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

Weekend Edition
February 24, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Exxon’s End Game Theory
Pierre M. Sprey - Franklin “Chuck” Spinney
Sleepwalking Into a Nuclear Arms Race with Russia
Paul Street
Liberal Hypocrisy, “Late-Shaming,” and Russia-Blaming in the Age of Trump
Ajamu Baraka
Malcolm X and Human Rights in the Time of Trumpism: Transcending the Master’s Tools
John Laforge
Did Obama Pave the Way for More Torture?
Mike Whitney
McMaster Takes Charge: Trump Relinquishes Control of Foreign Policy 
Patrick Cockburn
The Coming Decline of US and UK Power
Louisa Willcox
The Endangered Species Act: a Critical Safety Net Now Threatened by Congress and Trump
Vijay Prashad
A Foreign Policy of Cruel Populism
John Chuckman
Israel’s Terrible Problem: Two States or One?
Matthew Stevenson
The Parallax View of Donald Trump
Norman Pollack
Drumbeat of Fascism: Find, Arrest, Deport
Stan Cox
Can the Climate Survive Electoral Democracy? Maybe. Can It Survive Capitalism? No.
Ramzy Baroud
The Trump-Netanyahu Circus: Now, No One Can Save Israel from Itself
Edward Hunt
The United States of Permanent War
David Morgan
Trump and the Left: a Case of Mass Hysteria?
Pete Dolack
The Bait and Switch of Public-Private Partnerships
Mike Miller
What Kind of Movement Moment Are We In? 
Elliot Sperber
Why Resistance is Insufficient
Brian Cloughley
What are You Going to Do About Afghanistan, President Trump?
Binoy Kampmark
Warring in the Oncology Ward
Yves Engler
Remembering the Coup in Ghana
Jeremy Brecher
“Climate Kids” v. Trump: Trial of the Century Pits Trump Climate Denialism Against Right to a Climate System Capable of Sustaining Human Life”
Jonathan Taylor
Hate Trump? You Should Have Voted for Ron Paul
Franklin Lamb
Another Small Step for Syrian Refugee Children in Beirut’s “Aleppo Park”
Ron Jacobs
The Realist: Irreverence Was Their Only Sacred Cow
Andre Vltchek
Lock up England in Jail or an Insane Asylum!
Rev. William Alberts
Grandiose Marketing of Spirituality
Paul DeRienzo
Three Years Since the Kitty Litter Disaster at Waste Isolation Pilot Plant
Eric Sommer
Organize Workers Immigrant Defense Committees!
Steve Cooper
A Progressive Agenda
David Swanson
100 Years of Using War to Try to End All War
Andrew Stewart
The 4CHAN Presidency: A Media Critique of the Alt-Right
Edward Leer
Tripping USA: The Chair
Randy Shields
Tom Regan: The Life of the Animal Rights Party
Nyla Ali Khan
One Certain Effect of Instability in Kashmir is the Erosion of Freedom of Expression and Regional Integration
Rob Hager
The Only Fake News That Probably Threw the Election to Trump was not Russian 
Mike Garrity
Why Should We Pay Billionaires to Destroy Our Public Lands? 
Mark Dickman
The Prophet: Deutscher’s Trotsky
Christopher Brauchli
The Politics of the Toilet Police
Ezra Kronfeld
Joe Manchin: a Senate Republicrat to Dispute and Challenge
Clancy Sigal
The Nazis Called It a “Rafle”
Louis Proyect
Socialism Betrayed? Inside the Ukrainian Holodomor
Charles R. Larson
Review: Timothy B. Tyson’s “The Blood of Emmett Till”
David Yearsley
Founding Father of American Song
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail