Tuesday, March 5, 2013
Changing Labor and Community
I do expect that somehow or the other, that the eleven million estimated illegal immigrants will be brought on side as effectively landed immigrants. Perhaps we will also have a viable solution for this chronic problem. More likely, the
USA contraction and improvements in Mexico
if that is possible will end the problem.
In the event this huge group of people as well as their cohort of already established citizens are certain to influence politics as they just have in the past round of elections. The total failure of Romney to hold the Latino vote ended his chances at the presidency.
Yet that audience is profoundly conservative and once past the ideologues are natural supporters of the so called right.
In the meantime we see union action leading the way as here described and that is all good. There is nothing wrong with union action to balance establishment action. It only goes wrong and seriously wrong when they cook up legislation to enshrine power when what is called for is the maintenance of dynamic tension.
Keep that thought. The unions in decline got there by overplaying their apparent power and bringing about the elimination of millions of jobs through outsourcing. Gold plated union contracts destroy political support and allow the opposition to smash them as must inevitably happen.
Charging Through the Archway of History: Immigrants and African-Americans Unite to Transform the Face of Labor and the Power of Community
Why did President Obama travel to
to make a on
immigration? Las Vegas
is a union town. The city is the home of one most powerful unions in the
Americas, an organization built and led largely by Latina, African-American and
Asian-American women who work as maids, housekeepers and food service workers
on the Las Vegas Strip and beyond. Las Vegas
Many of the rank-and-file members of the 60,000-member Culinary Workers Union Local 226 are single mothers, and without their support Obama would not be President of the
. The president understands this and herein lays the symbolic power of his speech, as well as the transformations in American life that it reveals. The new president of Local 226 is the brilliant organizer Geoconda Arguello-Kline. She was a picket captain during the epic Frontier Hotel Strike (1991-1998) where not a single one of the 550 hotel workers crossed the picket line. The strike "showed us all what unity and perseverance are," she recalled. Arguello-Kline originally hails from United States and
is a former hotel . Managua,
In the 1990s, Local 226 became the fastest-growing private sector union in the
. It was led by the
legendary African-American unionist Hattie Canty, who migrated to United States Las Vegas from rural . In contrast to the AFL-CIO's George
Meany, who bragged that he had never been on a picket line, Canty was one of
the greatest strike leaders in Alabama
history. Her patient leadership helped knit together a labor union made up of
members from 84 nations. "Coming from US ," Canty observed, "this
seemed like the civil rights struggle ... the labor movement and the civil
rights movement, you cannot separate the two of them." Alabama
Whether they hail from
Thailand, Central America or
someplace else, the members of Local 226 represent the future promise of the .
This is not about demographics; it is about (heart),
the willingness to struggle together and the courage to challenge corporate Americas when
others have surrendered. America
The place where a president chooses to deliver a major address is important. In 1980, Ronald Reagan traveled to
- the least unionized state in the country - to make a speech on "states'
rights." He was trying to build a base of white southern support pursuant
to the 1980 Presidential Election. Neshoba County, Mississippi
He gave his speech a few miles away from the place where three civil rights activists had been murdered in 1964. James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner were killed by people who held the doctrine of "states rights" to be a sacred part of their Confederate heritage. While Reagan may have been ignorant of the civil rights movement, he was well aware of the role that the Republican Party's "Southern Strategy" played in his electoral chances. The goal was to play upon white pride and to undermine the Democratic Party in the South. In the short term, it worked.
But elections decide nothing. The zombie-like grip that policies implemented by cohorts of Reagan/Ayn
acolytes will only be broken by collective action. The Student Nonviolent
Coordinating Committee and the United Farm Workers did not wait for John F.
Kennedy or Lyndon B. Johnson to do for them what they could do for themselves.
Freedom schools, strikes, boycotts and voter registration campaigns were
engines of social change in the 1960s and yes, they were sometimes timed to
push to action. Washington, DC
The 2006 General Strike of Latinos on International Workers' Day made the election of Barack Obama possible. The mass walkouts demonstrated the ability of Latinos to shut the economy down in defense of social justice and equality. It taught us that the real strength in our communities is in our custodians, manual laborers and service workers - not in our intellectuals, executives or experts who garner corporate endorsements for interpreting "Latin culture" for Madison Avenue. In the 1960s, we learned, much to our surprise, that the future of Latino aspirations rested on the creative energies of farm workers. In turn, the Grape Boycott awakened and trained a new generation of young community organizers who went on to play pivotal roles in rebuilding progressive politics through vehicles such as the Rainbow Coalition, the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, and finally, the "Obama ground game."
