democratic Party. Under the slogan of “Fight for 15,” the union leaders and Democratic politicians that claim to favor it have been negotiating on their own with various local governments and businesses to pass small wage increases at best, increases that are not even close to the popular goal of a 15 dollar minimum wage.
Instead of tapping into the militancy, solidarity and power that could develop and surge forward if different movements were less constrained and allowed to unite, the Democratic Party game involves trying to have different sectors of the working class and poor people competing for ever smaller slices of a shrinking pie – as opposed to uniting together to fight exploiters and oppressors.
The road of struggle ahead will require making big pushes on the unions and other important organizations that claim to stand for workers rights and against racism. The unions alone are capable of mobilizing a lot of people and resources, but only when they feel forced to do so. But to break out of the Democratic Party trap and move forward even more significantly, the most far sighted workers and youth will be looking for ways to form parties and organizations independent of the Democratic Party.
Today authentic revolutionary socialists are very few in number. But building even the beginnings of a real revolutionary party in this country is a crucial activity that cannot wait. Indeed even a small group of revolutionary workers and youth can play an important role in the class battles right up ahead. Revolutionaries should also continually act in a way to show our own class that it is a powerful class which is capable of shaping its own destiny, in alliance with all the oppressed. Socialist revolution is the only lasting solution, and revolutionaries will fight to win each partial struggle today but also to generalize consciousness towards that goal. The most important organization for the working class will prove over time to be its own revolutionary party, the necessary instrument to make revolution possible.
1. On the CIR proposals, see Revolutionary Answer to the Anti-Immigrant Attacks; Democrats and Republicans, Enemies of Immigrant Workers; Laws, Raids and Deportations: Immigrant Workers Face Crackdown; May Day 2008 Statement by the League for the Revolutionary Party: Stop the War on Immigrants!; Stop the Capitalist War on Immigrants! Unconditional Amnesty for All!; Stop the Deportations! No to the Repressive “Reform” Bill! Amnesty and Equal Rights for All Immigrants!.
2. See Prisoners transferred, county government S&P rating downgraded in the wake of uprising at Willacy County; Warehoused and Forgotten: Immigrants Trapped in our Shadow Private Prison System; and Hunger strike by immigrant mothers at Texas facility prompts probe.