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LA NUEVA CARA DE mass immigration has changed the American building trades

LA NUEVA CARA DE mass immigration has changed the

American building trades

By Gregory A. Butler, local 608 carpenter

For some strange reason, a lot of union carpenters belive that

residential construction will always be non union.

Although that side of our industry was largely union as recently as the

1960's, in the view of many folks in the business, new construction and

home improvement work on single family homes is now, and always will

be, a 100% non union sector of the industry...

Apparently, somebody forgot to tell this "fact" to the

in the suburbs of New York City.

Journaleros ["day laborers"], of course, are the folks who hang out on

corners or Home Depot parking lots to shape up for construction jobs in

the home improvement and light commercial renovation sectors.

They are predominantly illegal immigrants from Mexico, El Salvador or

Guatemala - although in Philadelphia, Nantucket and Martha's Vinyard

they have Brazilians in the mix as well - and here in New York City we

have Poles - and even US citizen Latinos, White Americans and Amercan

Blacks - in that side of the industry as well.

Just a couple of years ago, the day rates these self employed workers

charged were as low as $ 40 bucks and a sandwich for a day's

work...with "day" often extending into 10 or 12 hours.

Apparently, that's changed....drastically.

According to reports from homeowners in Long Island and Orange County,

the day laborers in those areas have organized, and set a wage floor.

Now, nobody works for less than $ 10 an hour, or $ 80 bucks for an 8

hour day.

That pay scale, while far below union wages, and less than half of what

non union tradespeople are normally paid, still amounts to a 100% wage


Apparently, these workers have managed to do this on their own..with

absolutely no assistance from the construction unions.

There are a number of Catholic Church-linked social service

organizations and state-subsidized day laborer hiring halls that

operate among these workers, but it's not at all clear how much they

had to do with these workers managing to establish - and enforce - the

$ 10/hr wage floor.

Also, one of the problems that these workers face is the fact that

these "workers centers" that serve them are 1) not run by workers

themselves and 2) tend to maintain their segregation from the

mainstream of the American workforce, rather than fighting to integrate


Beyond that, to put that $ 80 bucks a day in context, we need to look

at the standard of living these folks left behind when they came


For instance, while union carpenters in the New York District Council

of Carpenters make $ 38.78/hr...and most non union carpenters in the

New York City suburbs make $ 150 a day...union carpenters in the

Sindicato de Trabajadores de Construccion ["Union of Construction

Workers"] back in Mexico only make $ 74/day... and Peons ["laborers"]

only get $ 55. The Mexican Ministry of Labor's minimum wage for non

union carpenters is only $ 59.30/day, and for laborers, it's $ pratice, wages can be, and often are, considerably less.

By that standard, the Journaleros are actually ahead of the game....

You see, that's the new reality of the building trades in this

country...Third World-level pay rates now establish the wage floor in

our industry. You see it especially in major cities like New York,

where mass immigration, and employer superexploitation of those new

immigrants, has led to a drastic decline in non union construction

worker wages.

Although the building trades has long had a largely immigrant

workforce, the 1990's saw a massive increase in the number of immigrant

workers in the trades. The industry's workforce greatly

expanded....which, just to be very clear, did NOT mean that there were

more jobs..just more people chasing after the same number of jobs.

Most of those immigrant workers were undocumented..and most of them

come from the United States of Mexico. Tradespeople from that country

now make up 10% of the entire American construction workforce.. (about

600,000 workers out of a total building trades workforce of around 6


Most of America's new construction workers were Mexican, but by no

means I mentioned above, there are large numbers of

Guatemalans and Salvadorans among the Spanish speaking immigrants, as

well as large pockets of Brazilian workers in and around Philadelphia

and on the Massachussets resort islands of Nantucket and Martha's


And, of course, here in New York City, there are still large numbers of

illegal immigrants from Ireland, Poland and other European countries in

the business, as well as small but significant numbers of immigrants

from Fujian Province, China and the largely Sikh Punjab/Khalistan

region of India and Pakistan.

Sikh workers here in New York are largely concentrated in the masonry


In particular, most of the city's non union brick pointers [bricklayers

who specialize in waterproofing and repairing existing brick walls on

apartment buildings] come from that background, but there are also

large numbers of Sikhs doing bricklaying and concrete work also.

Needless to say, almost all of these Sikh masons are non union..and the

non union contractors they work for dominate the brick pointing

industry here. Also, a lot of the brick and concrete work on public

schools, in particular the new federally financed "Field of Dreams"

program to install Astroturf on school playgrounds, is done by non

union Sikh contractors.

The massive HUD financed luxury housing construction program in Harlem

also has a large number of illegal immigrants among their workforce.

Of course, many of the carpenters, masons, painters and laborers on

these jobs are U.S. Citizen minority workers; African Americans, West

Indians, Puerto Ricans and Dominicans. Many of those workers come from

the neighborhood..and, many of them are actually union members, who got

tired of waiting on the union out of work list for a job and had to go

get a scab job to survive.

But, alongside the Blacks and US Citizen Latinos, there are large

numbers of Mexican, Salvadoran, Guatemalan, Indian, Sikh and even

Polish workers on those jobs..

But, irregardless of race, everybody on these jobs gets paid "immigrant

level" wages...generally, the skilled workers get $ 80 a day, with

laborers and helpers often getting as little as $ 40. By contrast, non

union contractors working on luxury housing in Downtown Manhattan and

other Davis Bacon jobs for the NYC Housing Authority, Dormatory

Authority, State of New York and the NYC School Construction Authority

usually pay between $ 100 and $ 150 a day for their skilled labor.

I've written about these non union Davis Bacon housing jobs on GANGBOX

before, at:


In the South, the change has been most dramatic, with Mexican

tradespeople rapidly displacing Black workers from an industry that had

been largely African American since slavery times.

Case in point, Washington DC, where the construction sector was

predominantly Black from the days when African American engineer

Benjamin Bannacker and a force of slave carpenters, stonemasons,

bricklayers and laborers built the city in back in 1800 right up until

just about a decade ago.

As recently as 1990, Blacks were 75% of the Washington building trades

workforce, with Whites making up 20%. Latinos and workers of other

nationalities combined were less than 5% of the Washington DC

construction workforce.

Today, by contrast, Mexicans, Salvadorans, Guatemalans and other

Latinos are 70% of the industry. Whites still make up 20%...but Blacks

are down to less than 10% of the building trades workforce in DC.

In DC's overwhelmingly non union residential construction sector, which

was all Black just a decade ago, today the workforce is virtually 100%

Latino. Contractors routinely (and illegally) refuse to hire Black

workers who shape up these jobs, and then turn around and hire Latinos.

And the same thing happened in every other major city in the

South...Memphis, Atlanta, Houston (where the construction workforce is

now 80% Mexican) ect.

It basically amounted to "ethnic cleansing" aimed at Black workers in

the industry..and, along with the exile of the industry's traditional

workforce, wages sharply declined.

And, of course, the door slammed shut on the best paying private sector

job available to the average non college-educated Southern Black male.

The Southwest didn't experience the same harsh ethnic cleansing that

the South did, but the construction workforce's ethnic composition

changed just as dramatically in places like Phoenix, Denver and Las


Now, as I pointed out above, there have been attempts to organize these


I've written about some of these construction organizing efforts, and

other issues relating to building trades unionization, on GANGBOX

before, at :


A few of these organizng drives have been by mainstream construction

unions, like the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of

America, the Laborers International Union or the United Union of

Roofers and Waterproofers.

Unfortunately, unlike the sucessful effort by Mexican immigrant

residential sheetrockers to organized themselves into the Carpenters

Union in Los Angeles in 1991, these have NOT been sectorwide organizing

campaigns, have not, for the most part, been led by immigrant workers

themselves and have mainly focused on signing up one particular


A good example of this would be the Roofers Union's campaign to sign up

a residential roofing contractor in Phoenix, Arizona..while leaving the

rest of that industry unorganized.

In an industry like construction, one contractor at a time organizing

means that that particular company, if organized, ends up not being

able to compete with it's competitors who've remained non union. So,

they either continue paying non union wages under the table to stay in

business..or, they pay union wages, get underbid by their competitors

who remain non union and go bankrupt.

Of course, in Los Angeles 12 years ago, the workers led a sector-wide

organizing drive..they struck all the contractors for 6 months, and

turned them union at the same time, which is the only logical way to

organize non union tradespeople.

The Laborers International Union did just that in the asbestos

abatement industry in New York City, Long Island and New Jersey.

Of that case, it helped that the contractors needed union

cards for their laborers, so they could do work on all union Davis

Bacon school jobs...

And, the Laborers Union agreed to substandard wages for these largely

Latino and Polish laborers, many of whom are women, only $

23.85/ opposed to the $ 26.55 that American born laborers in

building construction earn..even though they work in a far more

dangerous sector of the business.

The same thing happened when the Laborers Union organized demolition

workers in New York City, most of whom are illegal immigrants from

Poland, Mexico and Ecuador. They got signed to a substandard wage deal,

where most of them were paid "B Man" scale of $ 16.25/hr rather than

the $ 26.55/hr that other laborers are paid.

Worse yet, according to some accounts, some of these newly unionized

asbestos abatement contractors continue to pay non union wages under

the table..

But, at least these immigrant workers ended up integrated into

mainstream unions. In some cases, they were able to get jobs in other,

higher paying, sectors of the unions.

More often, the immigrants have been segregated within the unions. In

the Carpenters Union, newly organized resdiential carpenters (who tend

to be largely Mexican) are frequently segregated into special locals

with lower pay scales, such as local 1506 in Los Angeles.

In Las Vegas, the newly organized Mexican residential carpenters are in

local 1977, the same local as the largely White commerical carpenters

who work on the Las Vegas Strip..but, they get a lower pay scale, and,

according to some reports, they even attend seperate union meetings in

a different building than the regular union hall.

Here in New York, when the Laborers Union organized many non union

laborers, demolition workers and asbestos abatement workers a few years

ago, the asbestos workers, who were all Polish or Latino immigrants,

were set up in a seperate local, LU # 78. Demolition workers and

building laborers were allowed into the regular laborers local, LU #

79..but, the union has three seperate out of work lists - brick work,

demolition and building laborers.

The newly organized laborers, almost all of whom are Poles, Mexicans or

Ecuadorians, are overwhelmingly concentrated on the demolition work

list. Many of these workers are sent out as "B Men" on demolition

jobs.. As I pointed out above, those laborers only get paid $ 16.25,

instead of the regular $ 26.55 laborer scale.

The mason tender (bricklayer and plasterer helper work) list tends to

be largely Black, Puerto Rican and Dominican, with some Irish and

Italian American workers as well.

Bricklayer and plasterer tender work is paid full laborer scale, but is

far more demanding than building laborer (cleaning) work...which is

also paid at full laborer scale. Building laborers also get a hell of a

lot of OT, with some laborers on hirise jobs bringing home over $


As it happens, most building laborers are White Americans or immigrants

from Ireland or Italy.

It amounts to a racial heirarchy, with the easiest and highest paying

jobs (building laborers) mostly going to American born and Western

European immigrant White laborers, with the harder and more dangerous

brick tender jobs going largely to Blacks and US Citizen Latinos, and

with the hardest, most dangerous and lowest paying jobs in the

business, the demolition jobs, going to immigrants from Eastern Europe

and Latin America.

Also, generally speaking, these campaigns, while TARGETING immigrant

workers, have not been LED by immigrants. In may cases, the organizers

on the ground are immigrants, (this may be due to the crudely simple

fact that the American born union officials don't speak Spanish or

Polish)..but, the union heirarchy remans predominantly American born or

Western European Whites. This has proved to be the case even where

workers have ended up in what amount to segregated locals.

Of, course, unions making special "deals" with

which result in members getting screwed out of pay and benefits they

deserve, are nothing new..nor are immigrant workers the only ones who

get hurt. I've written about that on GANGBOX, at:


Nor are construction unions the only labor organizations that hurt

immigrant workers :


Most immigrant worker organizing done outside the mainstream unions has

been even worse, even more racially segregated than the unions efforts.

And, immigrant workers are even less likely to be in leadership


In the last decade, there have been a number of day laborer workers

centers that have emerged, functioning as non union "hiring halls" for

the industry.

Or, actually, "labor exchanges" or "labor bazaars" might be a more

accurate term.

Typically, homeonwners and contractors come into the centers, and offer

jobs to the workers waiting inside. The consumers and bosses can offer

any wages they want, as they are not bound by any kind of collective


And, since this is a totally "underground economy" oriented setup, it

goes without saying that these employment transactions are totally off

the books, with no withholding taxes, social security or workers comp


The only thing that keeps wages from falling to rock bottom levels is

the efforts of the workers to persuade and/or coerce each other to

refuse to work for less than a certain minimum pay the New

York area, that floor is at the $ 10/hr level.

That's one thing that you can say for these day labor centers..they

have enabled the workers to at least set some kind of minimum wage.

Unfortunately, at $ 80/day, that wage floor is, as I pointed out above,

about $ 70/day below what non union tradespeople usually earn around

here..and far far lower than union scale.

Many of these hiring halls have been organized by local dioceses,

charitible organizations and/or religious orders of the Catholic

Church, and many of them have been financed by subsidies from local and

state governments.

Now, it's kind of odd that governmental agencies finance these

centers...considering the fact that, to this author's knowledge, none

of these centers have tried to do anything to stop the tax evasion,

minimum wage law violations and other illegal pratices that are an

integral part of day labor employment.

Usually, most of the counties and cities that have gotten into the day

labor business are very explicit that they are doing so to help local

merchants, homeowners and contractors get cheap labor..and, to keep

Latino workers from creating a so-called "quality of life problem" by

standing around on the street looking for work on their own

Generally, these workers centers are run like social service agencies,

controlled by professional staffers, with the actual workers allowed

little to no input in agency policy.

These day laborer also tend to be monoethnic...that is, the workers are

from one particular racial background, usually Mexican.

Now, there's nothing wrong with workers of color organizing their own

caucuses and organizations... In fact, if it wasn't for minority

workers organizing independently, America's unions would probably still

be racially segregated.

Here in New York City, the 60 or so minority construction workers

groups (collectively known as "The Coalition") are what forced the

unions to let Black, Latin and Chinese workers join back in the 1960's,

70's and 80's...and, to this day, the coalitions keep the business from

becoming resegregated.

I've written about the coalition experience on GANGBOX, at :

But, there's one big difference between the coalition and the immigrant

workers centers.

Despite the fact that the coalitions were minority-only organizations,

their main goal was racially integrating the industry, and forcing the

predominantly White unions to allow Black, Latin and Chinese workers to

join, and work on the same sites with the White workers, for the same


On the other hand, the immigrant workers centers, generally speaking,

do not at all challenge the racial heirarchy that emerged in the

industry during the 1990s, where residential construction became

overwhelmingly the preserve of low wage immigrants, while higher paying

commercial jobs remained largely White.

Nor have the immigrant workers centers struggled to achieve wage

pairity with commercial construction...or even to maintain the wage

levels that prevailed in non union residential construction just a few

years ago.

