The following is a speech given by Gary Goff at the “New York City Labor in Solidarity with Immigrant Detainees” demonstration in Brooklyn, New York on March 23.

There are some exciting things going on in the New York City labor movement these days. But I’ve got to tell you, none of them are any more exciting than what we’re doing here today – labor taking its proper place beside religious groups and peace groups and human rights groups – standing shoulder to shoulder with those who struggle for immigrant rights and women’s rights and gay rights. What we’re doing here today is in the very best tradition of the labor movement – speaking out for social justice.

Why is it in the interests of organized labor to demand justice for these immigrant detainees? Well, one reason is many of our own members are immigrants. This is nothing new for American labor. There were immigrants among those who organized the coal miners in West Virginia and the garment workers in New York. Given the circumstances that bring us here today, we would do well to remember that Arab workers were involved in the famous Lawrence textile strike of 1912.

We have many United Auto Workers (UAW) members here today. One of the people who helped create the UAW was the Arab-American labor activist George Addes. And when we’re thinking of labor heroes like Joe Hill and Mother Jones – both of whom were immigrants – let’s not forget Nagi Daifallah, an immigrant from Yemen, who was an activist in the United Farm Workers Union until he was gunned down by a California sheriff back in 1973.

But unions have to demand the rights of these detainees, not merely because of the presence of immigrants within our own ranks. We are deluding ourselves if we think that the walls of this detention center will contain the injustice. When the rights of immigrants are violated, our own rights are in jeopardy. “An injury to one is an injury to all” – it’s as true now as when the Wobblies first said it nearly a century ago.

A final reason why organized labor has to be here today is globalization. The system that creates the conditions in third world countries that drive millions to leave their homelands is the same system that oppresses them when they join the American working class. The system that condones the assassination of labor activists in Colombia is the same system that allowed my brothers and sisters at the Imperial Chicken plant down in Hamlet, N.C. to be burned alive when the boss locked the fire exits to prevent theft. The same system that sustains sweatshops throughout the third world maintains sweatshops right here in Sunset Park, Brooklyn.

This is the system that says I’m supposed to feel I have more in common with the bosses because they look like me than I have with workers who don’t look like me. Well, this is a good time and a good place to say I’m not buying that lie – working people are not buying that lie – organized labor is not buying that lie.

Gary Goff is the recording secretary of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees DC 37 Local 2627 in New York City.

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