If We Want to Build Labor Power, We Need to Change America's Immigration Laws.
Capitalists want to divide workers between "legal" and "illegal" labor. We must stop them.
Welcome to JoeWrote, a publication where I explain and explore Progressive and Socialist politics 2-3 times a week. If I can be honest for a minute, these articles are A LOT of work. As JoeWrote is fully independent, that means my work goes unpaid, unless readers like you decide to become premium subscribers.
A premium subscription not only ensures I can continue writing, but it gets you an exclusive article every week (such as this one), access to my book, “The Case for Economic Democracy,” and bonus content like book reviews, podcast interviews, and more.
If you’d like to access everything JoeWrote has to offer — as well as support my work promoting human-first politics, please become a premium subscriber.
Thank you for your support! JoeWrote couldn’t exist without it. Best, Joe
When the working class is divided, capitalists sleep easy. When the working class is united, capitalists shit their britches. And there is no better way for capitalists to divide the working class than by raising a wall between “illegal” and “legal” workers.
When employing “legal” labor, bosses must abide by minimum wage laws and OSHA protections, knowing they can always be reported to the National Labor Relations Board. But when they employ “illegal” labor, bosses are free to do as they please, as the workers want to keep their heads down and avoid deportation.
Immigration is a hot-button issue in the United States, as discussion of it is often used as a Trojan Horse for racism. Claiming “Mexicans are drug dealers” is one of the last openly racist statements politicians can make and still be invited on Meet The Press.
I have many thoughts about the absurdity of American anti-immigration positions (to conquer a continent, genocide the natives, and then claim, “This is ours! You can’t come in!” is the highest hypocrisy), but for this piece, I want to put the racial and national issues aside and focus on how immigration policy can either help or hinder the burgeoning American labor movement.
The Socialist Case Against Immigration
It is not uncommon to find labor advocates who are opposed to free-flowing immigration policies, as they enable capitalists to hire cheap labor. This view is less common in the U.S., where Leftists are well aware of how American imperialism significantly contributed to the flow of migrants and refugees coming from South America. (48% of undocumented persons living in the U.S. come from Mexico, which the United States has invaded on three separate occasions.) Such anti-immigration stances are more common in Europe, though they are by no means a uniform position. For example, during the 2016 Brexit debate, some Leftists advocated for a “Leave” vote, seeing the European Union economic bloc as a means for business owners to move workers from poorer countries to richer ones, where they will work for less.
While the U.S. doesn’t have a “Brexit Crisis,” what it does have is a legal regime that looks the other way when businesses employ low-cost, undocumented workers. By letting undocumented immigrants work under the table, the American government enables Capitalists to keep their labor costs low and their workforce unorganized, which is a serious detriment to the global working class.
In many ways, the inhumanity of America’s border patrol — the locking of children in cages, border agents hunting migrants like animals, and the malicious separation of families — serves as a constant threat to the migrants who have made it past the border and are supporting the American economy. Though they might be a thousand miles from the boundary, the possibility of being deported and having to endure the treacherous journey all over again ensures undocumented laborers keep their complaints about their workplaces to themselves.
Through this lens, it is easy to see why some labor movements (especially those in the past) have held anti-immigrant sentiments, as they saw foreign workers who would work for less as a detriment to their cause. It should also be noted that many Americans take issue with remittances, the process by which immigrant workers send their wages back to their families in their home country, thereby removing them from local American economies.
The Socialist Case for Immigration
Though the above criticisms are worth considering, they are consequences of a defunct and purposefully cruel immigration policy, not the fault of “immigration” as a concept.
Keep reading with a 7-day free trial
Subscribe to JoeWrote to keep reading this post and get 7 days of free access to the full post archives.