May 3, 2006
By the millions in every major city and many towns in the US, immigrant workers and youth, primarily Latin Americans but also of Caribbean, Asian, and African nationalities took to the streets in defense of their rights as workers. Defying threats from bosses and condescending admonishments from some conservative movement “leaders”, the most oppressed layers of the US working class put International Workers Day, May 1, back on the calendar and into the consciousness of tens of millions in this country where May Day was first observed 120 years ago. Workers who have been cast into the precarious margins of US society, super-exploited by greedy bosses, isolated from their families and native lands by the destructive forces of imperialism, insulted and debased by chauvinism and racism, and threatened by the migra and the other repressive forces of the state have taken their rightful place at the forefront of the workers’ struggle in the US. On May Day they took a giant step toward uniting the US working class with their bold action. Their initiative must be joined and reciprocated by all workers, especially the white workers and more privileged layers, in unconditional support for their mobilizations and the demands for full and equal rights for all workers of all nationalities, and the right of oppressed nations to self-determination.
The May Day outpouring, which was called the “Gran Paro Americano / Great American Strike” or “Un Día Sin Inmigrantes / A Day Without Immigrants” was, though in a partial form due to the minimal organized participation of most trade unions, a general strike: by all measures a momentous political advance for the working class. Countless small businesses in the latin@ immigrant communities were closed down for the day, often with signs posted indicating solidarity with the action. Meat and poultry producers Cargill, Purdue, Swift, and Tyson closed plants, although they will force their workers to make up the day this Saturday. Goya foods suspended deliveries for the day. Restaurant owners’ associations in many cities distributed leaflets saying that workers would be allowed to skip the day – if they found replacements! Gallo wines in California suspended production. Work at many of California’s fruit and vegetable plantations ceased as farm workers walked off the fields and paraded through the cities of California’s agricultural Central Valley. Truckers at the port of Los Angeles stopped work in solidarity. Despite the threats of racist school administrators who were responsible for the suicide of student Anthony Soltero, students across the nation organized in their schools and walked out to join the marches on May 1. Over a quarter of middle and high school students were reported absent by the Los Angeles district, with tens of thousands of students, though officially at lower percentages, participating in New York City, San Francisco, Chicago, and many other cities.
The extremely racist and reactionary bill HR 4437 sparked this explosion of outrage, which has been built by decades of racism and oppression. Hundreds of latin@ immigrants die in the southwestern deserts of the US every year, forced into dangerous crossings by the military patrols and walls that have been erected along more urban sections of the US-Mexico border. They work for substandard wages with few or no benefits or safety measures for employers who count on their fear of deportation. If they are snatched by government agents, they are taken to a shadowy network of hundreds of detention centers, some of them “Guantánamo-style” outdoor camps in the deserts of Arizona and New Mexico, and held without recourse to the rights of citizens. Amnesty International reports in 2001 that those detained included over five thousand unaccompanied children. Tear down the prison walls! Freedom and compensation for all the detainees! Jail for the real international criminals: Bush and all his accomplices!
PERSPECTIVE AND A WAY FORWARD FOR THE MOVEMENT
* Labor must give full organizational support to the immigrants’ rights mobilizations! Endorsements and actions mediated by “civil-society” fronts and NGOs are not enough! When immigrant workers call for a strike, organize for a strike!
With some local exceptions, the trade unions did not play a leading role in the May Day actions. This is a reflection of the political backwardness of the trade union bureaucracy, who are the agents of the bourgeois Democratic Party, and President Bush himself, in this new movement. Bush and the Democrats want to use the whip of HR 4437 to gain support for more “moderate” racist legislation, which would institutionalize the second-class status of most immigrant workers while providing a limited “path” for immigrant workers to “earn” citizenship in this land that was stolen at gunpoint from Native Americans and Mexicans, and built by enslaved Africans. Labor leaders spoke on the platforms and some unions fielded contingents in the marches. Unions were represented in the multi-class coalitions such as “Jobs with Justice” that organized or supported some of the marches. But no AFL-CIO or Change to Win internationals or locals brought their membership together in meetings to propose strike resolutions and plan their implementation. This severely limited the potential social and political power of the May 1 marches and boycotts. The unions need a leadership that has the courage and political foresight to propose to their membership what the grassroots immigrant workers’ movement has proposed to the working class as a whole. The possibility that these initiatives might not win the immediate support of more backward elements of the rank-and-file membership is no excuse. It is time to put full rights for immigrants and a fighting strategy to win them on the agenda of all workers organizations. The most oppressed, often non-unionized sectors started this process on May 1, but their effort was not matched by the conservative union bureaucracies. This led to impressive unity in the streets, but relative isolation and greater personal risk for the participants in their own workplaces. United strike action by all the working class organizations is the best guarantee of security and progress for the entire class! Union leaders who don’t fully support the immigrants’ rights movement should be thrown out by their ranks and told to join the bosses where they belong!
