On Chicago’s Streets


The movement for immigrants’ rights took an enormous leap forward two weeks ago, when a quarter-million demonstrators, overwhelmingly Mexican-Americans, jammed Chicago’s city streets-in the middle of a workday.

This massive turnout reached far beyond the activist community because local Spanish-language radio hosts urged listeners to attend. And this breathtaking show of strength instantly marginalized the anti-immigrant Minutemen movement, able to summon only a handful of counter-protesters.

The March 10 protest is part of a burgeoning movement that could recast the national debate on immigration-while tapping the power of immigrants as an integral component of the U.S. working class.

Until now, labor journalist David Bacon noted, "Congress is divided between the supposed ‘conservatives’ who want to stop immigration and turn the undocumented into criminals, and the ‘liberals’ who want to give employers new guest worker programs."

The ominously titled "Border Protection, Antiterrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act" (HR 4437) swept through the House in December, criminalizing undocumented immigrants and anyone-from nurses and doctors to social workers-who provides them any assistance. The bill also mandates the construction of a 700-mile wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Not to be outdone, Senate majority leader Bill Frist has called for "physical or electronic barriers covering every inch of our 1,951-mile border with Mexico," while declaring that illegal immigration poses a "dangerous national security threat."

Democrats have recently begun posturing as opponents of HR 4437. Senator Hillary Clinton, who told WABC radio in 2003, "I am, you know, adamantly against illegal immigrants," mustered a tepid sound bite against the bill, calling it "an unworkable scheme to try to deport 11 million people, which you have to have a police state to try to do." But she added, she stands for "strengthening our borders in order to make us safer from the threat of terrorism."

Senators McCain and Kennedy proposed their own "Secure America and Orderly Immigration Act of 2005," with a guest worker program not unlike President Bush’s own initiative, offering the prospect of certain deportation when immigrants’ temporary contracts expire.

Some liberal commentators regard undocumented immigrants as a scourge on U.S. workers-creating the potential for dangerous alliances. Thom Hartmann, a frequent contributor to CommonDreams.org, asked recently, "How can progressives join with the few remaining populist Republicans (like Lou Dobbs and Patrick Buchanan) to forge an alliance to make [opposing illegal immigration] an all-American effort?"

But immigrant workers weaken the bargaining power of organized labor only when they are excluded from the legal right to bargain collectively. Neither Republicans nor Democrats support that right.

Already, the number of immigrants in unions grew 23 percent between 1996 and 2003, at a time when overall union membership has been in steep decline. Immigrant workers make up two-thirds of the members in the Service Employees Industrial Union (SEIU).

The strike weapon is also beginning to re-emerge in this struggle, after decades of virtual absence on U.S. soil. On February 14, rally organizers from Philadelphia and Southern Delaware used the slogan "A Day Without an Immigrant" to call on immigrants to stay home from work to highlight the importance of immigrant labor to the economy. Two-thirds of Perdue Farm’s workers in Georgetown, Delaware did not report to work on Feb. 14-and both rallies drew 1,500.

Following suit, Chicago organizers called for a "general strike" among immigrant workers and students on March 10, and tens of thousands complied by walking out at noon. Construction workers still wearing hardhats joined restaurant workers, factory workers, and high school students, marching alongside workers from hundreds of immigrant-owned small businesses, while entire families marched with babies and grandparents in tow.

Many carried American flags alongside Mexican flags. But the American flags did not imply unadulterated patriotism, as one handmade sign stapled to an American flag made clear-asking, "Land of the free?" Another read, "My Mexican son died in Iraq." And the march’s over-riding message was, "We are workers, not terrorists."

Perhaps most significantly, the dominant chant at the March 10 protest, "Si se puede!" ("Yes we can!"), suddenly seemed realistic in this flowering of humanity.

SHARON SMITH’s new book is Women and Socialism. She can be reached at: sharon@internationalsocialist.org


Weekend Edition
November 27-29, 2015
Andrew Levine
The Real Trouble With Bernie
Gary Leupp
Ben Carson, Joseph in Egypt, and the Attack on Rational Thought
John Whitbeck
Who’s Afraid of ISIS?
Michael Brenner
Europe’s Crisis: Terror, Refugees and Impotence
Pepe Escobar
Will Chess, Not Battleship, Be the Game of the Future in Eurasia?
Vijay Prashad
Showdown on the Syrian Border
Colin Todhunter
Class, War and David Cameron
Jean Bricmont
The Ideology of Humanitarian Imperialism
Dan Glazebrook
Deadliest Terror in the World: the West’s Latest Gift to Africa
Mats Svensson
Madness in Hebron: Hashem Had No Enemies, Yet Hashem Was Hated
Walter Brasch
Terrorism on American Soil
Louisa Willcox
Grizzly Bears, Dreaming and the Frontier of Wonder
Dave Lindorff
Gen. John Campbell, Commander in Afghanistan and Serial Liar
Michael Welton
Yahweh is Not Exactly Politically Correct
Joseph Natoli
A Politics of Stupid and How to Leave It Behind
James Anderson
Reframing Black Friday: An Imperative for Déclassé Intellectuals
Karl Grossman
Our Solar Bonanza!
John Cox
You Should Fear Racism and Xenophobia, Not Syrian Refugees or Muslims
Barrie Gilbert
Sacrificing the Grizzlies of Katmai: the Plan to Turn Brooks Camp Into a Theme
Rev. William Alberts
The Church of “Something Else” in “an Ecclesiastical Desert”
Mark Hand
Escape From New York: the Emancipation of Activist Cecily McMillan
Ramzy Baroud
Forget ISIS: Humanity is at Stake
Andrew Gavin Marshall
Bank Crimes Pay
Elliot Murphy
Cameron’s Syrian Strategy
Gareth Porter
How Terror in Paris Calls for Revising US Syria Policy
Thomas S. Harrington
Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe and the Death of Ezra Schwartz
Michael Perino
The Arc of Instability
Yves Engler
Justin Trudeau and Canada’s Mining Industry
Tom H. Hastings
ISIS and Changing the Game
Lars Jørgensen
Vive la Résistance
John Halle
A Yale Education as a Tool of Power and Privilege
Norman Pollack
Syrian “Civil War”?: No, A Proxy War of Global Confrontation
Sheldon Richman
Let the Refugees In
James Anderson
Reframing Black Friday: an Imperative for Déclassé Intellectuals
Simon Bowring
UN Climate Talks 2009: a Merger of Interest and Indifference
Ron Jacobs
Rosa Luxembourg–From Street Organizer to Street Name
Aidan O'Brien
Same-Sex Sellout in Ireland
David Stocker
Report from the Frontline of Resistance in America
Patrick Bond
China Sucked Deeper Into World Financial Vortex and Vice Versa, as BRICS Sink Fast
James A Haught
The Values of Jesus
Binoy Kampmark
British Austerity: Cutting One’s Own Backyard
Ed Rampell
45 Years: A Rumination on Aging
Charles R. Larson
Chronicle of Sex Reassignment Surgery: Juliet Jacques’s “Trans: a Memoir”
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
CounterPunch’s Favorite Films
November 26, 2015
Ashley Nicole McCray – Lawrence Ware
Decolonizing the History of Thanksgiving