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LOCAL Commentary :: Civil & Human Rights : Labor & Class

Reflecting on not going to work on May Day

It was a general strike that immigrant workers and allies staged yesterday in order to remind the USA of the central role their labor plays in daily life here.
In an updated version of the Haymarket strike actions in 1886 in Chicago, a strike that gave May 1st its commemorative meaning, people in all varieties of employment stayed home yesterday and hundreds of thoudands more demonstrated. I stayed away from work too, as some of you probably did.

I viewed yesterday's actions as part of the struggle with corporate globalization promoters and their allies in government, who always seek to reduce not only the wages but the rights of workers. Like the movement that broke into the media in 1999 with the WTO actions in Seattle, this Spring's actions across the country respond to central features of the corporate-government alliance that has been dominating global development. And the potential seems to be enormous now that it is so mobilized. I wonder if any of the RVA IMC readers agree.

Some sort of "guest worker" program is not enough. Immigrant workers deserve full citizenship. I think anything less is the real danger to a democratic movement because it creates a caste of servants beneath the citizenry.

"Guest workers" are part of globalization. Usually corporations can find their cheaper labor abroad. Shoes and toys and furniture can be made for next to nothing per hour in out-sourced factories around the world. But farms and houses and yards and restaurant kitchens and hotels can only be worked right here where we live. The pay for these jobs can be bone-drying cheap if you can import the labor and bar it from full civil rights.

A "guest worker" labor pool stays "foreign," even when it lives, eats, raises children, and pays taxes in the US and learns to speak English better than the US President. Those that can't get into the "guest" program, can come "illegally" and periodically be scape-goated. Either way, a caste of workers remains vulnerable and exploited right in the heart of the US labor market.

Keeping these immigrant workers' down helps keep you down. Keeping their wages down reduces yours. Keeping them vulnerable to deportation helps frustrate any attempted revival of a democracy-minded labor and freedom movement. Can anyone build sustainable democratic power in "guest worker" communities where anybody who speaks out or resists can be deported? Citizenship is a form of institutional power and if you are working here, you deserve citizenship as well as anyone born here. Anything less than citizenship strikes me as a calculated attempt to abridge the democratic potential in the people--all of us.

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