Labor Advocate Online
Excerpted from the August 15 Week In Review by Bill Onasch
New Immigrant Rights Network Launched
I was among more than 400 from 25 states who gathered in suburban Chicago last weekend for the National Immigrant Rights Strategy Convention. The gathering was called by the March 10 Movement, based in Chicago, the principal force behind two massive demonstrations and work stoppages last Spring in that city involving hundreds of thousands.
The objective of the call was “To establish an independent, nationally coordinated network and promote a national strategy which focuses on the defense and promotion of workers’ and immigrants’ rights. Our struggle is for CIVIL AND HUMAN RIGHTS and for all WORKERS’ RIGHT TO WORK.”
The political framework for the gathering was a “10 Points of Unity” which included:
Unconditional legalization for ALL
No to H.R.4437 and similar senate version legislation
No to the criminalization of immigrants
No to border walls and militarization of the border
No to guest-worker programs
No to employer sanctions
Yes to expedited family reunification visas
Yes to the protection of labor and civil rights, and civil liberties
No to deportations
No to the use of local law enforcement for immigration purposes.
But no one was turned away. There were representatives from unions that support guest worker programs, as well as observers—like me, from the Kansas City Labor Party—whose organizations have not yet adopted positions on some of these points. In general, the atmosphere was one of fraternal goodwill and a wide range of viewpoints—of varying usefulness—were expressed.
Such a gathering was clearly needed. The massive immigrant rights marches earlier this year were perhaps the biggest political demonstrations in U.S. history. But they were semi-spontaneous, put together on the run by ad hoc formations that had no unified plan for a next step. Since then the politicians have worked to divert the fledgling movement into the dead end of lobbying for the least objectionable legislation and working to “take back congress” in the coming midterm election. (No one has yet adequately explained to me just when we ever had a congress which we now will “take back.”)
A key component in this conference was the reaching out by conference organizers to organized labor which met some positive response. SEIU was present in some force. Other unions that took part in the deliberations included Farm Labor Organizing Committee, Teamsters, UNITE-HERE, Laborers, UE, AFSCME, UFCW, Transport Workers Union. The Smithfield and Wal-Mart campaigns were highly visible.
A couple of days before the strategy convention the AFL-CIO announced a partnership with the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON), the nation’s largest day laborer association. At the convention the Teamsters spoke about a projected campaign in support of mainly immigrant, “independent contractor” port drivers in California. Such efforts have the potential to bring some immediate sorely needed improvements to these workers as well as strengthening would should be a natural alliance between unions and the immigrant rights movement.
The gathering was largely Latino, majority Mexican, reflecting the composition of the estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants in this country. However, there were speakers representing Chinese, Indian, Irish and other immigrants as well and the new organization has pledged to reach out to all ethnic groups.
Spanish was the “official” language of the convention but English translations were provided in the main sessions for the monolingual, such as me.
Two sets of actions were set for this Fall. Efforts will be made to get immigrant rights contingents in Labor Day events around the country. There will also be various local activities ranging from prayer vigils to demonstrations on September 30—marking the conclusion of the present congress—to project the issue in to the election campaign.
A new organization, the National Alliance for Immigrant Rights, was established. A provisional steering committee of about sixty delegates representing various constituencies was selected.
All in all, this convention was a very positive experience producing a promising new network. I’ll have more to say later and will post links to articles about the event as they become available.
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