Two LRPers participated in the May 2011 Turning the Tide National Summit in Arlington, Virginia. Turning the Tide is organized most prominently by the National Day Laborers Organization (NDLON), but a lot of other groups are also involved. LRPers previously attended a conference convened by many of the same activists in Phoenix, Arizona after the May 29, 2010 protest that drew tens of thousands of people against the racist SB 1070 bill. (See Stop the Capitalist War on Immigrants! Unconditional Amnesty for All!). We noticed significant differences between the two events which we will discuss below.
This time, about 400 people attended the three-day conference at George Mason University. Students, journalists, and representatives from many different activist organizations across the country were there (including the National Domestic Workers’ Alliance, Grassroots Global Justice, National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, and the New Orleans Workers Center for Racial Justice).
Local, state, and federal authorities have intensified their offensive against undocumented immigrants in a number of different ways in the past few years. Unfortunately, the movement in most of this country has been in retreat – ever since the protests and near-general strikes of millions of immigrant workers and their allies in 2006 were diverted into the graveyard of Democratic Party electoral politics. (See Democrats and Republicans, Enemies of Immigrant Workers).
LRP supporters are active mainly around New York City and Chicago. We went to this conference to learn about struggles in other parts of the U.S., as well as for a serious discussion of political strategy and perspectives. We met a lot of people who were sincerely looking to advance the movement, but the politics of the leading organizers of this conference were very different from what we saw and heard just a year ago. Gone was the call for amnesty. And the focus on building mass militant demonstrations had also disappeared. Instead the organizers aggressively pushed a strategy of cooperation with capitalist politicians and government officials.
The LRPers were the only open socialists at the conference. We argued for policies to restore the strength of the immigrant rights movement and gain the support of other sectors of the working class for maximum unity. Our proposals included a return to the call for full amnesty, behind which millions of people rallied in 2006.
We also advocate a perspective of mass demonstrations and strikes against the bipartisan anti-worker attacks across the country. And we believe that the immigrant movement should advance demands such as “jobs for all” in order to counter the fight for a shrinking number of jobs – a situation which is being used effectively by the capitalists to divide and conquer the working class at the present time. We think it necessary to not only build a militant defense for immigrants but to tie the attacks on immigrants to the capitalists’ all-around war on the working class. And we actively argue for the need for socialist revolution, the overturn of capitalism, as the only real solution to the misery and suffering imposed on the workers and oppressed today.
The organizers of this Summit, including the Director of NDLON, Pablo Alvarado, recognize that the strategy of fighting for “Comprehensive Immigration Reform” has been a failure. Obama has increased deportations and the militarization of the southern border, and has intensely stepped up the usage of a notorious “Secure Communities” program that was initiated by Bush. It has local police working with the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents; and a year after Arizona’s SB 1070, similar legislation has already become law either fully or partially in states including Alabama, Georgia, Utah, Indiana and Oklahoma (See May Day 2011: Immigrant Workers and the U.S. Class Struggle for more on “Secure Communities” and the general offensive.)
Instead of recognizing that this war against immigrants is coming from both wings of the ruling class, the organizers blamed only the “right-wing’s politics of attrition.” As Alvarado put it in his main speech at the event, the answer is to fight for the “politics of inclusion,” which means to identify politicians and officials who are sympathetic to immigrants, and to focus on building local initiatives that would, supposedly create a base that the authorities will listen to.
Following from this strategy, many of the sessions at the conference were focused only on how to mount a legal defense against deportations, identify “potential allies” in the government, and organize students to campaign for the Dream Act. As well there was the question of driving wedges between ICE and local police forces in order to stop the cooperation between the two levels. Some of the information was helpful and important: yet fighting deportations through such limited tactics alone is not going to provide a good outcome for the overwhelming majority of deportees. In 2010 only 546 deportation cases out of 400,000 were successfully deferred through legal efforts. In the absence of a mass movement there is little hope for most undocumented immigrants who find themselves in ICE custody.
The much-touted Dream Act would only help young people who graduated from high school in the U.S. For these people, the two options that would lead to citizenship are either getting a college degree or joining the U.S. military. But the cuts to public higher education mean more than ever that the only thing the Dream Act offers to most is the path to citizenship through military service - creating a virtual draft of desperate undocumented youth to fight in imperialism’s foreign wars. Whereas NDLON organizers had spoken out against the Dream Act in the past, we were not alone in being stunned that no criticisms were put forward this time. (See No to the Pentagon’s “Dream Act” for more on the Dream Act.)
Likewise there was the celebration of politicians and public officials who have resisted implementing some attacks, like “Secure Communities.” At the end of the first day, about 200 attendees participated in a spirited march to the Arlington County Jail, which even drew in some people from off the street. The LRPers hastily made signs that called for “Full Amnesty Now!” and “End All Restrictions on Immigration.” But outside the jail, the police captain, who has carried out the position of his department in refusing to participate in the “Secure Communities” program, received wide-spread ovations. Other police departments, county governments, governors and congressmen were similarly applauded throughout the conference for supposedly taking immigrant-friendly stances.
As we pointed out in a workshop on the matter, the police enforce openly racist and anti-worker policies every day. If the immigrants’ rights movement cheers particular cops, it can foster dangerous illusions that the local officers are not a great a danger to the struggles of workers and the oppressed, which they definitely are. Some sections of the ruling class, including police in certain areas, do oppose “Secure Communities” and SB-1070 type legislation: they don’t want to be that directly supervised by the feds, they don’t want the extra workload, or for other reasons they are squabbling at different levels of the government over the preferred division of labor. But the key point is that all these different authorities favor keeping us down.
On the same score, some politicians oppose the most aggressive anti-immigrant legislation because they are afraid it will stir up the potentially-explosive movement once again – or simply because they recognize the importance of the “Hispanic vote” and don’t want to appear as blatantly anti-immigrant. Whatever the motives, it is one thing to recognize the usefulness of driving wedges between local and federal authorities; after all, a defeat for the “Secure Communities” program, for example, would represent a definite problem for a plan that Obama has a lot of stake in. However, it is still critical that pro-immigrant, anti-racist and pro-worker fighters not act in a way that disguises the fundamental role of the police, the army, and other mainstays of the capitalist system.
Whenever there was an opportunity, we spoke out against the dominant legalistic approach and for the need of a different over-arching strategy. One workshop even traced the history of U.S. racism, and how all administrations have participated in perpetuating racism. But the LRPers were the only ones to draw the logical conclusion that this means that we can’t trust any of the authorities that represent the whole capitalist system, the fundamental cause of oppression at this time. In the larger assemblies, we argued that many of the local initiatives are good, but stressed the idea that without the call for amnesty the movement would never win back the passionate support of the masses.
Generally our contributions received applause from a significant minority of attendees. We also spoke with a number of activists individually who were frustrated that the Turning the Tide organizers have dropped the call for amnesty, that there was no critical discussion of the Dream Act, no attention to the role that NAFTA has played – and that there was a focus on lobbying instead of fighting back.
For decades, the labor union bureaucracy has played into the bosses’ divide-and-conquer strategy. Instead of mobilizing energetically and utilizing their vast resources to build a united fight against their attacks, they favor separate and limited protests to let the ranks let off steam, and they often negotiate to strike a deal with “friendly” Democratic Party politicians. (See for example Wisconsin: A Tale of Betrayal about the sellout in Madison, Wisconsin.)
NDLON in fact has an agreement with the AFL-CIO which goes back to August 2006 (“AFL-CIO Aligns With Day-Laborer Advocates”, www.washingtonpost.com, August 10, 2006). No discussion that we attended at the conference discussed the agreement or took up a balance sheet on how this agreement has actually fared in practice. Of course immigrant workers have every reason to demand that the resources of the unions are utilized on their behalf. In fact, we generally favor making demands on the union leaders to unleash their power to mobilize on behalf of all the needs of our class. This approach to the unions in no way implies that pro-immigrant fighters should be silent regarding the fundamentally craven pro-capitalist role that the union leaders have been playing. After all, the unions’ misleadership are now even selling out their better off high seniority members at a frenzied pace.
Thus, in our view by now the need to replace them is rather obvious, given their record. We say that will be best done by building an alternative leadership that won’t sell out, the revolutionary party of the working class.
As for this juncture, there has been no real fight-back compared to what is necessary and possible; virtually all sectors of the working class have quickly found themselves facing unprecedented attacks in the throes of the economic crisis. As the situation worsens even further, there is no doubt that undocumented workers, along with workers and youth of color in general, will be among those who are hit the hardest.
There have been partial local victories that the Turning the Tide organizers celebrated at this conference. Yet the thrust of the event was to ignore the fact that the tide is turning more and more against immigrant workers, fundamentally. Overall the movement has been getting weaker, as the government on all levels, and organized anti-immigrant forces, take advantage of the tepid policies of the pro-immigrant organizations and the unions, including the dependency on hollow Democratic Party promises. Revolutionary-minded workers and youth, and all people that favor a strong immigrants’ rights movement and a perspective of defending everyone under attack, must join together and push a vision of class unity and a classwide fightback.
Please get in touch with us if you agree with the points in this report. The history of our class shows that only through using the independent power of the working class itself do we have a good chance to really start turning the tide, that is, turning around the bosses’ attacks.