In other words, while the coalitions fought to integrate tradespeople

of color into the American construction mainstream, the immigrant

workers centers basically function as what used to be called "Jim Crow

unions"...seperate, and unequal, segregated labor organizations, who's

members are isolated from the mainstream building trades and earn

substandard wages.

Now, why is that?

Well, one possiblity might be the fact that the immigrant workers

centers and the coalitions had different kinds of leadership.

Generally speaking, most of the coalitions were run by ACTUAL

CONSTRUCTION WORKERS. The earliest coalitions back in the 1960's were

run by Black communists. The more recently set up coalitions wern't

quite so radical, but, at the very least, the workers who ran them were

militant Black, Latino or Chinese nationalists.

That's probably why these groups focused on the goal of waging a

militant struggle for integration on the job, to force both contractors

and unions to let Black, Latin and Chinese tradespeople have the same

wages, working conditions and union member status as the White workers.

The coalitions militantly fought for integration (and, to a lesser

extent, continue to struggle to keep the building trades desegregated

to this very day). Their tactics often involved sending busloads of out

of work Black, Latin or Chinese tradespeople (often armed with baseball

bats and chains) driving around the city, stopping at non integrated

jobsites and forcing the contractors to hire workers of color.

By contrast, as I pointed out above, most immigrant workers centers are

run like not for profit social service agencies, often adminstered by

white collar professionals who've never actually worked in the trades

in their lives. Occasionally, the centers are staffed by Whites, even

though almost all day laborers are Latin. And, as I pointed out above,

typically, the entities that manage these day labor hiring halls are

affiliates of the Catholic Church, with the financing provided by local

or state governments.

Due to their financial dependence on government funding and patronage,

the day laborer centers are politically allied, for the most part, to

the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, and are far to the right of

the radical nationalism of the coalitions..

Typically, as I pointed out above, the groups that operate these

centers are inclined towards social service paternalism towards the

workers, who are viewed as "clients" who passivly recieve "services"

from the centers.

This is very different than the coalition's view of their members as

active participants a militant struggle-based mass organization.

Tactically speaking, the day labor centers shy away from any kind of

militant struggle that might alienate the archbishops and state

senators who pay their bills. Certainly you will never see a day

laborer center sending a busload of workers to try and integrate an all

White commercial jobsite..

To this writer's knowledge, no day laborer center in the entire country

has even rasied the issue of fighting to integrate immigrant day

laborers into commercial construction.. Apparently, that radical idea

just is not on the workers center's radar scope.

Nor would you likely see a day laborer center organizing any kind of

collective resistance, non violent or othewise, to raids by agents of

the US Department of Homeland Security's Bureau of Immigration and

Customs Enforcement.

For the most part, the day laborer centers rely on lobbying and..let's

be blunt..begging. Hat in hand, meekly and non violently, they plead

with the politicians and the princes of the church for more funding and

an end to deportations, and beg the homeowners and contractors to be

nice and pay "living wages".

Just about the only struggle that happens in these centers is the

efforts organized by the workers themselves to keep wages at above the

starvation levels, by persuading each other to not work for less than $


This failure to struggle against segregation is why the day laborer

centers are actively supported by much of the business

community..unlike the coalitions, who've faced years of repression.

The day laborer centers are praised by the corporate media, tolerated

by union bosses, financed by the government and generally get the full

support of Corporate America.

Just about the only folks who condemn the day laborer centers are a

handfull of workers and, unfortunately, some White Supremicist


The racists, despite their claims to be defenders of "American workers"

(by which they mean WHITE American workers, of course), have their own

bigoted reasons for opposing the workers centers..they want to preserve

America as a White majority country, and wish to keep Latino workers

out of largely White suburbs and small towns. The White Power folks

honestly don't give a damn about the wage issue..they'd be happy to see

WHITE workers subsisting on poverty level wages.

Of course, not all opposition to day laborer centers comes from the

fascists of the White nationalist one case, in College

Park, Maryland, the opposition to day laborer centers came from Latino

workers themselves.

The coporate media have their own reasons to be sympathetic to the

agencies that run the day labor centers.

And I don't think it's anti racism....

More likely, the positive media image of these day laborer centers is

due to the fact that the media have strong ties with the real estate

and banking interests, and, of course, those folks want to have

construction wages as low as possible. The existance of a large pool of

day labor helps the financiers push down skilled trades wages.

By contrast with the high profile support for the day labor centers,

the coalitions have been harassed by the police and the FBI for the

last 38 years, condemned by the press and the leadership of the

construction unions and are, generally speaking, viewed as a threat to

institutional racism in the building trades.

Despite their stated anti racism, objectively, the day laborer centers

serve as an obstacle to resistance developing against racial

segregation in construction...and help push wages down for construction

workers of all colors.

They fit right in with Corporate America's plan to import unlimited

numbers of workers from Third World countries (in particular Mexico) to

force down service sector wages in the same way that runaway shops and

maquiladoras have been used to push down industrial pay scales.

The AFL-CIO..and, in particular the New Unity Partnership unions (the

Service Employees International Union, Union of Needletrades,

Industrial and Textile Employees, Hotel Employees and Restaurant

Employees Union, Laborers Union and Carpenters Union)..actively support

this corporate effort to deflate the wages and living standards of all

American workers..and to keep Mexican and other immigrant workers at a

stavation-level standard of living, by allowing unlimited immigration.

Sadly, these efforts are presented as "progressive" and "anti racist".

Which is really strange, considering the fact that the AFL-CIO, in it's

entire history, has never gone out of it's way to fight racism...

Think about it, have American unions ever staged any kind of civil

rights demonstration? (other than all Black unions like the Brotherhood

of Sleeping Car Porters or all Latin unions like the United Farm


Hell, some unions, like the Plumbers, openly barred Blacks from joining

as late as 1968...

Even today, have the unions done anything to fight around

discrimination against the Black community? Has the AFL-CIO said even

one word about the government's racist prison policies that have locked

up over 1 million African Americans? Have the unions lifted a finger to

fight against racial profiling, or the housing discrimination that

locks Blacks out of most suburban communities in this country? For that

matter, when have the unions called a demonstration to defend

affirmative action?

When it comes to Latinos, have the unions ever called a demonstration

to fight for bilingual education? And, of course, mass incarceration

affects Latinos almost as badly as it hurts Blacks..not to mention

Latinos are also subject to racial profiling and housing

discrimination, and also need affirmative action...and, as I just

pointed out, the unions have not lifted a finger to struggle around

those issues.

The only Latin civil rights issue that the unions have mobilzed around

is amnesty for illegal immigrants. Now, of course, this will benefit

the nation's 11 million illegal aliens, most of whom are from Mexico or

other Latin American countries. These workers will also benefit from

things like state governments recognizing the Matricula Consular

[Mexican consulate issued ID cards] as legitimate identification and

issuing drivers licenses to illegal immigrants.

However, the unions has also been quietly supporting the Craig Kennedy

Bill through Congress. That law would allow American employers to

legally employ illegal immigrants, and even directly import foreign

workers..and deport them when they don't need them anymore.

To qualify for this "Guest Worker" status, the workers would have to

have been employed as a farm laborer for 100 days out of the last 3

years. As a condition of legal status they'd be compelled to work for

360 days out of the next 6 years as a farm laborer. Failing to work the

required number of days, or taking a job in another industry, would be

punished by deportation.

It's an extension of the already existing H-1B and H2A visa programs

used by computer companies, agribusiness and construction contractors

to import low wage indentured workers from other countries.

Currently, almost 3 million indentured workers are employed through

these programs...and, they have no right to strike, quit or look for

another job, can be fired and deported on a whim by their bosses, are

allowed to be paid substandard wages and, incredibly enough, can even

be "sold" to another employer without their consent.

The Craig Kennedy Bill extention to the H-1B and H-2A visa programs

would hurt ALL American workers..immigrant and citizen

increasing competition for jobs and flooding already overcrowded labor

markets with rightless low wage workers.

And, ultimately, that's why the government, and the corporate cheiftans

who they work for, are pushing for amnesty for illegal

let American businesspeople have an unlimited supply of low wage


These same corporate elements are behind the newfound interest the

unions have in immigrant rights...remember, the leaders of the AFL-CIO

routinely let Corporate America do their thinking for them, and this

case is no exception..

Wall Street and the real estate developers of America want cheap

labor..and the union bosses are going to help them get

cynically hiding their complicity with Corporate America's desire to

import cheap labor behind the legitimate civil rights demands of

immigrant workers

This is why the AFL-CIO found itself, along with the Catholic Church,

sponsoring the Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride.

The church and the labor body wern't the only sponsors, of

course..buried almost at the end of the 30 page list of local and

international unions, immigrant organizations, civil rights groups,

religious leaders and politicians was a short list of "business

endorsers" of the event.

And, on that list, carefully buried among the minority newspapers,

immigration law firms, ethnic restaurants and inner city furniture

stores were two of the largest corporations in America...SBC and MCI.

We all know MCI..or, as it was known until recently, MCI WorldCom..the

scandal scarred Mississippi-based agressively anti union long distance

telephone carrier. Besides keeping it's workers unorganized and

scamming investors, MCI is also notorious for brutally overcharging the

families of incarcerated people who need to recieve calls from their

relatives in prison.

SBC isn't quite as horrible as MCI (hell, who could be?). They're not

100% non union...yet. But, they are slowly but surely making as many

parts of the company open shop as they can. They also don't price gouge

as many Black and Latin families as MCI..because MCI has something of a

monopoly over the extortianately priced prison phone systems in many

states as well as in the federal prisons operated by the Bureau of

Prisons and the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

However, it's not at all clear why these two telecommunications giants

suddently care so much about immigrants rights. Perhaps it's a

marketing ploy (immigrants, naturally, make a LOT of long distance

phone calls)..or maybe they just desire cheap labor for their call


On Saturday October 4, the closing rally of the freedom ride, attended

by 100,000 workers was held at Flushing Meadows Park in Queens, just

south of Shea Stadium.

The event had begun 15 days earlier, with a 900 person bus caravan

taking off from Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Las

Vegas, Houston, Minneapolis, Chicago, Miami and Boston.

