FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

On Chicago’s Streets

by SHARON SMITH

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

 

 

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

March 30, 2017
William R. Polk
What Must be Done in the Time of Trump
Howard Lisnoff
Enough of Russia! There’s an Epidemic of Despair in the US
Ralph Nader
Crash of Trumpcare Opens Door to Full Medicare for All
Carol Polsgrove
Gorsuch and the Power of the Executive: Behind the Congressional Stage, a Legal Drama Unfolds
Michael J. Sainato
Fox News Should Finally Dump Bill O’Reilly
Kenneth Surin
Former NC Governor Pat McCory’s Job Search Not Going Well
Binoy Kampmark
The Price of Liberation: Slaughtering Civilians in Mosul
Bruce Lesnick
Good Morning America!
William Binney and Ray McGovern
The Surveillance State Behind Russia-gate: Will Trump Take on the Spooks?
Jill Richardson
Gutting Climate Protections Won’t Bring Back Coal Jobs
Robert Pillsbury
Maybe It’s Time for Russia to Send Us a Wake-Up Call
Prudence Crowther
Swamp Rats Sue Trump
March 29, 2017
Jeffrey Sommers
Donald Trump and Steve Bannon: Real Threats More Serious Than Fake News Trafficked by Media
David Kowalski
Does Washington Want to Start a New War in the Balkans?
Patrick Cockburn
Bloodbath in West Mosul: Civilians Being Shot by Both ISIS and Iraqi Troops
Ron Forthofer
War and Propaganda
Matthew Stevenson
Letter From Phnom Penh
James Bovard
Peanuts Prove Congress is Incorrigible
Thomas Knapp
Presidential Golf Breaks: Good For America
Binoy Kampmark
Disaster as Joy: Cyclone Debbie Strikes
Peter Tatchell
Human Rights are Animal Rights!
George Wuerthner
Livestock Grazing vs. the Sage Grouse
Jesse Jackson
Trump Should Form a Bipartisan Coalition to Get Real Reforms
Thomas Mountain
Rwanda Indicts French Generals for 1994 Genocide
Clancy Sigal
President of Pain
Andrew Stewart
President Gina Raimondo?
Lawrence Wittner
Can Our Social Institutions Catch Up with Advances in Science and Technology?
March 28, 2017
Mike Whitney
Ending Syria’s Nightmare will Take Pressure From Below 
Mark Kernan
Memory Against Forgetting: the Resonance of Bloody Sunday
John McMurtry
Fake News: the Unravelling of US Empire From Within
Ron Jacobs
Mad Dog, Meet Eris, Queen of Strife
Michael J. Sainato
State Dept. Condemns Attacks on Russian Peaceful Protests, Ignores Those in America
Ted Rall
Five Things the Democrats Could Do to Save Their Party (But Probably Won’t)
Linn Washington Jr.
Judge Neil Gorsuch’s Hiring Practices: Privilege or Prejudice?
Philippe Marlière
Benoît Hamon, the Socialist Presidential Hopeful, is Good News for the French Left
Norman Pollack
Political Cannibalism: Eating America’s Vitals
Bruce Mastron
Obamacare? Trumpcare? Why Not Cubacare?
David Macaray
Hollywood Screen and TV Writers Call for Strike Vote
Christian Sorensen
We’ve Let Capitalism Kill the Planet
Rodolfo Acuna
What We Don’t Want to Know
Binoy Kampmark
The Futility of the Electronics Ban
Andrew Moss
Why ICE Raids Imperil Us All
March 27, 2017
Robert Hunziker
A Record-Setting Climate Going Bonkers
Frank Stricker
Why $15 an Hour Should be the Absolute Minimum Minimum Wage
Melvin Goodman
The Disappearance of Bipartisanship on the Intelligence Committees
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail