SAN ANTONIO, Texas – Tefere Gebre, Executive Vice President of the AFL-CIO, the nation’s largest labor federation, told Peoples World this morning that “America’s labor movement is never backing down, not an inch, on its commitment to full immigrant rights in this country. Please quote me on that,” he added.
Gebre made the declaration while he was on his way into a closed-door session of the federation’s executive council, which is meeting here March 13-15. Labor leaders are grappling with a range of pressing questions, including: how to react to the Trump agenda; how to unite their memberships around a program that will raise wages and living standards; how to unite workers with different political views; how to organize in right-to-work environments; and how to build alliances with non-union organizations of workers and community groups.
On immigration, Gebre said the position of the labor movement includes support for a pathway to citizenship for the millions of undocumented people now in the country, plus opposition to President Trump’s executive orders on immigration and opposition to the building of a wall on the border with Mexico.
“All working people benefit from an immigration system with a roadway to citizenship,” Gebre said. “We make the most progress when we support all workers, regardless of race, gender, national origin, sexual orientation and when we support them regardless of immigration status.”
Gebre himself is an immigrant who was born in Ethiopia and came to the U.S. as a teen. He graduated from high school in Los Angeles and worked his way up in the ranks of the labor movement from his first job as a packer at UPS.
On Trump’s long –touted plan to build a wall along the border with Mexico, Amaya Smith, Deputy Communications Director for the AFL-CIO, said the federation “remains opposed to any plans to build a wall on the border.”
“Building a wall on our border, scapegoating immigrants and refugees and shutting out people of Muslim faith will do nothing to uplift working people,” Trumka said Feb. 15.
Blasting all of the Trump executive orders concerning migrants and refugees, he declared: “They sow fear among workers, promote racial profiling and sow fear and distrust among workers and among our union members, forming a direct obstacle to organizing and bargaining collectively. We call on President Trump to revoke these orders.”
Gebre noted that the current immigration system “exposes immigrant workers to special exploitation with millions struggling to support their families in poverty wages or unsafe working conditions. They face the highest rates of wage theft, sexual harassment and death and injury,” he said.
“When a segment of society suffers,” Gebre said, “all suffer. The labor movement is committed to reforming our country’s entire immigration system. A just and humane system of immigration creates a more just and humane system for everyone.”