The general strike signaled a renaissance of working-class culture in the
that we have yet to fully understand. It
reminded the nation that politics is not the property of the rich; it occurs on
soccer fields, in union halls, in churches and in where immigrant workers gather to
share information on the latest activities of US Immigration and Customs
Enforcement (ICE) in the neighborhood. In both 2008 and 2012, a significant
amount of the electoral ground game hinged on the energy of local labor
councils in canvassing, multi-lingual phone-banking and other outreach
activities. Many of these activists had been rejuvenated by, or even earned
their organizers' stripes, during International Workers' Day, 2006. In south US , an epicenter of the General Strike, Latinos were a decisive part of Election Day. According to Gihan Perera, "In Florida ,
undocumented workers who couldn't even vote pitched in with a mariachi band and
barbecue," to encourage thousands of African-Americans, Latinos, and
progressive whites to stay in line and vote. Black and brown power made the
difference in Homestead . Florida
"Politics is an activity," C.L.R. James famously said. "It is not a lecture room where the people are supposed to listen to all the government has done for them. The more active the people are, the more active the government can be." Nearly 300,000 Latinos, African-Americans, and Asian-American workers joined unions in the months leading up to the . Even the mainstream media noted that strike activity increased significantly around the time of the election campaign. "The number of union-related work stoppages involving more than 1,000 workers, which reached an all-time low of just five in 2009, rose to 13 this year as of October. And unions aren't done yet," reported the
Times. Los Angeles
People are on the move.
African-Americans did not wait in 1863 to see if Abraham Lincoln was serious about the Emancipation Proclamation. A quarter of a million of them enlisted in the
Army in order to drive the Confederate States of into oblivion. America
Is President Obama deeply committed to immigration reform? That's the wrong question to ask. We know that he promised Helen Chavez, the widow of United Farm Workers' co-founder César Chávez, to "do " about the issue. A better question to ask is: What are we willing to do to welcome millions of struggling workers into our polity? Immigrants traveled to the
from all over the world during the past two decades and contributed to one of
the greatest economic booms in history. They are the solution to an aging Baby
Boom generation; they are replenishing tax coffers and they are bringing
much-needed changes to our archaic, monolingual culture. What will we do to
make them fully empowered citizens of the republic? United States
Immigrant energy is contributing to a revival of progressive American political culture. It finds its echoes in the heroic (who have pushed the federal government hard on immigration reform), the
, who organized in the wake of the murder of Trayvon
Martin, as well as the Occupy insurgencies. All of these initiatives are part
of the rising tide of new social movements that we must nurture, support and
In a recent newspaper poll taken in the college town of Gainesville, Florida, where I live, 62 percent of the respondents voted against the premise that people "currently in the US illegally" should have a path to citizenship. This is going to be a battle.
Tens of millions of immigrants with lineages from, Asia, Africa and the voted in significant majorities to re-elect Barack Obama. The choices that first- and second-generation immigrant voters made in this election may signal a turning point in American history. In line with their early 20th century predecessors, these voters could have settled for the tragic bargain of whiteness that Toni Morrison has so eloquently critiqued. In her essay, "On the Backs of Blacks," Morrison observed that, "In race talk, the move into mainstream
means buying into the notion of American blacks as the real aliens. Whatever
the ethnicity or nationality of the immigrant, his nemesis is understood to be
The phenomenon of "whiteness," as scholars call it, meant the country's newcomers often alienated themselves from the democratic legacies of the anti-slavery movement as well as from freedom fighters such as Frederick Douglass, Ida B. Wells Barnett and Mary McCleod Bethune, in favor of assimilation to Jim Crow/
Scholars have long been predicting a massive "turn towards whiteness" among late-20th century immigrants, but it has not happened yet. In fact, we may have broken the old curse. Recent immigrants, such as those who have become members of Local 226 in Las Vegas, are increasingly aligning their politics, trade union membership and their ballots with African-Americans. In the run-up to the 2012 Presidential Election, everyone who had access to radio, television or the internet understood that 90 percent of African-Americans were going to be voting for Obama. As novelist Ishmael Reed observed in
Though progressives still cling to a fantasy to which they've been attached since at least the 1920s - that class determines one's status in American society - to millions of whites, we are all underclass. Notice how images hostile to the president show him as an underclass hoodlum, or associate him with food stamps, or fast foods like KFC, or an email circulated by a candidate for governor of New York, a pimp and his wife a whore.
