Labor's stance on immigrant workers has changed, says Trumka

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The following is a message from Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO:

I've been getting some letters lately. They've included words like "illegal alien" and others that aren't fit to print.

I don't want to dismiss these concerns. For a long time, the labor movement feared immigrant workers, because we thought employers would find low-cost workers and push down wages. And it happened--our system was broken, and those bad bosses drove down our wages and everyone suffered. Some choose to blame aspiring citizens for these problems. But working families aren't the problem, and we've never been the problem.

Labor's stance has changed, and changed for the better. We proudly stand on the side of Americans in waiting. Join us; tell your senator you want a common-sense immigration process with a road map to citizenship: http://act.aflcio.org/c/18/p/dia/action3/common/public/?action_KEY=5401

I'm not dismissing your fears, brothers and sisters. I understand where they come from. Good jobs are scarce. What if the job crisis worsens? The economy is tough.

But there's something else at work here. Fear can make our memories short. We forget what they said about our grandparents and aunts and uncles and even us. "You don't belong here." "Go back where you came from."

One hundred years ago, some in the labor movement rejected new immigrants, women, people of color and millions of "unskilled" industrial workers. That historic prejudice has never sat well with me. When people use the word "immigrant" as an insult or as a way to degrade people - I take it personally. The lesson we should take from our history is that when we stand together, all of us are stronger. Right now we have the chance to make history and reform our immigration system, to ensure working families--no matter where they are from--are protected.

America's unions stand on the side of workers. So we stand on the side of every single one of those 11 million Americans in waiting. We won't back up, we won't back down, and we won't be turned aside until every single one gets formal recognition.

Photo: Trumka with a fellow worker at a labor solidarity rally.   AFL-CIO/Flickr