[OPE-L] May Day and immigrants' rights

From: glevy@PRATT.EDU
Date: Thu Apr 27 2006 - 09:59:10 EDT

Oh well, since I jumped the gun and mentioned May Day I might as well
mention this new tradition. From <http://www.counterpunch.org>.

In solidarity, Jerry


April 25, 2006

You Know You're on to Something When the Democrats Try to Sabotage You

Breathing Life into May Day


For the first time in six decades, International Workers' Day will be
celebrated on U.S. soil with mass working-class demonstrations on May 1st.

May Day, celebrated the world over, commemorates the seismic upheaval inside
the U.S. that launched the struggle for the eight-hour workday in 1886, a
time when native-born workers had few rights and immigrants had still fewer,
yet both united in a class-wide battle.

The decision to organize a national day of protest for immigrants' rights on
May 1st this year is a conscious nod toward the traditions embodied by this
working-class holiday, in which immigrants have played such a vital role

May 1, 2006 holds the potential to begin to revive that tradition, from
America's grassroots.

The movement's most powerful slogan, "a day without immigrants," is based
upon a strategy of social struggle tied explicitly to the power of workers
to withhold their labor-which successfully built the U.S. union movement in
the first few decades of the twentieth century.
For the labor movement, the lessons of this new struggle, with traditions
rooted in its own history, could finally begin to reverse decades of retreat
and setback.

To be sure, there is a debate over strategy underway inside the immigrants'
rights movement. Last week, Time magazine featured an article, "The
Immigrants' Dilemma: To Boycott or Not to Boycott? A split is growing over
how militant the upcoming 'Day Without Immigrants' should be."

Democratic Party sabotage

Since hundreds of thousands turned out to protest in more than 100 cities on
April 10th, spurring several days of student walkouts from Dallas to Los
Angeles, Congressional Democrats and their movement minions have done their
best to reign in workplace and school walkouts on May 1st.

Democrats have warned supporters that walkouts could create a "backlash,"
while dangling the promise of "comprehensive immigration reform"-a
misleading term denoting "legalization" rather than "amnesty".

Thus far, Democratic-sponsored proposals for legalization exclude the vast
majority of immigrants from the path to citizenship, instead promoting guest
worker programs that offer immigrant workers no right to workplace
representation, to the delight of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Moreover, Democrats are carefully playing to both sides in the national
immigration debate, as Sen. Hillary Clinton demonstrated in a recent New
York Daily News interview, in which reporters described
<http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/193185923X/counterpunchmaga> her
"embracing both conservative and liberal goals."

In the interview, Clinton argued that U.S. borders should be secured with a
wall or "smart fence" before legalization begins.

In contrast to the moribund antiwar movement, however, Democrats have not
successfully derailed the militant wing of the immigrants' rights
movement-and plans for a May 1st boycott continue in major U.S. cities.

The difference has been the strength of the immigrants' rights movement
inside the working class and the growth of a committed left wing willing to
challenge the dominance of strategies that rely on Congressional Democrats.

While the catalyst for this movement has been the Sensenbrenner Bill, HR
4437, criminalizing undocumented immigrants and anyone who assists them, the
sentiment among millions of immigrants is for full rights and amnesty.

And Democrats' attempts at sabotage have begun to embolden a self-conscious
left wing within the movement.

New York City activists booed Clinton's proposals at an April 22nd planning
meeting for a human chain protest.

Los Angeles-based Nativo Lopez, president of the Mexican American Political
Association, argued, "So what's the ruckus about a boycott? We need to put
the focus of power with the worker and immigrants, not in the hierarchies,
to resolve the immigration reform debate."

The role of immigrant labor

The fates of both native- and foreign-born workers are inextricably tied,
despite widespread claims to the contrary.

As Julio Huato argued recently in Monthly Review, "The working and living
conditions of U.S. workers don't have to be subject to a zero-sum game
played by natives versus immigrants (and this includes our thin and frayed
social safety net). But they will be for as long as we treat the interest of
capital as immutable and sacred."