The 10 arms of this bus motorcade joined in Washington for a Capitol

Hill rally and lobbying event on the 1st.

Then, the columns linked up and went to Liberty State Park (the park

across New York Harbor from the Statue of Liberty) in Jersey City, New

Jersey on the 3rd. That same day, smaller local marches were held in

largely immigrant populated neighborhoods in New York City (including

West Harlem, the neighborhood where this writer lives..that rally was

actually right across the street from this writer's apartment)

The grand finale for this nationwide event was the huge rally in


And, from the opening rally in Los Angeles to the closing event in

Flushing, the union bosses and the princes of the church kept a tight

political lid on the immigrant workers.

The Los Angeles rally that started the event was practically a pro war

rally, with a heavy military presence, lots of bombastic flag waving

nationalism and a major emphasis on encouraging immigrants to enlist in

the military and fight in Mr Bush's oil war in Iraq.

In fact, considering the continuing heavy US Army and Marine Corps

losses in the "Sunni Triangle", and the almost mutinously low morale in

many National Guard and Reserve units bogged down in counterinsurgency

warfare on the Iraqi's entirely possible that the

government's sudden interest in immigrant's rights might be due to dire

need of young immigrant men and women to serve as cannon fodder in the

endless "War On Terrorism"...

In this case, the carrot to get these folks to enlist would the promise

of citizenship...

If they come back alive.

That might explain the heavily militaristic tone of the Los Angeles


On the tail end of the bus motorcade, in Jersey City's Liberty State

Park, socialists and other militant anti racists were actually

physically barred from attending the rally by AFL-CIO staffers, so only

folks politically acceptable to the Democratic Party could speak.

Left wing anti racists were barred from the rally..but, fascists, nazis

and skinheads were allowed to have a racist "counter demonstration"

near the rally site.

The concluding event, in Flushing Meadows Park, was similarly

ideologically controlled.

The politically mainstream tone was set by the event's main speakers,

the NYC Central Labor Council's president, State Assemblyman Brian

McLaughlin (D. Queens) and "His Eminence" (yes, that's actually what

they called him on the official AFL-CIO leaflets) Edward Cardinal Egan,

the head of the New York Archdiocese.

Just to make sure that none of the 100,000 workers in attendance might

get any militant ideas about making the protest more effective (by, for

instance, blocking the streets or doing other radical acts) the rally

was held on a Saturday afternoon in a park that's in a very remote and

isolated part of the city.

Flushing Meadows Park, site of the 1964 Word's Fair, is deep in the

Borough of Queens, far from Manhattan, the city's center.

It's completely cut off from the surrounding neighborhoods by 4

highways, two sets of train tracks, a New York City Transit subway yard

and repair shop, a large complex of steel scrap yards and Shea Stadium.

The rally site itself was only accessable from one subway station,

Willets Point/Shea Stadium on the # 7 line.

This meant that the New York Police Department had total control over

access to the site, and could, if necessary, confine any breakaway

demonstrators to the site. The cops were aware of this, and, within the

isolated rally site, further divided up the ralliers with lots and lots

of steel crowd control barricades...just to keep everybody in line.

Militant breakaways from boring official labor rallies have been a

problem for labor rallies here before...

Back on Tuesday, June 30, 1998, a 40,000 worker Building Trades Council

rally against the MTA's use of non union contractor Roy Kay to build a

subway command center was taken over by the workers, who proceded to

take over Midtown Manhattan, totally disrupting business and traffic

for almost 5 hours in the middle of the workweek..

That militant act (which has since come to be known as the "40,000 man

march") was very embarassing to NYC union bosses, who spent days

issuing whimpering public apologies to the real estate developers on TV

for their failure to keep the workers in line.

I posted an eyewitness account of the 40,000 man march on GANGBOX, at :

Apparently, the union bureaucracy didn't want a repeat of,

they had the rally out in the middle of nowhere, carefully isolated

from the rest of the city, on a weekend.

This isolation led to another problem...price gouging by the handfull

of vendors permitted to sell on the site.

Since the park is cut off from the nearby neighborhoods by highways,

the stadium and a subway yard, workers couldn't get food or water from

local stores..and had to buy overpriced meals and drinks from the

limited number of vendors who were allowed on the site by the NYC Parks

Department and the rally organizers... This was a major hardship for

many of the poorer workers attending this event.

Beyond that, the union bosses were not able to physically bar leftists

from attending the rally here, as they did in Jersey City, but the sure

as hell could keep them off the speakers platform, with only Democratic

Party politicians, union officials and Catholic Church officials

permitted to address the crowd.

The speakers at all of these events were long on praise for the

immigrant work ethic and sympathy for the plight of the undocument

worker..and damned short on specifics.

This is probably because the Catholic Church and the AFL-CIO, as I

mentioned above, are quietly supporting the Craig Kennedy bill, a

racist "Guest Worker" proposal that's making it's way through the


This bill, sponsored by big corporate agribusiness interests in

California, Arizona, Texas and other Western states would do little to

help illegal immigrants gain citizenship status.

It would, however, guarantee corporate ranchers the right to import a

minumum of 500,000 cheap laborers..and DEPORT THOSE WORKERS AT WILL if

they dare to get other jobs..

