Immigrant Rally

Undocumented Workers: That Stupendous Business of the North American Bourgeoisie

The topic of immigration and undocumented workers in the United States has recently received a lot of attention in the mass media due to Mexican president Vicente Fox’s visit to the US in September. During his visit, Fox put forth as the principal point on his agenda the demand for a new temporary worker program for Mexicans in the United States.

Without getting a favorable reply and only promises in exchange, Fox returned to Mexico with Bush’s demand to strengthen the anti-migrant measures along his borders with the United States and Guatemala.

Put bluntly, we can’t foresee any significant change in the policies of the US government on the issue of migrant workers. The reason is very simple: undocumented workers represent an enormous reserve of cheap and disorganized labor for theUnited States economy.

Undocumented workers, given their situation, are forced into the worst conditions, without any social benefits, without labor rights and receiving the lowest wages. American agriculture, to name just one example, has for many decades largely based its development on the labor of undocumented workers.

Undocumented workers have provided advantages to many, not least in the sphere of fiscal tax collection: according to some sources this sector of the population has left $20 million in unreturned taxes in the US Treasury over the past ten years. But there is more. Another important benefit which is a boon the US bourgeoisie is the fact that against their will, undocumented workers act as a valuable instrument to control wages of local workers. Even chairmain of the Federal Reserve Alan Greenspan, recognizes this fact (La Jornada 07/08/01).

Discussing the topic of undocumented workers involves dealing with immigration and Latinos at the same time. One is the product of the other. Migration and the presence of Latinos is also a profitable business for the American bourgeoisie: according to the advice column in the Santiago and Valdés Solutions Latinos represent 8% of annual consumption in the US – $560 million worth.

“If undocumented workers and Latinos are such an important business, why change things? Why stop treating them as second and third rate citizens and grant them full rights? Nothing doing! Let the fiesta continue in the same way!” These are surely the thoughts of Bush and the American bourgeoisie with respect to this subject.

Over the span of several decades, the cost of their aspirations for a better life has been very high for undocumented immigrants. According to information from the Mexican government, an average of 500 people die annually intending to cross illegally into US territory through its border with Mexico.

The number of deaths is intimately related with the strengthening of the Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS) of the United States. To strengthen the INS, its budget increased from $1.53 billion in 1993 to $4.88 billion today. With these resources, the INS has doubled its number of agents and has armed itself with the most sophisticated equipment and technology to stop illegal immigrants. Because of this, during these same years, a series of strategies have been implemented to force illegal immigrants to use routes that have been characterized as high-risk because of their geography. With names like “Operation Block” or “Hold the Line”, “Operation Guardian”, “Operation Safeguard” and “Operation Río Grande”, a significant number of illegal immigrants are detained and the less fortunate die due to the harshness of the zones where they cross.

The Mexican government also works as a policeman, doing the dirty work for the benefit of its North American colleagues and against illegal immigrants. To stop illegal immigrants from Central America and South America, the government has extended migrant control posts from the border with Guatemala to Mexico City.

The illegal immigrants that are detained in Mexico, are subjected to all types of arbitrary acts and annoyances by the authorities. The message that is being sent to the poor of the rest of Latin America through the Mexican government is the following: “Don’t try to cross through Mexico, look at what is waiting for you if you do!!!”

The government of the northern state of Baja California issued a decree last August which restricts migrants within 3 kilometers of the North American border. It wouldn’t be surprising if these measures are extended to other regions of the border.

But migration to the United States from Latin America can’t be seen in isolation. It involves a phenomenon that is the product of the world relations of capitalism.

Under capitalism, entire nations are pushed backward and into misery. This is the case in all of Latin America, a place where millions of human beings live in the most despairing misery. This is the reason which every day forces thousands and thousands of Latin Americans to put their lives at risk to try to arrive to the United States in search of a way out of their difficult situations. Given the crisis that capitalism finds itself and which batters with the most glaring cruelty the developing nations, the migratory process towards the United States will only intensify in the coming period.

The American bourgeoisie will see in this process opportunities to place more pressure on the wages of all workers. Also, with the idea of dividing the workers along racial lines and nationalities, the ruling class will attempt to set US workers against immigrants using the pretext that they are the reason for the drop in the quality of life in the United States. The American working class should not fall into this trap! To do so would make it more difficult for them to see the real root of their problems, and place an obstacle in the struggle to defend their rights.

In the case of Mexico, Fox is trying to negotiate an agreement for temporary workers in North America. This demagogic tactic is an attempt to prop up the weakening position of the president in a situation where the forecast for economic growth for Mexico at the end of this year is at zero percent.

On the other hand, an agreement like the one Fox seeks means providing fresh meat for exploitation for the American bourgeoisie. This was the case with the Labor Program, in which, between 1942 and 1964, the United States granted temporary work to 2.5 million Mexicans. These workers were forced into conditions of labor without any social rights or unionization and practically under semi-slavery without the right to change jobs according to their needs and interests.

Some American unions have put forth a different position in the problem of undocumented workers. For them, before beginning to speak about a new temporary work program, the first step that should be taken is to legalize undocumented workers already in the US. This is the position of the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) and of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). Also, in the case of temporary work, the SEIU outlines that this program, once started, should guarantee a series of minimal conditions of support for temporary workers: the liberty to switch companies, full access to all labor and union rights, the right to permanent legalization, etc.

We Marxists declare ourselves in favor of these demands outlined by the unions. We think that the fight for these demands is important as a first step towards improving the conditions of life for migrant workers. At the same time, these types of struggles can forge important ties between the workers of the United States despite legal statutes or racial and national differences. With it, the unity of the North American workers movement will be strengthened.

Nevertheless, finding a definitive solution to the problem of undocumented workers will ultimately require resolving the conditions of misery in the countries they come from. For this, it is necessary to transform Latin America down to its deepest roots – eliminating private property over the fundamental levers of the economy and placing them under the direct democratic control of the workers. With a socialist society the misery and the desperation will be eliminated and people will not be forced to abandon their homes and families in search of better opportunities. In this work, the American proletariat can and must play a decisive role. They are not only a force capable of stopping the interventionist aims of US imperialism, but also for fighting for socialism in their own country and pushing the workers of all of Latin America in this direction.

Workers of the world, unite!


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