In early March the Senate Judiciary Committee will take up “immigration reform.” Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) issued an outline of the items he wants considered. These include immigration control and a guest worker program. Legalization for undocumented immigrants was de-emphasized.

This hearing comes at a time when the far right is pushing for repressive measures, like HR 4437, approved by the House in December. Bush and big business want a large new guest worker program.

Some of the forces fighting for legalization support the McCain-Kennedy bill (S 1033 and HR 2330) which, while providing legalization, includes a guest worker program. Most see this as a necessary evil to get Republican votes for a package including legalization. The AFL-CIO, while supporting legalization, does not support McCain-Kennedy because of the guest worker aspect.

The main problems with guest worker programs past and present are as follows:

• The right of the guest worker to remain in the country depends on the employer. A guest worker must therefore think twice about joining a union or going on strike.

• Although all the bills say that labor rights will be “protected” nobody has a fighting chance to defend their rights if they are not able to have a union.

• The bosses’ claims that they can’t find other workers, so they need guest workers, are bogus. Employers offer jobs with wages so low that only guest or undocumented workers can accept them.

• Unlike legal resident immigrants, most guest workers are not allowed to bring their families with them or participate in community life, leading to hardship and social ills.

• A guest worker program will not end undocumented immigration. Immigration is driven by the growing wealth gap between rich and poor countries and between rich and poor in the immigrants’ countries of origin. This arises from the policies of free trade, privatization, and austerity forced on poor countries.

If a guest worker program is going to be imposed here are things to fight for:

• All guest workers must have easy access to permanent legal residency, which must not depend on the goodwill of the employer.

• Guest worker visas must be transferable from one job to another with a reasonable time leeway. Guest workers must be eligible for unemployment and workers’ compensation and pay into Social Security and Medicare.

• All guest workers must have the right to bring their families with them, or to start families here, and to participate in community life without restriction or discrimination.

• Housing, health and education programs for guest workers must be paid for by employers.

• Guest workers and their families must be allowed to move freely back and forth between the country of origin and the U.S., without restrictions.

• U.S. labor law must be applicable to guest workers, with compliance monitoring. Guest workers must have access to all legal remedies against employers that are available to other workers.

• U.S. unions must have full and confidential access to all guest workers, from before the worker leaves the country of origin. As many as possible should come through union hiring halls.

• Employers seeking to hire guest workers must advertise the jobs for U.S. workers at wage or salary levels that correspond to “prevailing wage.” Simultaneously the minimum wage must be raised, especially in agriculture.

• No employer with an active labor dispute, or with a poor record on labor relations and labor law compliance, should be allowed to participate in any guest worker program.

• All civil rights should be guaranteed to guest workers, e.g. laws preventing racial profiling and discrimination in accommodations, etc.

• Guest workers should have full recourse to the courts, and not just the immigration courts, for matters dealing with their status in the country and their situation at work and in the community.

Business will say that all this would undermine the whole point of such programs by giving guest workers the same rights as other workers. But they told us that the reason they want guest workers is because they can’t find U.S. workers to do the jobs, not that they needed workers with fewer rights! Which is it?