[lbo-talk] Reflections on labor bitchiness

Mr. WD mister.wd at gmail.com
Sun May 27 07:52:54 PDT 2007

On 5/26/07, Chuck Grimes <cgrimes at rawbw.com> wrote:

> I thought this is the new working class. This is the class that
> desparately needs radicalization beyond its civil rights bound
> sentiments. They were the working class, literally created out of the
> new US imperialism under NAFTA and other neoliberal policies. They
> were demonstrating out of solidarity for immigrants caught in the
> absurdities of immigration laws/labor exploitation.
> The whole US legal framework/economic policy complex completely
> contradicts itself. On the one hand the US wants cheap labor, no
> benefits, no unions, no labor law, just bodies to break. The one class
> who can supply that demand are mostly illegal/immigrants. On the
> other hand, the USG doesn't want illegal immigrants and wages war on them.

As weird as it sounds initially, the government policies actually make a lot of sense because U.S. capital NEEDS *illegal* immigrants (or at least "guest workers" who have very limited rights). Legal immigrants with full rights (i.e. green cards) would be a serious problem for all sorts of industries. What business needs is a work force that is compliant and scared, and unlikely to complain about things like the employer's failure to pay the minimum wage -- which is to say an illegal work force. Even 'guest worker' programs -- all of which link a worker to his/her employer -- are perfect mechanisms for capital to exploit immigrants (e.g. if this guy starts causing problems, just threaten to send him back to Mexico, he'll probably shut up).

That said, without periodic enforcement of the immigration laws to instill terror in the workers, things stop running so smoothly. Down here in N. Carolina, for example, the UFCW campaign to organize workers at the Smithfield meat production plant has created some uppitiness amongst the workers, and the bosses/state responded thusly: http://www.newsobserver.com/news/immigration/story/535802.html

As Spanish-speaking workers have become less isolated and more aware of their legal rights, capital has been looking to other regions for more easily-exploitable labor. My wife is an attorney who represents agricultural workers who come on the H2A guestworker program. When she started her job, she thought she was going to be speaking a lot of Spanish, but it turned out that she ended up with a bunch of clients who spoke Thai and Indonesian: http://www.iht.com/articles/2007/02/27/news/labor.php?page=1

Anyway, I think your instinct that low wage immigrant workers are "the new working class" is spot-on. Don't believe for a minute that Congress will pass immigration reform that will prevent the bullying of low wage immigrant workers -- that would overturn the business models of entire industries (the price of produce would skyrocket if agribusiness needed to pay higher wages, for one thing).

As for how to deal with de-politicization and the loss of class consciousness when the movement gets a few successes -- well, you've got me. If anyone knew the answer to that question, the political terrain would look very different today. I suspect the answer is to study how, precisely, the bourgeoisie gained class consciousness.


More information about the lbo-talk mailing list