There is nothing new about the modern immigration debate except the legal
terminology. Immigrants have not been welcomed in the "land of opportunity"
since the first wave of Irish immigrants landed on U.S. shores in the late

No distinction existed between documented and undocumented immigrants before
broad immigration controls were imposed in the 1920s. All immigrant labor
was used to compete with white, native-born workers-as were disfranchised
Corporations have traditionally used racism to encourage competition between
workers, in order to drive down wages for the entire working class and
weaken the labor movement.

Yet all too often, union leaders have betrayed workers' interests by
opposing the rights of immigrants while failing to champion the rights of

In 1867, when 10,000 Chinese workers staged one of the most important
strikes of the nineteenth century, they stood alone.

They demanded higher pay, shorter working hours (including an eight hour-day
for tunneling workers), a ban on whipping and the right of workers to quit
their jobs.

Yet no unions came to their defense, and within a week the strike was
crushed-a setback for the entire labor movement, which would not win the
right to unionize until the 1930s.

The Haymarket Massacre

Immigrant workers have performed another service for the U.S. working class,
long unacknowledged and broadly unappreciated: Since 1886, when German
immigrants incorporated the politics of anarchism and Marxism into the
struggle for the eight-hour day, immigrant workers have brought radical
politics with them when they migrate, pressuring the U.S. labor movement
from within to challenge the conservative ideology U.S. rulers seek to

In 1886, anarchists from the International Working People's Association
(IWPA) led the struggle for the eight-hour day, and its ground troops were
overwhelmingly German immigrants.

Forty thousand workers struck for the eight-hour day in Chicago, including
an altercation with police on May 3 alongside strikers at McCormick
Harvester Works that killed four workers and injured many more.

A rally the next day at Haymarket Square to protest the police brutality
attracted just 1,200, dwindling to 300 when rain began to fall. Just as the
speeches were concluding, police entered the square and ordered the rally to
disperse. As the speakers were leaving, a bomb was thrown into the crowd,
killing eight and injuring 67 police. In response to the bomb, police opened
fire on the crowd, killing and wounding civilians and police alike.

Without evidence, eight Chicago anarchists were tried and convicted-not of
actual murder, but of "conspiracy to commit murder" and for "inciting,"
rather than committing, violence in Haymarket Square. The struggle
culminated in the trial and execution of four of the movement's leaders,
including anarchists August Spies and Albert Parsons.

In 1893, Illinois governor John Peter Altgeld finally issued a pardon,
acknowledging that no evidence incriminated any of those convicted in the

Nonetheless, the Haymarket incident unleashed a wave of antiradical and
anti-immigrant hysteria. Newspaper headlines screamed for revenge against
"Dynamarchists" and "Red Ruffians."

Because German immigrants provided the largest base for anarchism, the
Chicago Times described America's "enemy forces" as "rag-tag and bob-tail
cutthroats from the Rhine, the Danube, the Vuistukla and the Elbe."

Immigrant workers today

Today, Mexicans, El Salvadorans, and other Latinos have brought with them
traditions of class struggle absent since McCarthyism excised radicals from
the U.S. labor movement in the 1950s.

These traditions hold the potential to revitalize the U.S. labor movement,
if it welcomes them.

Only in 2000 did the AFL-CIO finally reverse its long-standing opposition to
the rights of undocumented immigrants, making possible a historic
opportunity for uniting workers across racial and ethnic barriers.

But labor leaders must also reverse their long-standing aversion to class
struggle for the movement to succeed. Far from creating a backlash, the
return of struggle is the key to U.S. labor's survival.

Sharon Smith is the author of Women and Socialism
<http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1931859116/counterpunchmaga>  and
Subterranean Fire: a History of Working-Class Radicalism in the United
States <http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/193185923X/counterpunchmaga>
. She can be reached at: sharon at internationalsocialist.org

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