Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Ask me about my IMMIGRANT roots! (UPDATED)

The immigration issue is far from the biggest problem we face in this country. Our Constitutional democracy is under threat from within. Talk of an impending nuclear strike on a sovereign country is treated as a real possibility, not a tinfoil fantasy. Wages for working people are stagnant at best, while executive income has soared 28%. 45 million Americans have no health insurance, a vital service which is available to all in EVERY OTHER WESTERN INDUSTRIALIZED COUNTRY.

But immigration is at center stage, for a number of reasons. For the left, it's a question of keeping El Sueno Americano alive; for the right, it's a powerful wedge issue which breathes new life into the racist code-language of the GOP. Fear of the "other" is their bread and butter, whether the other is gay, black, brown, or Muslim.

As an old-line, traditional lefty, I've had some difficulty grappling with this issue. An expanded labor pool tends to suppress wages for working people; an unacceptable outcome. Indeed, some Republicans are serving in the unaccustomed role as front-line shock troops in this class-war struggle, threatening working-class Americans with the image of a brown horde, taking their jobs while diluting their racial purity. Other Republicans, recognizing that cheap labor means high profits, are advocating a guest worker program, which will create a semi-permanent, semi-serf pool of powerless workers.

It seems that there is a progressive position that recognizes the fact that immigrant labor is doing much of the work that enables American business (especially small business) to survive. In other words, they're already here, they're already working, and they neither have nor want your job. The way to protect working people (native-born, naturalized and undocumented) is to protect working people!

We protect existing jobs by eliminating the incentive to hire cheap replacement labor. We eliminate that incentive by making sure that every worker has the same rights. If undocumented workers have the same protections as all other workers, they will not have to accept slave wages, and will, therefore, be less attractive as replacements for native born and naturalized labor. By the same token, they will be employable based on their skills, their diligence, their dependability, their work ethic, etc. Just like anyone else. The playing field will be, at long last, level.

JFK said, "A rising tide lifts all boats." My Irish immigrant forebears benefitted from the gains made by the organized labor movement, without regard to whether they were documented or not. It's likely that your family tree was similarly lifted up. If this is true, how can we, in good conscience, pull up the ladder that our tempest-toss'd parents and grandparents used to elevate their status and, by extension, our own?

I'm a Griffith, I'm a McGrath, I'm a Ryan, I'm a Hart...I'm an IMMIGRANT! Wanna make something of it?

UPDATE: Immigrants rights groups have called for a general strike of immigrant workers on May 1, 2006. Since we're all immigrants (either your family crossed the border, or the border crossed your family), we should all make arrangements to be absent from work or school on that date. For the first time in a long time, the government has been forced to take notice of an actual, grass-roots, people-powered initiative. As noted above, immigrant rights are workers rights. Preserve the momentum and support all working people by participating in "Una Dia Sin Immigrantes" on May 1.


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    By Blogger Askinstoo, at 10:15 AM  

  • Nice to read something personal and sensible on this. That's one of the dangers of looking at this as some kind of emergency. Common sense goes right out the window.

    I agree overall with your take. Even if the problem of too many illegal immigrants is real, it's simply not as important as the ongoing war on the working class which has escalated since the Reagan years.

    By Blogger Kevin Wolf, at 1:03 PM  

  • 1. Dickens rocks.
    2. Can I call you when the driving and smoking pot catches up to me?

    By Blogger Bobby Lightfoot, at 11:49 PM  

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