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Working People's mini-cast: Break the Chains, Pt III (w/ Shirley Lung)

Join Maximillian Alvarez, host of the Working People podcast in part III of the mini-cast series on undocumented workers and the fight to repeal the employers’ sanctions provision of the Immigration Reform and Control Act (1986)  (in collaboration with the Break the Chains Alliance). Alvarez talks to Shirley Lung, Professor of Law at the CUNY Law School, about the passing of IRCA, its immediate and longterm effects, and the American tradition of criminalizing marginalized workers. Listen here.

Any Immigration or Labor Reform Will Fail- Without Legislating Equal Rights for All Workers

Half of the country is crying for the impeachment of the president while the other  is rallying to Trump’s defense. Even as the presidential candidates campaign to unseat Trump, what plans are being put forward to end division and hardship for working people. As working people, we still have no unified analysis as to how the most corrupt president our country has ever seen was catapulted into power and no concrete vision to unify working people in this country around a program that will work for ALL of us. 

THE CRISIS TODAY

Today, we are seeing conditions that liken that of the Gilded Age. The richest 1 percent of Americans now owns more wealth than the bottom 90 percent of Americans. Americans are working longer hours, at an average of 7.8 percent more than four decades ago. A third of the country’s workers work more than 45 hours a week while 10 million Americans work more than 60 hours per week. The average productivity per American worker has increased 400% since 1950, while our wages have stagnated (most of this increase in productivity has occurred after 1986) Even in a liberal state like New York, some unionized workers are openly forced to work 24 hours a day, while so-called progressive leaders fail to denounce such sweatshop conditions. 

In the past four decades, the 1% has been able to obtain record profits at the expense of working people. For example, Amazon raked in a net profit of $10 billion last year, a  232.11% increase from its previous year, while workers reported working 10-hour shifts, at neck-breaking speed without bathroom breaks

So, how is it possible that working people continue to point their fingers at other workers while letting off the hook the top 1% and the government that has allowed them to enrich themselves  at the expense of the 99%. 

A DIVIDED AMERICA

In the year 2017, 4,260 racially-motivated hate crimes were reported. And we need only to turn to the recent El Paso shooting, before which the shooter Patrick Crusius wrote in his manifesto: “This attack is a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas…American jobs are lost to immigrants,” to remind us that working class Americans are more divided and lacking leadership than ever. 

In order to understand the growth of grassroots fascism among working people in this country and the rise of Trump’s support, I turn to Antonio Gramsci who wrote during Mussolini’s rise to power. In “Democracy and Fascism” Gramsci argues that liberalism created a crisis in capitalism during 1920s Italy.  While the population suffered from mass unemployment, food shortages and engaged in mass protests that threatened capitalist institutions, fascism ascended to quell this “crisis of hegemony.” The state embodied a new rhetoric and restructured itself to maintain capital’s control over workers. On the one hand, fascist leaders promoted xenophobic propaganda to divide workers; on the other, they instituted repressive measures to control them. In the same vein, during the height of Obama’s neo-liberal administration, we witnessed mass movements, like Occupy Wall Street target financial institutions, only to be followed by the ascendancy of the Tea Party movement and the consolidation of Trump’s base of populist fascist supporters a few years later. It is no wonder that while American workers are suffering more than ever, we are also more divided than ever. What W.E.B. DuBois wrote of the lost opportunity that post-Civil War Reconstruction period offered for working people in the South to unite against the oligarchical planter class, rings true across our country today:  “So long as the Southern white laborers could be induced to prefer poverty to equality with the Negro, just so long was a labor movement in the South made impossible.”

As working people, we must critically ask whether the current proposals from liberals will merely repeat the same cycle of political, ideological, and economic reaction?

MORE OF THE SAME LIBERAL REFORMS

Today, progressives are calling for more jobs to come back to the country and a higher minimum wage, when millions working in the country are not even paid the current minimum and overtime wages. Progressives are calling for a universal basic income and universal health care when millions working in the country will not have the right to access basic care. Progressives are calling for an end to the detention of immigrants at the border, only to be released into a society where they will have no rights to fight against their exploitation at work and in their communities. 

We cannot continue with these liberal piecemeal reforms: using identity politics to glorify differences among working people without focusing on our common struggle, praying for the few among us to climb the ladder to be part of the top 1 %, taking stabs at capital without challenging the government who upholds them, fighting against poverty, but not those who cause our poverty. 

The 1 % has succeeded in reaping superprofits off the backs of working people because we are divided. The first and most urgent task that faces us today is to unite the working class. But what demands will bring us together, so that we can start calling for a program that works for ALL working people. 

EQUAL RIGHTS FOR ALL WORKERS

The crisis we face today has been deliberately created through a system of divide and control that we, as working people, must work together to destroy. The country has a) created an unequal two-tiered system among working people through the criminalization and denial of rights for groups of workers in the country, and then b) used this to divide and repress all working people from organizing for better conditions. Ensuring that all workers have equal rights is the first step for working people to take control of our work conditions, our communities, and our health. Specifically, Break the Chains is calling for:

  1. Equal Rights to Organize:

Currently, the  legislative proposal Protect the Right to Organize (PRO) Act is calling for greater protections for organized labor. However, under a two-tiered system of workers in this country, employers will wittingly turn to undocumented workers, criminalized and denied of the same rights under the law, in order to evade and undermine any labor law reforms. Even workers in the South do not have the same collective bargaining rights as in other states. 

