Tonight I want to connect the absence of protections for workers both here and abroad with the concentration camps currently being run at our border. I think by the end you will see that this is part of a long history of our country terrorizing workers domestically and internationally in the service of capital interests and to the detriment of workers everywhere — and that includes US-born workers.
What is important to note about these concentration camps is that they are only one link in a chain of exploitation. In These Times ran a cover story on immigration by Brianna Rennix a while back, and she summed this chain up nicely:
“The United States pays Mexico to stop some people before they get to the border, then menaces and detains the subset that U.S. Border Patrol apprehends in the act of crossing, and then sends Immigration and Customs Enforcement to round up and deport some of those who get through. These brutal policies keep the unofficial workforce stable, at around 8 million over the past 10 years, and keep undocumented and guest workers fearful.”
But even this is only part of the story — it’s worth asking, why are so many coming? Why are the nations of the global south in such disarray? The United States has her part to play in this too. Time after time below our southern border, the people of a country will elect a leader to represent their interests on the world stage and resist exploitation by imperial powers. As you can imagine, this does not sit well with the imperial powers. So the United States has aided myriad military coups in some way or another to overthrow democratically elected leaders and install right wing fascistic yes-men for capital. This is invariably followed by political repression, the economic destruction of the country, a rolling back of workers protections and social services.
In 1964 the CIA supported a coup in Brazil that sparked 20 years of brutal military dictatorship, a dictatorship that the current president of Brazil was a part of and remembers fondly. It’s worth mentioning— in 1970 the US supported the takeover of Chile by military dictator Augusto Pinochet, a ruler infamous for his brutality and whose name has recently been invoked positively by right wing talk personalities. In 2009, a violent coup of the Honduran government led to the wholesale slaughter of union organizers, journalists, and political opponents. The United States were not supporting the union organizers.
This is only a small sample. There is a long history behind why people are fleeing these places — and this history is largely caused by the United States, because our government wanted southern neighbors more subservient to capital.
This is one of the fundamental injustices of our immigration system. So many of these people wouldn’t even be here but for the destruction of their country by ours, and then our leaders have the nerve to pull up the ladder that their own ancestors used. It so greatly illustrates the fundamental sociopathy and lack of human empathy by our ruling class. Not only do they destroy countries for their own selfish wants but then they pay governments to terrorize people fleeing these places so the ones that get here are so brutalized they won’t fight exploitation
And then once they get here they’re still not safe. They face tyranny from the government and they face marginalization from a public that’s been fed a steady media diet of nativist propaganda created by the billionaire class.
We must remember the elites are not simply benevolently advising the working class on the most efficient means by which to extract higher wages from them. They have created a calculated propaganda campaign and, unfortunately thus far, quite a successful one, meant to divide us up, to make immigrant workers fearful of violent deportation and fearful of their employers and fellow workers, meant to push us to point our anger towards each other instead of locking arms and looking up to where the source of our problem really lies.
Because while it is true that migrant workers can sometimes drive down wages — though it is important to note that the extent to which this happens is blown far out of proportion — and this downward pressure is not from migrants but from the boss exploiting the migrants, this downward pressure on wages is absolutely dwarfed when we compare them to the downward pressure created by having a divided and unorganized working class. States where union membership is the strongest have much higher wages than places like Alabama, where people are only unionized in the single digit percents. In fact, some countries have unionization rates of 80 percent or more and in these countries they have no need of a minimum wage because they can secure higher wages for themselves than a paternalistic government edict could ever provide. Fast food workers, unionized in other countries, make more than $20 an hour. There are skilled tradesman here in America that make less than that because we are unorganized.
That’s the point here. The problem with stagnant wages among US-born workers is not immigration. It is because we aren’t organized and we aren’t organized to a large extent because we have allowed the elites to divide us up.
The IWW, seeing through the propaganda and steadfast in their dedication to solidarity, was the only major labor organization to come out in opposition to restrictions on immigration as they were first being proposed and has remained steadfast in its dedication to the rights of all workers, born on this side of the line or that. It has continued on this ideological path that we can see clearly laid out by an IWW founder and national political figure Eugene Debs in his letter disapproving of one of the first restrictions on immigration:
“The plea that certain races are to be excluded because of tactical expediency should have no place in a proletariat gathering under the auspices of an international movement calling on the oppressed and exploited workers of the world to unite for their emancipation. Away with the “tactics” which require the exclusion of the oppressed and suffering slaves who seek these shores with hopes of bettering their wretched condition… These poor slaves have just as good a right to enter here as those who seek to exclude them…Upon this vital principle I would take my stand against the world and no specious arguments of subtle and sophistical defenders of the civic federation unionism, who do not hesitate to sacrifice principle for numbers and jeopardize ultimate success for immediate gain, could move me to turn my back upon the brutalized and despairing victims of the old world, who are lured to these shores by some faint glimmer of hope that here their crushing burdens may be lightened, and some start of promise rise in their darkened sky.”
We must not allow the monied elites to continue dividing the working class, rather we must begin the work of uniting ourselves in solidarity with each other and in opposition to the tricks of the elite and limitations on migratory rights. The amount of wealth that’s been redistributed upwards because of the criminalization of migration and the division of the working class is likely incalculable. You have far more in common with the Honduran, Guatemalan, Mexican, and Syrian immigrants, asylum seekers, and refugees than you ever will with the Koch brothers or Betsy Devos. Know that they want to divide us up so that they can better exploit all of us. Know that this has been the trick of the elites forever because they’ve always known that a divided working class is one that cannot resist their exploitation. If we affirm not only the political and workplace rights of immigrants but their basic right to live here in the United States (in fact we cannot effectively do one without the other), their lives will obviously be better but it will be good for the whole body of the working class. Without fear of violent deportation and concentration camps, without fear or retribution for their existence, we can embolden our immigrant brothers and sisters to rise up against their workplace exploitation and assert their rights to the full fruits of their labor, to assert their rights to dignity and respect.
We can link arms with the entirety of the working class and say together in one voice that we know our worth and none of us are getting it. This is how we improve the conditions of American workers, not by turning them on foreigners residing in this land but by connecting us all in solidarity and moving forward towards a brighter future together.
Immigrant rights are workers rights. Workers rights are immigrant rights.
Solidarity forever, fellow workers.