As an immediate defense measure, the local unions and community organizations must organize defense committees for material and political support for any workers who have been fired or suspended as a result of May 1 or earlier actions. For the greatest possibility of success, the defense committees can not limit themselves to legalistic measures but must mobilize the broadest possible layers of the workers in their localities for pickets and boycott campaigns against offending employers. They should link up to a national effort with support petitions and a fundraising campaign for material support for fired workers and their families. This would strengthen the effect of measures already being taken by the Service Employees union to file charges with the National Labor Relations Board in defense of fired workers.
* No to the Democrats, the party of war, racism, and capitalism! No to racist immigration “reforms”! Build a labor party to fight for the rights of immigrant workers and youth!
Radical and socialist organizations, and local May 1 coalitions in the major cities are calling for follow-up meetings in the coming month to plan the next steps for the movement. These are important forums for discussing the politics of the emerging workers’ movement, which are by no means unified or decided. Every measure must be taken to allow grass-roots participation by delegates of workplaces, public schools, and working-class communities, including subsidies for travel and lost wages, and child-care provisions. Only open, democratic debate among all representatives of the working class over the direction of the movement can build unity and prepare the next steps in the struggle for workers’ rights. We propose that the movement not demand anything less than full citizenship rights for all workers and an equal wage and benefits for all work, including domestic work and other traditionally underpaid or unpaid “women’s” work. To support the Democrats (or any capitalist party), or the various “moderate” legislative alternatives, is to fall into the trap of the bosses and to betray the hopes of millions of immigrant workers and youth.
We propose to our fellow workers and youth two interconnected national initiatives. First, that another united-front mobilization be proclaimed by the organizations, under the banner of “No to racism: Full rights for all immigrants!” Although the specific day is not important, US Labor Day, September 4, would be a reasonable choice. This time, it is essential that organized labor match the bold initiative taken by the immigrant workers and youth, and call for a strike from the highest levels: the AFL-CIO and Change To Win, as well as all international unions, local affiliates, and labor councils. Local unions must prepare mass meetings to motivate a strike vote. If a strike can not be authorized, the boldest possible resolutions should be passed and implemented, not only giving verbal support but setting aside funds and organizing staff to mobilize the membership and the working class community for the protests.
Second, labor must field its own candidates in the upcoming mid-term elections, in opposition to both capitalist parties, on a platform of workers rights including equal rights for immigrant workers. Such a campaign would challenge the racist laws and their deceptive “alternatives” now before Congress, and would be an important part of building the Labor Day protests. If the over-conservative rules of the US Labor Party prevent candidates from being fielded on its ticket, they should be run on a labor-community coalition ticket, but independent of capitalist parties like the Republicans and Democrats, and independent of small-businessman parties like the Greens and Reform parties. These are the necessary preparatory steps toward a fighting labor party that can unite the entire working class in this country.
* For national liberation through socialist revolution! Imperialism offers no way out for workers and youth!
Capitalism was born out of the massacre of indigenous peoples from the West Indies to the mines of Potosí. It grew in the US on the genocide of the indigenous peoples of North America and the enslavement of millions of Africans. Today the centers of imperialism, principally the US ruling class, concentrate greater and greater wealth in their hands at the expense of workers and oppressed peoples worldwide. The imperialist takeover of the nations and economies of Latin America, Africa, and Asia, the ensuing destruction of traditional ways of life for peasants and workers, the continuing impoverishment of the working masses and the destructive terror of imperialist war have forced workers from around the world to migrate to the US and other imperialist centers. But here, they find themselves no less exploited, their subordinate place enforced by official racism and campaigns of anti-immigrant chauvinism. In the struggle for profits and world markets, the imperialists must lower wages and standards of living of their own workers toward the most inadequate levels. Racism and national oppression is their most powerful weapon in their struggle to subordinate the workers. No capitalist state, not even with a leftist party in office, will abolish this central pillar holding up capitalist rule. Only democratic workers control of the economy and all institutions of society can remove the profit imperative, which is the material basis for modern racism. To accomplish this all repressive institutions upholding capitalist property rights – the army, the police, and the prisons – must be disbanded and a workers government must take power with its own institutions. Join us to build a party that fights for working class unity and independence to prepare for a socialist revolution. http://groups.yahoo.com/group/labor_action/ http://www.ft-ci.org/