Specifically any reform must protect the rights of all workers under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), regardless of immigration status, protect workers from retaliation, such as harassment, firing, or deportation, due to union/ organizing activities. 

The right to organize must be given to ALL workers in the country. 

2. Repeal the modern slave law- the 1986 Immigration Reform Act’s Employers Sanctions Provision. 

In 1986, a coalition of conservatives and progressives pushed for the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA), believing it would protect American workers. However, in the nearly forty years since it has been passed, our country has seen a staggering regression in workers’ rights. Because of this law, undocumented workers are criminalized for working. This maintains an underclass of super-exploited workers with no rights. Instead of deterring employers from hiring undocumented workers, employers actively use the law to pit workers against one another. 

Any chance at uniting the working class must include a repeal of this slave law and an end to the criminalization of undocumented workers in the country.

3. Equal Rights to Citizenship:

If we look at our history, we are reminded how the U.S. has historically denied citizenship rights to different groups of workers over time to maintain a highly-exploitable underclass in our society- from black slaves, Native Americans, women, and groups of immigrants. But if we can learn from our history, we realize that the disenfranchisement and alienation of groups of workers only serve to increase political backwardness and divisions among working people. Demanding equal rights to citizenship differs from calls for legalization, which does not address the two-tiered system of workers we have in our country today. In fact, we will only see a repeat of 1986 reforms which legalized a million immigrant workers and criminalized many more who followed. 

All of those who have worked and resided in the U.S. for three years without committing a crime should have equal rights to adjust their status and obtain citizenship. 

Let’s not repeat the mistakes of the past. Fight for the unity of working people. Fight for equal rights for all workers. 

Working People's mini-cast: Break the Chains, Pt II (w/ David Tieu)

Maximillian Alvarez, host of the Working People podcast presents part II of the mini-cast series on undocumented workers and the fight to repeal the employers’ sanctions provision of the Immigration Reform and Control Act (1986)  (in collaboration with the Break the Chains Alliance). Alvarez talks to David Tieu, a member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 3, about working on the Hudson Yards project in New York City and seeing firsthand how employers exploit undocumented workers and undercut unions. Listen here.

Working People Mini-cast: Break the Chains, Pt I (w/ Josephine Lee & Tosh Anderson)

Follow our mini-podcast series as we talk to Maximillian Alvarez, host of the Working People show, a podcast by, for, and about the working class today.

In this episode- how so-called progressive reforms touted by the Democrats are deepening the divide between working people today. Listen here.

We need to stop arguing for the expansion of the modern-slave system

The NY Times article “Is Immigration at Its Limit” is proposing to maintain a system of slavery and an underclass of workers in our country. Instead of calling for the repeal of the law that criminalizes undocumented immigrants, the NY Times attempts to justify the expansion of an underclass of workers, promoting the myth a) that there is a labor shortage b) that Americans are not willing to work as hard and c) that consumers will have to pay more for goods and services. This argument attempts to hoodwink working consumers to blame other workers, while employers squeeze superprofits from both.

It’s time we stop arguing over whether or not we want more modern-day slaves in this country and start demanding and end to the modern-day slave system.

“Criminalizing undocumented workers will not stop people from hiring them. It only makes them more exploitable.”

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“A third of a century with the Immigration Reform and Control Act’s employer sanctions should teach us one thing: criminalizing undocumented labor is not the answer. Labor abuses run rampant in the poultry industry, fueled by an economic system that is accountable only to the owners and shareholders of corporations.” Read more from this article by Angela Steusse here.

Koch Foods undocumented poultry workers were actively recruited to be exploited- they were sexually harassed and hit on the job, then arrested for reporting abuses.

“By the 1990s, businesses began aggressively recruiting Latin American immigrants to fill their labor needs, luring them to rural Mississippi from places such as El Paso and Miami.

One company, since acquired by Koch Foods, dubbed the campaign the “Hispanic Project,” which resulted in a 1,000 percent increase in Scott County’s Latino population, where two of the raided plants are located, in a decade.

‘EEOC alleges that supervisors touched and/or made sexually suggestive comments to female Hispanic employees, hit Hispanic employees and charged many of them money for normal everyday work activities,” an EEOC release reads. “Further, a class of Hispanic employees was subject to retaliation in the form of discharge and other adverse actions after complaining.'”

Read more from the Washington Post article here.

“Low-Wage Legacies, Race, and the Golden Chicken in Mississippi: Where Contemporary Immigration Meets African American Labor History” by Angela Steusse

Angela Steusse traces the history of the Scott County, MS poultry industry in this article: 
1950s: Only white workers worked in the plants. 
1960s: As white workers sought better jobs and pay, black workers were integrated into the industry and given the worst jobs at a lower pay
1970s-80s: Black workers organized into unions to fight for better conditions 
1990s: After the IRCA employers sanctions was passed, employers went to Guatemala and Mexico to actively recruit undocumented immigrants to work in the MS poultry plants.
2000s: Immigrant workers start organizing with unions for better conditions. 
2019: ICE targets poultry workers at Koch Foods plants after they won an EEOC settlement for sexual harassment.

Read more from Angela Steusse’s article in Southern Spaces to see how the poultry industry pitted one race against each other to persistently depress wages and conditions of workers here.