CLEVELAND - In a major policy statement at the Cleveland City Club June 18, AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka said the continual denial of rights to millions of undocumented workers threatens the well-being and democratic values of all Americans.
Denouncing right-wing "politics of hate, scapegoating and finger-pointing," and Arizona's recently passed racial profiling law, Trumka said the crisis facing American workers results from failed trade policies and corporate greed, not immigration.
"When I hear that kind of talk," the AFL-CIO leader declared, "I want to say: Did an immigrant move your plant overseas? Did an immigrant take away your pension? Or cut your health care? Did an immigrant destroy American workers' right to organize? Or crash the financial system? Did immigrant workers write the trade laws that have done so much harm to Ohio?"
The North American Free Trade Agreement, he said, undermined workers' rights in both the U.S. and Mexico and caused illegal immigration to triple.
"The failures of our relationship with Mexico," Trumka said, "cannot be solved with guns and soldiers and fences. They must be addressed through an economic strategy for shared prosperity based on rising wages in both countries."
But, he said, there is "an unpleasant fact" that is not talked about and that lies at the heart of U.S. immigration policy.
"Too many U.S. employers actually like the current state of the immigration system - a system where immigrants are both plentiful and undocumented - afraid and available," Trumka charged. "Too many employers like a system where our borders are closed and open at the same time - closed enough to turn immigrants into second-class citizens, open enough to ensure an endless supply of socially and legally powerless cheap labor."
"That is why the AFL-CIO is fighting to fix this broken immigration system as a crucial element of our broader economic strategy. Because we stand for the American Dream for all who work in our country. Because we are for ending our two-tiered workforce and our two-tiered society. And because an underclass of disenfranchised workers ends up hurting all workers."
Trumka said the labor movement is part of a broad coalition including faith-based and immigrants' rights groups calling for "a fair path towards legalization for all undocumented workers," establishing an independent commission to determine the need for more immigrants, guaranteeing full legal rights to immigrants - including the right to organize - and "real penalties for employers who break the law."
In a time of economic crisis, the voices of hatred and divisiveness cannot be defeated unless political leaders provide "a clear strategy for prosperity in the future - starting with good jobs," Trumka said.
He praised President Obama for his economic recovery program including "rebuilding manufacturing, taking on the challenge of climate change and energy independence, growing exports and investing in our infrastructure, including our education infrastructure."
In addition, Trumka said, the "fundamental human right to organize and bargain with their employers" must be restored. "And we need to make sure every worker in America - documented or undocumented - is protected by our labor laws. That is why it is so urgent that we reform our immigration system."
But, he said, economic policies are not enough.
"We must also change our culture," Trumka said. "We as a nation must be true to our better selves - employers must not make a buck on the backs of workers who live in fear of deportation, and workers must stand together in the workplace for good jobs, safe jobs, health care for all, and retirement security we can count on.
"And so when we talk about making the American Dream real, the labor movement stands for making it real for all of us who do the work of our country. All of us - no matter what we look like, how we worship, who we choose to love, or where we come from."
The full text of Trumka's speech is here.
Photo: Richard Trumka at the 2010 Building and Construction Trades Legislative Conference, April 21. AFL-CIO/Bill Burke/Page One cc 2.0