Labor Advocate Online

Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
April 9, 2006

How Tough On Immigration?
That’s the way today’s Kansas City Star framed the debate on immigrant rights. They want us to accept the premise that immigrants are a problem and that discussion should revolve around how they should be penalized. Should we round them all up and send them packing? Or should we let some of those who have been here for a while stay if they do a mea culpa, pay a fine, and learn our more civilized official language? Like the musician who has mastered both kinds of music—country and western—media such as the Star give us both sides of the debate.

This same media tirelessly campaigns against any restrictions on capital moving across borders. In the age of Globalization corporations are multinational and their penetration of markets throughout the known universe must be unfettered. Whether Globalization emerged through evolution or intelligent design may be a puzzle but there is no doubt among the mainstream media that this is the highest, indeed probably ultimate stage of civilization.

But what’s sauce for the bosses is often cooked goose for the workers. Those who have to work for others in order to live are not granted easy access to their world market. The employers welcome newcomers only if they are docile and work cheap. They reserve the right to intimidate, deport, even jail those who are so ungrateful for employer hospitality that they demand better pay and treatment.

Most employers have accepted "illegal" immigrants with a wink and a nod. They have been largely satisfied with selective enforcement of immigration laws to deal with trouble makers, to keep the threat of deportation in reserve to make immigrant workers think twice about making waves. Some even adopt a paternal attitude, passing themselves off as heroic Schindler-type protectors.

The immigration debate flared up around tangential political considerations. There is some employer concern about union success among immigrant workers. That’s bad news not only for sweat shop bosses—there is also fear that this example could stimulate broader overall activity in a long quiescent labor movement.

Immigrant baiting is also seen as a useful outlet for the frustrations building up among the native born workers being driven out of the "middle class." Many politicians were schooled in the basics of the Three Rs—race, religion, and repression. If you can get people stirred up against those who look and sound different they will be less likely to cause trouble for those put in charge by Providence.

All this seemed to the bosses like a good idea at the time. Actual new legislation was not essential as long as the working class could be cowed or conned. But now they are undoubtedly having second thoughts.

First of all, there was a quite unexpected reaction from immigrant workers. Instead of diving for cover, there has been an explosion of mass demonstrations asserting their human rights. "We are not criminals–we are workers," they proclaimed. When impromptu calls to march went out in many cities huge numbers walked off jobs, or left classes, to join in.

Nor has immigrant baiting had the desired effect among the native born. While some unions—out of Pavlovian reflex—initially supported lesser evil legislation nearly all are now united in opposing any attacks on immigrants and are playing a prominent role in the immigrant rights movement.

Even cynical attempts to play off African-Americans against Latino immigrants taking "their" low paid jobs have mostly fizzled. The Black Commentator has run some excellent and inspiring articles and editorials in solidarity with immigrant rights and organizations of Katrina evacuees are joining the movement in southern California and elsewhere.

Class conscious workers have long held a global view. We do think in terms of "them" and "us." But "them" is not those with a different color skin or a different mother tongue. "Them" are the bosses, bankers, brass hats, and their flunky politicians. "Us" are the people of the world who do all the work. An injury to one of us is an injury to all of us.

Tomorrow—Monday, April 10—is a National Day Of Action For Immigrant Justice. There will be marches and rallies in cities and towns across the land. Wherever you are I hope you will find a way to participate.

If you’re in the Kansas City area come to Davis Park, across 11th Street from City Hall, between 5-6:30 PM. If you’re not part of another contingent come rally around the Labor Party banner. Do it for justice for immigrants—and justice for all of us.

An Unhealthy Deal
You’ve probably heard about the "breakthrough universal health coverage" plan cooked up in a deal between the overwhelmingly Democrat legislature and right wing Republican governor in Massachusetts. Health care in that commonwealth is now universal in the same way that car insurance is universal in this country. Instead of Allstate, tax payer subsidies will be used when needed to put everybody in the "good hands" of the likes of United Healthcare, Cigna, and Coventry. For once AFL-CIO president John Sweeney hit it right on the head, "Who would have thought that Massachusetts – long considered a bastion of progressive thinking – would take a page out of the Newt Gingrich playbook for health care reform?"

Like the bipartisan swindle on Medicare prescription drug benefits, that enriched the pharmaceutical companies—and the AARP—at the expense of tax payers and Medicare recipients, this "reform" is a big step backward for genuine universal health care.

It doesn’t have to be this way. The Labor Party Just Health Care proposal provides for medical and dental care for all; full prescription drug coverage; the right to choose your own physician and dentist—and includes a realistic budget that would spend less than what we collectively shell out for inadequate coverage now. It even provides funds for retraining and reemploying insurance carrier employees into useful occupations as these parasitic companies are consigned to the dust bin of history.

Down and Out In Denver
Full transit service returns to normal in Denver tomorrow after being disrupted by a strike by ATU Local 1001. The workers pulled the pin after twice rejecting a deal that offered miserly raises, dispensed in quarterly dribs and drabs over the next three years, while they are still hurting from a three year wage freeze.

The employer responded by hiring "security" goons to intimidate the strikers and explained the half-millions dollars to be spent for these bullies would be deducted from the labor package.

But, when the going gets tough you can count on ATU officials to get going. Their first order of business was to appeal to the governor to take away their right to strike. It’s been a century-old tradition of the mandarins in the union to which I pay retiree dues to strike only when the employer refuses to arbitrate. The rash action of the Local 1001 ranks undoubtedly confirmed their conviction that hot-heads can’t be trusted to wield a weapon that could ultimately drain funds from the national treasury.

While the governor declined to intervene a mediator was brought in to supply some Vaseline. By Thursday, a deal was cooked up to front load a bit more money—while dropping a previously offered 250 dollar singing bonus. Though this actually meant a bit less money over the life of the agreement for the workers the ranks finally got the message from their leaders. The third time was the charm.

As usual, much of the material for this column was taken from stories posted on the Daily Labor News Digest.

That’s all for this week.

Sign Up For the KC Labor List

Past Weeks In Review

We get no–and want no–subsidies, grants, or paid advertising. But we need and appreciate whatever help our supporters can contribute, whether a one-time donation of any amount, or a ten dollar a month sustaining subscription.