It is simply amazing that all the newspapers and all the electronic news can be so full of information about undocumented workers while the real issue is never mentioned. The real issue is the effect that proposed legislation in Congress would have on all our wages — not just the wages of immigrants, but everybody’s wages.
When somebody works for less, we all suffer. It’s no secret that slavery and racism are the reasons for lower wages and worse job benefits in the South. It ought to be just as obvious that government repression against undocumented immigrants has the same downward pull on wages. A classic case occurred in Galveston, Texas, during 1920-21. The two segregated longshoremen’s unions had managed to work together to carry out a successful strike, even though the vicious Texas Rangers, other goons and the National Guard were called out to break them. A third workforce of imported workers from Mexico was part of the bosses’ ultimately successful strategy!
When the bosses won, the longshore unions were destroyed and a decade of repression followed that held Texas organized labor back for many years.
Even though the media and the ultra-right have stirred up a lot of confusing nonsense, there are really only two proposals being considered in Congress: “enforcement only” and “guest worker.” The first should really be called “all-out repression” since it would make felons of all undocumented workers and anyone “aiding and abetting” them. It is the lack of workplace rights that causes undocumented immigrants to work for less money. Diminishing their rights even further would only cause them to work for even less, thus dragging down all wages.
The second of the two proposals under consideration, which should really be called “indentured servitude,” would have each undocumented worker at the total mercy of his or her boss. If they looked cross-eyed at the boss or refused a little “off the clock” extra work, they could be deported. The result, inevitably, would be longer hours and less pay. When they make less, everybody makes less.
One Republican congressman, Dana Rohrabacher of California, made the whole matter clear. He proposed using convict slave labor to pick the fruit and perform the other jobs that undocumented workers now do. If he had his way, all of the undocumented workers and all the people who helped them would be converted into slave labor. Its effect, just as the effect of slavery has always been, would be to lower wages.
The old labor slogan, “An injury to one is the concern of all,” isn’t just a do-good idea and it doesn’t just apply to workers with the same coloring, culture or language. It’s a practical matter of our wages and benefits. We have to march together!
Jim Lane (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a labor activist in North Texas.