Even if the immigrants work in farm labor, if they get less than 360

days work in a 3 year period, even if that's due to no fault of their

own, they can get deported too.

Similar guest worker programs are planned for the hotel and restaurant

industry if this law is introduced, and we may see a similar law in


To get an idea of just what a "Guest Worker" program really means, just

ask the several million Turkish workers who live and work in Germany,

Switzerland and Sweden

Those liberal "social democratic" countries all have long had deeply

racist ["Guest Worker"] programs, similar to the

Craig Kennedy bill.

The Gastarbeiter programs have guaranteed 50 years of second class

citizenship for immigrant workers. Many of those workers have lived in

places like West Berlin, Stokholm or Geneva for decades, and had

children and grandchildren there, but they are still considered

transient aliens, and are treated as deportable aliens by the cops.

These workers have no civil rights, cannot vote, and the elaborate

social welfare programs that those European states are so famous for do

not apply to gastarbeiters..or, their European-born children, no matter

how long they've lived in the country.

Middle Eastern countries like Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab

Emirates have similar guest worker programs for their oil,

construction, hotel, restaurant, sea freight and domestic service

industries...basically, they get a disposable workforce, who can be

used, abused, fired, deported and even arrested on an employer's whim.

Needless to say, a racist law like that wouldn't sell well to the

workers at these the union bosses and the princes of the

church kept quiet about that.

Bottom line, "freedom ride" or no, the union bureaucracy really doesn't

have that much to offer the immigrant worker..except the same second

class status, low substandard wages and racism that Corporate America

has been serving up.

Unlike the REAL Freedom Rides of the 1960's, the questions of

integration and equality aren't even on the table.... All that's on the

agenda is the Craig Kennedy Bill's permanent second class citizenship,

and indentured servitude to the lowest paying employers in the nation.

Now, the question is, why is the AFL-CIO doing this?

Why have they supported institutional racism for so long?

How come they have nothing to offer Latino immigrant workers but a

future of poverty, discrimination and second class status?

Why do they support racist "Guest Worker" programs?

Is it because union leaders are bad people?

Is it due to the fact that very few unions, even those with heavily

Hispanic memberships, have leaders who are actually Latino?

I belive the racism of the unions, and their failure to really address

the burning issues of the Latin workers, is due to something called

"Business Unionism".

What's that?

Basically, it's a philosophy that says that businesspeople and workers

have common interests, and that it's the job of unions to promote

"harmony" and "cooperation" between labor and management.

Of course, since workers and bosses have fundamental conflicts,

business unions end up having to sell out the interests of the workers

in order to cooperate with management.

In this case, the only way the AFL-CIO leadership can even imagine

achieving civil rights for Latino immigrant workers is through forcing

those brothers and sisters to work for below subsistance wages, in a

state of intentured second class citizenship.

It's totally beyond the imagination of the union bureaucracy to

envision leading a struggle of these workers, so they can fight for

their rights, and get the same rights, priviliges, immunities, and most


American, Black and US Citizen Latino workers.

You see, to achieve that, there would need to be a long, hard, bitter,

agressive and militant struggle against the employers... and that's

just the kind of thing that business unionists avoid like the plague.

Is there an alternative?

I think there is..and, in my opinion, the path to Latino immigrant

worker equality lies through something called "Revolutionary Unionism".

What's that?

I've talked about revolutionary unionism on the GANGBOX website before,

at :

and on the GANGBOX listserv, at:


Basically, revolutionary unionism means labor organizations that

recognize the fact that workers and bosses have a basic conflict... We

do the work, and they pay us less than the full value of the goods or

services they produce. That difference ("surplus value", to use a

really fancy name for it), is the source of all corporate profits...

Bottom line, the less they pay us, the more money goes in their

pockets..and, the more money we make, the less the bosses have to take

for themselves. Same thing with shorter hours, and better working

conditions...if we're better off, it means less money for the rich


That's why we have to fight so hard for every little benefit we get..

And it's always going to be like that, as long as we live in a

capitalistic society, where the businesspeople and corporate rulers are

in total control.

So, until we're ready, willing and able to establish a

worker-controlled society, we'll need revolutionary unions, to make our

lives as bearable as possible under this system. would revolutionary unionism deal with the persecution

and poverty imposed on the immigrant workers..and the effect that mass

immigration has on wages and unemployment levels in this country?

That's a tough question..but I have some ideas of what we might want to

try and do.

First thing, specifically in the construction industry, we need to re

unionize residential construction, and we really need to do that now.

Of course, when the construction industry was originally unionized by

the socialists, communists and anarchists who founded the building

trades unions, the main tactic they used was areawide strikes, or, to

use the terminology they used at the time, "trade movements".

They would organize a citiwide strike, and march from jobsite to

jobsite, persuading and/or coercing every worker in that particular

craft in that area to participate.

That tactic can still work today..that's what the residential

sheetrockers in Los Angeles did back in 1991 when they were striking to

get into the Carpenters Union.

Now, of course, those carpenters were self-organized, the Carpenters

Union only came in once they'd done all the work and gone out on the

streets and battled scabs, cops and the INS.

