Immigrant rights goals
David Bacon’s centerspread article on temporary worker programs (PWW 3/18-24) is an important contribution to the debate on immigration policy. It sharply raises the dangers of “temporary” or “guest worker” programs for their impact on the immigrant workers themselves and on all workers in the country, in the name of business interests.
The article could have spoken more to the reality that “for too long our immigration laws have already created a two-tiered society and have perpetuated racial and ethnic discrimination,” as eloquently put by Dr. Dorothy Height, chairperson of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights. The increasing repression of the existing lower tier of undocumented workers is the reason that virtually all groups working for immigrant rights support a transitional program that has a “path” to permanent residency as a goal for legislative action in the current political climate.
The AFL-CIO, one of the strongest supporters of permanent residency over temporary worker programs, supports the transitional path approach embodied in the McCain Kennedy bill’s section on legalization for undocumented workers. In fact the AFL-CIO does not see this transitional status as a “temporary” worker program in the traditional sense because the workers have the ability to change employers. There are differences among democratic-minded groups over other aspects of immigration policy, primarily over what concessions if any might be acceptable in exchange for an acceptable legalization for the 11 million or more undocumented immigrants the country today.
What is most important, however, is the unity of all the democratic forces in opposition to the persecutionary provisions in the Sensenbrenner, Specter and now Frist proposals, which threaten police-state policies for immigrants and citizens.

Rosalio Muñoz
Los Angeles

Port issues
Dan Margolis’ article on port security (PWW 3/4-10) failed to mention a number of issues, such as the claim by the State Department that Dubai’s labor practices are below a reasonable standard. Much of the blue-collar work in Dubai is done by foreign guest workers who are deprived of basic civil rights by Dubai’s government. DP World is an agency of that government. Our dockworkers and other port personnel would be much better served by any private entity that has not got so poor a record on labor.
Another issue is what level of foreign imports would come through the ports, including foreign oil. Most U.S. workers would like to see the U.S. become less dependent on foreign oil, which would possibly be increased under Dubai management. Also, the U.S. has too frequently been the target of sweatshop products coming from the Indian subcontinent, where Dubai does a large amount of business. Do we have any assurance that Dubai won’t increase the imports produced in sweatshops?
Such issues are very much related to national security, if the safety of blue-collar jobs and the health of the economy are security issues — and how could they not be? Like all wars the current one has everything to do with international economic competition. If we want peace, then we want out of any situation that fosters rather than reduces international economic competition. For the above reasons, among others, we should oppose outsourcing port management to Dubai.

Matthew Buchwald
Woodside NY

Dan Margolis replies:
I believe port operators are only responsible for managing the ports and cargo, not deciding what comes in. Dubai’s record is bad, and should be opposed — but so should the record of Wal-Mart and the Carlyle Group, which may take over the ports now that DP World is out. We need to demand that public facilities’ management not be outsourced at all.

In February I was in Nice, France, where I saw televised debates over the new labor law and posters urging protests. Like many workers in the U.S., I’m used to minimal (or often zero) paid vacation time and constant job insecurity. In contrast, the French working class has won much more paid vacation time, a 35-hour workweek and more job security.
Young workers in the U.S. must think that the French youth are from Mars when they demand good compensation and the right to not be fired without good cause! Young workers and students in the U.S. have much to learn from the youth of France!
Right-wingers want the French youth to say, “Any job is better than nothing” and accept job insecurity.

Drew Chebuhar
Chicago IL

Labor and nature
Contrary to the letter in last week’s PWW (3/18-24), Marx criticized the statement that all wealth is created by labor. In his 1875 “Critique of the Gotha Programme,” he wrote, “Labor is not the source of all wealth. Nature is just as much the source … as is labor.” Marx stressed that nature is the primary source of the instruments and other objects on which labor is performed.
Through this interaction between workers and nature, labor is also the source of wealth. According to Marx, capitalists make the fanciful assertion that only labor is the source of wealth in order to claim that the worker “must be the slave of other men who have made themselves the owners of the material conditions of labor,” so that the worker “can only work with their permission, and hence only live with their permission.”
Marx’s point is especially important today because he is stressing the symbiotic relationship between people and nature. By the capitalists’ rapacious destruction of the environment as they seek maximum profits, they are not only destroying our inheritance of nature’s wealth, but are also endangering the material basis for the creation of wealth by labor.

Erwin Marquit
Minneapolis MN

Peggy Lipschutz
The recent welcome profile of Peggy Lipschutz (PWW 3/4-10) reminded me of a 1978 cultural conference in Kansas City, which she attended. I vividly recall how she observed that in the 1930s, under the arts programs of the WPA, all that was necessary for an artist to receive benefits was to have professional experience. The benefits weren’t much, but one could survive on them. She went on to say that nowadays, no one thinks of artists being entitled to support as a result of their craft. Instead, they crawl to corporate foundations, competing for handouts.
The Federal Writers Project similarly supported hundreds, perhaps thousands, of previously unemployed teachers, journalists and scholars who otherwise would have starved to death.

Fred Whitehead
Kansas City KS