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Cross-Post: Divide and Deport: On Immigration, Thom Hartmann and Lou Dobbs Have Much in Common

Imagine 2050 Staff • Mar 05, 2011

By David Bacon

Gratefully borrowed from Working In these Times, Feb 28, 2011

Radio host and author Thom Hartmann has a new book, Rebooting the American Dream. Hartmann has a progressive reputation, and his book supports unions, calls for eliminating tax cuts for the rich and advocates other sensible ideas. But like many liberals, when it comes to immigration his tune changes.

In one chapter, Hartmann says he wants to “Put Lou Dobbs Out to Pasture.”  But Hartmann, like Dobbs, criticizes corporate power and then turns his fire on workers and immigrants. Instead of taking Lou Dobbs on, Hartmann repeats many of the stereotypes and falsehoods that gave Dobbs a reputation as one of the most anti-immigrant commentators in U.S. media. Hartmann, like Dobbs, claims to speak for the interests of working people. And his ideas do reflect the thinking of a certain section of the U.S. working class. That makes it important to understand the impact of his recommendations.

There has always been a conflict in U.S. labor about immigration. Conservatives historically sought to restrict unions and jobs to the native born, to whites and to men, and saw immigrants as job competitors-the enemy.

This was part of an overall perspective that saw unions as businesses or insurance programs, in which workers paid dues and got benefits in return.  Labor’s radicals, however, from the IWW through the CIO to those in many unions today, see the labor movement as inclusive, with a responsibility to organize all workers, immigrant and native-born alike.  They see unions as part of a broader movement for social change in general.

In 1986, the AFL-CIO supported the Immigration Reform and Control Act, because it contained employer sanctions. This provision said employers could only hire people with legal immigration status.  In effect, the law made it a federal crime for an undocumented person to hold a job.  Since passage of the law, immigration raids have led to firings and deportations of thousands of people in workplaces across the country.  In many cases employers have used the law as a way to intimidate immigrant workers, and rid themselves of those trying to organize unions and protest bad wages and conditions.

Transnational corporations invest in developing countries like Mexico, moving production to wherever wages are lowest.  Treaties like the North American Free Trade Agreement promote low wages, privatization, the dumping of agricultural products, and other conditions that increase corporate profits.  But those measures also impoverish and displace people, forcing them to migrate to survive.

When those displaced people arrive in the United States, corporate employers use their hunger and vulnerability to enforce a system of low wages and fear.  In this system, corporations are aided by U.S. immigration laws. While they’re always presented in the media as a means of controlling borders, and keeping people from crossing them, for the last hundred years they’ve been the means of regulating the supply, and consequently the price, of immigrant labor.

When the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 criminalized work for undocumented immigrants, it was a subsidy or gift to employers.  When working becomes illegal, it’s much harder for workers to organize unions, go on strike, and fight for better conditions.

Immigration agents now check documents workers must fill out to get a job, and require employers to fire those whose documents are in question.  In Washington state, they did this in the middle of a union drive among apple workers, and fired 700 people.  That organizing effort was broken.  Smithfield Foods cooperated in raids and firings at its huge Tarheel, North Carolina meatpacking plant.  Workers only overcame the terror they caused when citizens and immigrants, African Americans and Mexicans, agreed to defend the jobs of all workers, and the right of everyone to join the union.  When they won their union drive as a result in 2007, it was the largest private-sector union victory in years.

Continue reading this article at Working In These Times.

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