we were given innumerable opportunities to assimilate to this country's older,
miserable norms on race, to "become white" so to speak. Mitt Romney's
boosters bombarded our airwaves with racial propaganda. We were warned via the
notorious "Chinese Professor" video spot of an imminent Asian
takeover of the Florida should Obama win re-election. We were encouraged to believe that African-Americans were lazy, but this is always a hard sell given slavery, and a century of the Jim Crow labor system. The fact that one cannot travel from one side of this country to the other without relying on black and brown workers to handle one's baggage, prepare one's meals or to clean up one's mess makes the "minorities need to work harder and lift themselves up by their bootstraps" argument ridiculous and insulting. US
Other "softer" versions of racism or national discrimination were trotted out. A few days before Election Day, Sen. Marco Rubio bungled a play for the Latino vote by telling a
Florida audience that people had fled "corrupt"
countries to find freedom in the only to discover to their dismay
that Obama was plotting to import these same policies here. Rubio helpfully
clarified that he was referring to US Mexico
and Latin America as the corrupt places in
question. Rubio's gaffe illustrates a fundamental reason why the Republican
Party stumbles with Latino voters: Most Mexican-Americans have a nuanced
understanding of our mother country. We understand its shortcomings, but we
also take pride in the accomplishments of the early 19th century Mexican War of
Independence, and the fact that the abolition of
slavery in Mexico preceded abolition in the by approximately four decades. Most
of us also know that the United
States United States
in order to expand slavery, steal land and rob resources from Native Americans.
So, which country is more corrupt? Until the GOP drops its devotion to American
Exceptionalism, the idea that the Mexico is as pure as the
driven snow, and all other countries are lacking in the character department,
the party will continue to shrink in relevance. United States
Hailing from Africa, Latin America, Europe, Asia and the great centers of world population, this may be the most remarkable cohort of immigrants that has ever journeyed to the
. They believe in hard
work and self-help, but because of the places they come from and the traditions
they pay homage to, many of them deeply believe in tenets of equality, social
democracy and mutual aid. United States
Of course, these are just the kind of overarching generalizations that social critics rightly distrust, but I would argue that generations of anti-colonial struggles, experiences with post-colonial letdowns and an abiding distrust of the Washington Consensus make this generation of world citizens more worldly wise than their storied Ellis Island ancestors.
For example, more than a few recent immigrants from the Korean peninsula are importing militant trade union practices to the
, and they have a direct knowledge of the mischief that IMF-style policies wreak on workers. Highland Maya bring organizing experiences with Liberation Theology from Guatemala, and Mexican migrants are steeped in the egalitarian (if unrealized) traditions of the Mexican Revolution. US
These cohorts of immigrants are less likely to grasp at the straw of racism that so many of their predecessors did because they arrive with a much more critical understanding of US society and a greater capacity to change the world without exploiting others.
What all of this might mean in political terms is not yet quite clear. However, one thing is certain. If community organizers allow this incipient coalition - potentially the largest progressive force in US history - to slip away, we are missing the opportunity that only comes once in a generation to change the trajectory of American politics.
Culinary Workers Union Local 226 presents us with an outstanding model of community and labor organizing. This is a union where members stay active, and this energy drew President Obama to
. Las Vegas
Many of the people who are rank-and-file activists of Local 226 are dishwashers, fry cooks and maids. They labor in what is known in
parlance at "the back of the house," an apt metaphor for the position
of the American working class since the 1980s. With women such as Canty, the
union's founder, and Arguello-Kline, its new president, these workers have
moved to the forefront of social change. They marched by the thousands in honor
of Martin Luther King Jr.'s holiday last month with banners reading "Labor
Rights Are Civil Rights," even as they organized another picket against an
unfair employer in the Vegas Strip. Las Vegas
Arguello-Kline and Richard Trumka, the president of the AFL-CIO, appeared on local television immediately following Obama's speech on immigration. Both vowed to mobilize members of the house of labor to support immigration reform. The waiting is over. It is now possible to imagine a new social movement where labor organizing, mariachi music and MLK celebrations become integral to the rejuvenation of this nation. It's time to get busy.