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by jubilee shine
Sunday, May. 27, 2007 at 2:25 PM
drive minutemen from l.a. -
stop ted hayes leimert park rally 6/23
Anti-Immigrant in Black Face?
By Bill Fletcher, Jr. - BC Editorial Board
May 23, 2007
The picture in the ad immediately caught my attention.
The photo was of a very dignified older African
American man looking into the camera, very determined
and equally pensive. Underneath his photo was a
caption giving his name "T. Willard Fair" and the
fact that he was the veteran of 40 years of struggle in
the Civil Rights Movement.
This was certainly enough to pique my interest.
Beneath the caption was a statement declaring that the
alleged threat to African Americans comes from
documented and undocumented immigrants. He went on to
suggest that any notion of legalizing undocumented
workers was a slap in the face of African Americans.
The ad is associated with a group called the
"Coalition for the Future American Worker."
Fair's attack is not surprising, although the
virulence and historical nature of it is very
unsettling, particularly because it is bound to strike
a chord among many African Americans.
Black America has been taking a prolonged economic hit
since the mid 1970s. The economic reorganization which
many people call de-industrialization has had a
devastating impact on the Black worker,
disproportionately so. The elimination and/or
shrinkage of manufacturing jobs in urban centers has
had the effect of hollowing out entire communities,
destabilizing Black America economically, socially and
politically. Rather than the flight of the so-called
middle class, Black America has witnessed the
disintegration of segments of its working class and
This crisis began well before there was a significant
influx of immigrants, and it is this crisis that has
been haunting us. This crisis has been compounded by
the right-wing political assault on the public sector,
largely through anti-tax revolts and privatization,
which has resulted in both a decline in services and a
decline in employment (with the latter also having a
disproportionate impact on the Black worker).
Fair and his coalition mention nothing about this,
which in and of itself is quite significant. Instead
they focus on the competition from the immigrant
worker. While competition exists, particularly in very
low wage work, the problem does not lie with the
immigrants but with the desire on the part of employers
to find workers who will accept the lowest possible
wages. This has been demonstrated in any number of
industries, not the least of which was the janitorial
industry during the 1980s that went from very African
American to very Latino after the industry was
Fair makes it appear that immigrants are the ones
closing steel mills and auto plants. They are not.
Fair acts as if the immigrant workers are carrying out
ethnic cleansing against African Americans. They are
not. We are, however, being cleansed from entire
industries because of the greed of employers who are
always looking at the bottom line and who seek the
cheapest possible workforce, and eventually, if
possible, no human workforce at all, but just a line of
Instead of Fair and his grouping focusing on the
policies that have been destroying African American
employment, they instead pick the easy - and wrong -
target of the immigrant. And, it is easy to pick the
immigrant. For instance, in the construction industry,
an industry that African Americans, along with non-
immigrant Latinos (particularly Puerto Ricans and
Chicanos) and Asians fought for years to get into,
immigrant workers are increasing dramatically as a
significant proportion of the workforce. What is
noteworthy is that this is happening largely in the
lower-paid, non-union construction workforce where,
once again, the "logic" of capitalism prevails in
the search for a low-wage workforce. While the Black
worker wants a construction job, s/he is not looking
for low-wage construction work with no benefits.
Consider the conditions into which Latino immigrant
construction workers were placed when many were brought
to New Orleans for the reconstruction of the city.
Under non-union conditions, they were often housed in a
prison-like environment, and frequently cheated out of
No, Mr. Fair and your cohorts, the problem is not the
immigrant worker. The problem is the system. And,
just as African American workers were used in certain
industries as low-wage workers in the late 19th and
early-to-mid 20th centuries, in order to undercut
higher paid workers, this changed dramatically through
a combination of unionization and the Black Freedom
What lessons can we draw from this?
* As long as there is a vulnerable workforce,
capitalists will seek them out to utilize against
* Low-wage workers will not be competitors if they
cease being low-wage workers, i.e., if they are
unionized and gain power in their workplaces or
* Part of changing the character of work can be
found in the demands of a social movement that
combines the fight for political and social
justice, with economic justice. To a great extent,
the crisis facing the Black worker today can be
linked to the failure of the Black Freedom Movement
to pursue the path suggested by Dr. King toward the
end of his life, that united the fights for racial
justice with economic justice along with what later
came to be known as global justice.
Without disrespecting the life and history of Mr. Fair,
who I am sure made contributions to our struggle for
justice, somewhere along the line he fell prey to the
emotional and hallucinatory appeal of attacking
immigrants as a means of saving the Black worker. Not
only is this morally bankrupt, but it is also
politically bankrupt. If we do not have an accurate
analysis of the problem, we cannot possibly develop a
good strategy to resolve it. Or, perhaps it was better
and more succinctly put by the Cheshire Cat in Alice in
Wonderland when he said, "if you don't know where you
want to go, any road will get you there."
BC Editorial Board member, Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a
long-time labor and international activist and writer.
unite the many,
defeat the few!
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