Labor Advocate Online

Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
April 23, 2006

Limited Vision
That’s an accusation I’ve often leveled against others. Now I’m guilty as well. I’ve been wrestling with an eye infection that has drastically reduced my computer usage over the past week or so. That has meant getting even farther behind on many commitments—including scrapping the WIR last week. I’m gradually getting back up to normal functioning. I won’t go with what I started preparing last week—commentary on the ninetieth anniversary of Ireland’s Easter Rising. I will finish that up soon but there are more time sensitive questions to deal with this week.

A New Movement Sorts Out Principles, Strategy, and Tactics
The most impressive mass upsurge among workers in this country in many years has come from an unexpected quarter—the most vulnerable among us, the immigrant workers. Millions have participated in public actions in defense of immigrant rights. In searching my personal political recollections over the past 45 years the only comparable sudden explosion was the 1970 response to Nixon’s escalation of the war into Cambodia, accompanied by the killings of protesters at Jackson and Kent State.

The question now is whether the current stirring is a one time response to an immediate danger of particular repressive legislation, soon to become "yesterday’s news," or will its power become focused and organized through a broad new movement dedicated to the issues of millions of immigrant workers over the long run?

While undoubtedly factors such as the Sensenbrenner Bill, and the armed provocations of the Minute Men, add a new sense of urgency to immigrant worker concerns clearly there has also been great pent up sentiment for coming out of the closet, asserting dignity and pride, as well. That undercurrent swelled to tsunami proportions through skillful mobilization by a diverse range of forces—churches, DJs, astute elected officials, a few business groups, some unions, and numerous community and campus based groups.

Most of the politicians involved hoped identification with the mass mobilizations would solidify their appeal to key ethnic voter groups and give them increased clout in their wheeling and dealing within the political system. They have nothing more to gain, and perhaps much to lose, from a continuing independent mass movement.

Most activists are not so cynical and would like to see a movement similar to the civil rights movement built by African-Americans. But, just as in the Black struggles, there are many different visions for the movement.

Some see the immigrant issue as primarily a moral question, best guided by the church, emphasizing conflict resolution rather than confrontation. Many seek to keep a lid on Mexican nationalism, which is widespread among the biggest ethnic component among immigrants, instead promoting the prominent display of the U.S. flag, singing of the Star Spangled Banner, and other "American" artifacts. Those unions involved tend to focus on the workplace issues and hope the immigrant rights movement will be a spur to union organization. The community and student based organizations often lean to being more action oriented and, free of other agendas to promote, are more open to bold new ideas. So far, no single current has established authoritative leadership of the fledgling movement as a whole.

Diverse, independent, activist driven movements are not easily established or maintained. They must be united around a core set of principles. Within those parameters a living movement also needs to provide for free ranging discussion of strategy and tactics, striving to avoid splits around secondary differences.

From a worker solidarity perspective the underlying core principle should be that all those who are good enough to work and pay taxes are good enough to remain in this country without threats of deportation, without denial of any basic rights and services the rest of us are entitled to. Furthermore, full citizenship should be granted to all those workers who desire to make the U.S. their permanent home. Nothing less will do. That’s the only approach in line with the popular slogan, "no human is illegal."

Opportunities for unity with those who wish to compromise on this principle will be few, temporary, and tense. Among those who agree on this fundamental principle there can be room for inevitable vigorous debate over different tactical proposals to advance the cause of immigrant rights.

The first major test for the movement is developing around calls for action on May 1. There is clearly great sympathy in Latino immigrant communities for the call to boycott jobs, classrooms, and consumer purchases that day as a visible demonstration of the importance of immigrants—a lesson that would also have a substantial economic impact.

Some significant forces oppose the boycott—for various differing reasons.

Some unionists have raised legitimate concerns that unorganized workers victimized by bosses would have no backup and that employers in union shops, where work stoppages are usually prohibited by contract, might seek retribution against both individual workers and the union itself.

Those are very real risks that must be carefully weighed—and ultimately decided by those on the front lines. In many workplaces workers are confident about pulling off a one-day, or partial-day strike. Others will feel they can’t strike but will find other ways to participate in May 1 activities. Certainly workers who feel their workplace can’t sustain a strike should not be considered "scabs."

But there are others—including such powerful voices as the Cardinal in Los Angeles and the Mexican government—who oppose the May 1 boycott actions because they fear not its failure but rather its success. They argue this could produce a backlash that would cut them off from politicians and business interests that have shown sympathy for modest immigration "reform." Subordinating the movement to the perceived needs of such dubious allies would be a fatal setback.

I would urge all readers in the U.S.—immigrant or not—to find a way to show solidarity with the May 1 actions call. Even if you can’t boycott work there will most likely be a march or rally in your area that you can participate in. This issue—and the future of the movement around it—is of paramount importance for all working people.

So That’s Why Our Jobs Are Going
Bob King, the UAW's vice president for organizing, is quoted in a Detroit News article, entitled UAW takes cooperative stance, "We have made a conscious choice to put aside the adversarial approach," King told an automotive conference in Detroit. "We believe adversarial relationships drive manufacturing jobs out of this country."

Some Upcoming Events In KC
This Friday, April 28, Martha Ojeda will be speaking on The Struggle for Democracy in Mexico, at All Souls Church, 4501 Walnut, at 7:30.

Ojeda is a leading Mexican labor rights activists. As Executive Director of The Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras, she has pioneered strategies for organizing democratic unions all along the border and creating a cross border solidarity network which spans North America and is expanding to Central America and Asia.

Saturday, April 29—March For Health Care Now. Assemble at Murphy on KU Med Center campus (click here for campus map) at 11:30 for a march to the Plaza.

That’s all for this week.

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