“I’m illegal. So what? President Bush needs to know that behind every illegal migrant there is a brilliant student who can’t work, and others who can’t work because they have no driving licence. This has got to stop now!”
Gloria Saucedo, National Mexican Brotherhood.
“The sleeping giant has awoken, and it was the anti-immigrant proposals that woke it up….After 25th March there will be a before and after”
Juan Jose Gutierrez, USA Latinos.
The move to the left that we workers are experiencing will be sooner or later reflected in the United States. The revolutions and insurrections we are seeing in Latin America, particularly in Venezuela and Bolivia, not only inspired the movements we are seeing at the moment in Los Angeles, they also mark a new period in the class struggle. These revolutions can be seen by all the workers of Latin America, including latino migrants, as a the first salvo in the fight against the attacks of the ruling class.
The anti-immigrant law
What provoked these marvellous movements of migrant workers was the proposal for an immigration law known as “The Sensenbrunner Law” which criminalises illegal migrant workers. It proposes the construction of a wall at the southern border of the US and places brutal restrictions on migrant workers.
The excuse used for the introduction of this reactionary law is “prevention of terrorism”. In the same way as this excuse has been used to restrict the democratic rights of US workers, go to war in Iraq and so on, so it is now being used to stop, or at the very least limit, the flow of migrant workers into the US.
It is necessary to point out that the migration of latino workers to the US has come about not because these workers choose to leave their countries in order to see the world but for the simple reason that the lackey governments in Latin America have proved incapable of providing even the most minimal conditions that would allow these workers to survive in their own countries. This problem is no longer the result of particular problems in any particular country but the crisis of capitalism which seeks to export its problems from the advanced industrial world to the less developed countries. It does so by exporting surplus goods from the US market, making these goods more competitive by using cheap labour to reduce production costs. US imperialism is also the main impulse behind the privatisation of public sector industries and services in Latin America, which has resulted in the weakening of the trade unions, the destruction of the gains previously made by the working class and the catastrophic fall in wages.
The main reasons for migration are the policies imposed by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, policies pushed by the US government and carried out on bended knee by the various governments in Latin America. These are the real causes for this forced migration. And now these same people complain bitterly about the problem and try to stem it in this most reactionary way.
Splits among the ruling class and its governments
The debate around this law in the Senate has caused splits in the US ruling class and between the governments of Latin America and the US. For a long time, the Latin American governments have spoken of an equal co-operation, a relationship that promised great friendship, and so on. Nevertheless, whenever any decisions are made that displease the US government, the latter simply holds up its hands and puts a stop to them. It is at times like these one sees the true nature of the relationship between US imperialism and the governments of Latin America: the relationship between a horse and its rider, which is not terribly favourable to the poor horse.
The Latin American governments, particularly that of Mexico, were hoping that as a result of the favours made to Bush he would behave like a “gentleman” and bring about an immigration policy that would please both sides. However, what this bunch of clowns has received is a kick in the ass.
But that’s not the end of it. In reality, migration has not been such a bad thing for all Americans, particularly those employers who employ migrant workers. For them this represents a substantial saving on their wage bill. Migrant workers earn a third of the wages of US workers. It is for this reason we have seen the representatives of certain sectors of the economy come out in opposition to this law.
The best result for these capitalists would be that this law allowed, as and when required and at their request, controlled entry of migrant workers who could then work “legally”. This would allow these gentlemen to continue amassing fortunes by paying derisory wages to migrant workers, who would have no job security and would be under the threat of immediate deportation should they dare to complain. In this way, US citizenship would be ruled out.
These movements are only the beginning, and a glimpse of what is to come
However, something has happened that neither the Bush government nor US capitalism had bargained for. The movements have taken them well and truly by surprise and have made it very clear what the response will be to an attack: mobilisations and struggle.
The historic movements of Saturday 25th March were unremitting. Thousands, possibly millions, of workers and youth took to the streets to demonstrate. The figures are extraordinary: 500,000 in Los Angeles, 200,000 in Chicago, 50,000 in Denver, 80,000 in Atlanta, and so on. It is estimated that, in the US as a whole, over two million workers have demonstrated during the past fortnight. What this most definitely demonstrates is that migrant workers are not only to be found in the service sector but also in manufacturing, which is the basis of society, since Chicago is principally a manufacturing city.
Even the organisers of the demonstrations have been astonished. In the universities, young immigrants have demonstrated and have gone from one university to another asking others to join them in the struggle. The atmosphere is electric. The most popular slogans have been “we are workers, not criminals”, “today we are marching, tomorrow we will boycott”, and “day without immigrants”.
“Last Friday, 24th March, in Atlanta, organisers of a protest against anti-immigration measures reported that 80,000 latinos did not turn up for work, which is the largest protest in the recent times in the US.” (La Jornada, 26th March).
The feeling is that if the Bush government refuses to withdraw every anti-immigrant law the protests will escalate. Even on the very day the demagogue Bush organised a meeting where he bestowed citizenship on immigrants, the protests did not stop.
“Almost 10,000 demonstrators marched along one of the main streets of Detroit to the federal building to protest at the anti-immigration proposals being considered by Washington. Mexicans, Central Americans and Arabs marched together to condemn measures which would criminalise those without official papers as well as those who would give them help”.
“At the same time, dozens of thousands of students in various parts of the country continued with protest actions today. Some 10,000 students from eight state schools in Los Angeles and the surrounding areas left class to take part in marches and demonstrations. Some even climbed over their school railings when staff tried to lock them in. In the evening, hundreds of them shouted slogans in the city centre, some accompanied by teachers and head teachers, who were there under the pretext that they were escorting them as a security measure.”
“In Dallas, hundreds of students also left their classes in protest, walking out of several colleges to take part in a demonstration in the public park. Students in Houston, Oakland and San Francisco carried out similar actions; even in Salt Lake City, Utah, students walked out of two schools”. (La Jornada, 29th March)
The unity of the American workers
These mobilisations will have a very important effect, not only on the consciousness of migrant workers but of all the workers in the US. Attacks on the living standards of US workers have been on the order of the day for sometime. The government has hinted at attacks on the pensions system, and this will be one of the burning issues in the coming months and years. Wages have stood still for over five years and the perspective is that they are not set to rise. The bourgeoisie has used immigrants as a downward pressure on the wages of other workers and also to poison the atmosphere with racist speeches and so on.
Over the next few years we will see these movements among immigrants repeated, but next time they will be on a qualitatively higher level since they will not only involve immigrants but also US workers putting forward slogans of unity. There is no other way forward for the working class than united struggle against their exploiters. Those who today propose these anti-immigration laws will tomorrow be attacking the pensions system: the very same people who have dragged the country into the war in Iraq (which has so far cost the lives of 2,000 young American men and women), etc.
The only way to get rid of these reactionary and damaging policies is for workers – all workers, regardless of nationality – to prepare for a general strike. The “day without immigrants” must become a “day without workers”, with the following demands:
No to the anti-immigration law!
Stop the war in Iraq!
Out with the Bush government – for a workers’ government!