The immigrant community has been one of the hardest hit by the anti-worker policies of the Obama administration. This has been demonstrated by the record number of deportations (396,906 last year alone), mandating of the E-Verify program, promoting Secure Communities, and the exclusion of the undocumented from the health care plan and the stimulus tax refunds. The attacks on undocumented labor have weakened the labor movement as a whole. Countless organizing campaigns have been destroyed by well-timed E-Verify raids and deportations of union activists. Significant sectors of the workforce – meatpacking, restaurants, hotels, custodial, construction – could face the threat of deportation just for seeking improved living and working conditions.
Yet, the immigrant community has also been one of the most organized and active sectors in the struggle. Hundreds of immigrant steel workers in Berkeley have been organizing against an E-Verify raid that happened in December 2011, which led to the firing of 200 undocumented workers. Occupy Oakland, Occupy Cal, and the Berkeley community will be joining them in protest this February 16, 2012 in order to protest this inhumane act.
The offensive to the Pacific Steel workers is not an isolated act. The workers at Pacific Steel, one of the biggest steel foundries in the nation, face some of the toughest and most unsafe conditions imaginable. People are forced to work without a break and the company has been demanding cuts to benefits. There was a strike in March 2011 because the company was demanding reductions in health benefits. ICE raids under similar conditions have happened in the past in LA, in the South Bay, and in the East Bay.
The workers bravely did what any people who had been facing these inhumane conditions would do – they went on strike and showed the power that they as workers in numbers have. How did Pacific Steel respond? Like any big capitalist enterprise, Pacific Steel called their allies in the federal government and instigated an E-verify raid to squash the militant struggle of the largely Latino and undocumented work force of Pacific Steel.
No confidence in Obama, the Democratic Party, and the union bureaucrats
Another big obstacle the workers of Pacific Steel are facing – like many undocumented workers in other unions – is the lack of a fighting union to help organize them in the struggle against anti-immigrant legislation like E-Verify. The current leadership of many of the biggest unions, like that of SEIU (which represents some of the biggest Latino and immigrant workforces), are active collaborators in these racist and anti-worker policies. The pro-Democratic Party leadership of the unions has helped the government to prevent fight-backs, like those that immigrants, workers, and their allies tried to do in the million-person demonstrations in 2006, by enacting deportations, lay-offs, persecutions, and further job exploitation.
This is proven by the criminal silence of the public sector labor movement regarding the implementation of E-Verify programs. Similarly, there is complete inaction of unions in response to the “I-9” checking of workers, or “silent raids,” that happen outside the workplace and the the constant “background checks”.
The leaders of the union bureaucracy (i.e. SEIU, AFSCME, Teamsters, etc) unconditionally support Obama and only occasionally criticize other Democrats. They say that the Obama administration has not been able to advance immigration reform and other policies which would benefit workers because the Republicans won’t let them. These are lies. The Democrats have not protested the anti-immigrant legislation of the past years, and in reality most have been openly working with Republicans in pushing for anti-immigrant legislation.
The reality is that the Republican and Democratic parties are parties of the American bourgeoisie (i.e. the 2% that has 40% of the world’s wealth), and through their policies, they try to create over-exploiting conditions that are increasingly brutal against the workers in order to raise their profits in this time of crisis.
What must the labor movement do? Stand up and fight back!
Labor leaders should publicly denounce the current immigration policy as being an attack not only to immigrant workers, but also to the American working class as a whole. The lowering of wages and destroying of rights for immigrant workers gives the bosses greater leverage to pressure the rest of the workforce to accept the worst working conditions. The unions should explain this to all American workers!
However, the Pacific Steel workers and undocumented immigrants don’t have to rely on their union leadership to step up. They aren’t alone in their fight! They have been self-organizing, without much support from their union leadership, and have gone to Occupy Oakland and the Berkeley community for the numbers and support to organize their defense.
We must march and fight with our fellow workers and immigrant sisters and brothers! The Occupy Movement, Latinos, immigrants, communities of color and all labor are connected to the struggle of Pacific Steel 200, and it is our role as socialists, activists, workers and students to take up the banner of their call. Only through the power of mass mobilization, like that seen on May 1, 2006, we may be able to fight back E-verify raids. First, however, we’ll need to do the patient groundwork to build the political power to get there. The Occupy movement, for example, must be broadened to include the struggles of the immigrant movement, and the Pacific Steel 200 struggle is one of the most concrete ways to do this.
The Occupy Movement must take up the struggle of the immigrant’s movement! We should fight for the legalization of ALL immigrants, for the end of the criminalization and the raids, and for the de-militarization of the border. These are the demands that La Voz de los Trabajadores (Worker’s Voice) defends and that many immigrants support.
Occupy LA & Occupy Oakland have called for a General Strike on May 1st. Immigrants are part of the 99%, too. The struggle of the Pacific Steel Workers can be just the start of a resurgent immigrant movement. Let’s build the groundwork for May 1 in order push the Occupy Movement to be more representative of the struggles of the 99%!
Workers of Pacific Steel, you are showing the way forward. Continue your struggles. The American indignados are with you. The students are with you. And the union movement, trailing behind, will also come to be with you as your worker brothers and sisters at Pacific Steel and across the U.S. see that their fight for decent working conditions, for rights and respect, are intimately bound up with the fate of their immigrant comrades.
Jobs for ALL and legalization for ALL! Stop the raids now!
For a fighting May 1st!