There's absolutely no reason in the world why other Latino immigrant

tradespeople can't follow in their footsteps..and, get themselves

organized, and integrated into the mainstream construction unions..

This would benefit everybody in the business...if that sector was

reorganized, and the wage standard was brought up to union levels, it

would help the entire construction workforce, immigrant and

American-born alike.

In fact, it's entirely possible that the day labor centers might be the

nucleus of just such a movement..if the workers in them were able to

capture their leadership from the clergy and the social services folks.

Now, organizing these workers would be kind of tricky.

For one thing, there's the whole self employment question - when these

workers go to private homes, to work directly for the homeowner, they

are basically acting as independent contractors.

One way that issue could be dealt with would be adding a minimum price

list for self employment to the unions bylaws..with that price list

being equal or close to union scale, and having some mechanism for

verifying that every union member doing side work actually charged

those prices.

For the day laborers that are employed by contractors, there would be

the whole issue of making sure that the newly organized workers are

integrated into the same locals as American workers, and that the

residential contractors are signatory to an agreement with the same

pay, benefits and working conditions as the commercial agreement...

Beyond that, there's the language issue. That is, for these workers to

effectively participate in the unions, they would need to have the

contract, bylaws, working rules, constitution and union newsletters

translated into Spanish, or whatever other languages that day laborers

in that area speak (Portuguese, Polish, Punjabi, Chinese ect).

And, the workers would also need to be provided with the opportunity to

take English classes as well. Also, there would also have to be

translation services provided at union meetings and at the

apprenticeship school, and, of course, organizers, BAs and union staff

who speak the languages the workers speak.

Beyond that, the employers have to be forced to pay back all the

superprofits they've gained in the last decade of mass immigration.

I would propose that employers be required to sponsor any illegal

immigrant worker they presently employ for Permanent Resident status

(that is, the famous "Green Card"). The contractors should also have to

pay the full cost of immigration attorneys, fingerprinting, application

fees and any and all other costs of legalization. Also, illegal

immigrant workers should get time off with pay for appointments with

the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services that happen during

working hours.

In the event a worker gets detained, the employer should have to pay

them the equivilant of what they would recieve from unemployment

insurance (that is, 50% of their wages up to a maximum of $ 405/wk) for

the time they are in detention. In the event a worker is actually

deported, once they have arrived in their country of origin, the

contractor should send them a check for one week's wages for every year

they've been employed by that contractor, plus $ 405/wk for 26 weeks.'s only fair..for all these years that bosses have profited by

paying substandard wages to immigrant workers, it's about damned time

that they pay some of that money back to the people who made that money

for them!!!

Representatives of these workers would also need the opportunity to

take part in the leadership of the locals they were organized into....

That's very important..and, actually that's been one of the most

persistant problems for Black and US Citizen Latino workers in the

building trades..once we were able to "kick in the door" and get in the

union, we've never really had the opportunity to hold office in the

unions in proportion with our numbers among the membership.

Unfortunately, as I pointed out above, Latino immigrant workers have

had the same problem..many unions want to organize immigrant

workers..but exclude them from having any meaningful say in how the

unions are run.

Now, of course, none of this stuff is going to happen by itself...

Far from it..if the immigrant workers centers keep going the way they

are going, the best they can expect is 'seperate but equal' tokenism,

and continued status as second class low wage workers.

In other words, for these workers to achieve equality, it's going to

take a struggle...a struggle that will need to be led by the Latino

immigrant workers themselves.

The day labor centers COULD be a means of leading that struggle..

But, for that to happen, the workers themselves would have to take the

centers over from the social service professionals, politicians and

priests who currently dominate them..and, the centers would have to be

controlled by actual construction workers.

Now, of course, if this were to happen, the immigrants would suddenly

find that all the so called "friends of the immigrants" in the

Democratic Party, the AFL-CIO heirarchy and the leadership of the

Catholic Church will turn their backs on these workers with a truly

astonishing speed.

Remember, at the end of the day, the Democratic Party is a

corporate-controlled entity, and it's going to deliver what Corporate

America and the real estate developer community want...a plentiful and

disposable supply of rightless cheap labor.

As for the Catholic Church...they are an employer themselves, running

many school systems, universities, hospitals, cemetaries, social

service agencies, foster homes all over the country..and they are a

major landowner as well. So, the Church wants cheap labor for it's

businesses too. And, of course, since most of these immigrants are

Catholic, the clergy get the added bonus of more parisioners in their

churches as well, and more nickles and dimes in the collection plate.

As for the union bosses...they are accustomed to giving management what

they want, and the business community of this country, from Wall Street

to Main Street, wants a surplus of cheap labor.

None of these groups are "friends" of the Latino immigrants..they are

actually deadly enemies...and the only hope that the day laborers have

is to fight to integrate themselves into the mainstream of the American

workforce, and the mainstream of the American union movement, so they

can fight for their rights.

That $ 80 dollars a day is just the it's time for these

workers to fight for the whole ball of wax.....

Thats it for now.

Be union, work safe.


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check out CHIRLA's day laborer project more rational Monday, Oct. 20, 2003 at 5:11 PM

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