Skewed News —“There should be a law…to keep all them I-talians from comin’ in and takin’ the bread out of the mouths of honest people.”
– Irish woman in the US, 1892.
“We just don’t like you illegal bitches coming to our home trying to fuck it up like you did Mexico.”
– Facebook comment by a scaffold builder in Texas, 2015.
Same shit, different day.
A construction worker in the Midwest remarked to me that white workers at his job site often express hatred for Mexican workers. When he hears it, he pipes up: “They need to make a living just like you,” but hesitates to take it further for fear of isolation and losing his job.
Nationally, political candidates are whipping up a social base for fascism, unifying potential voters on the basis of xenophobia.
Anti-immigrant sentiment is grounded in the fear of unemployment. We’re told that jobs are scarce and that we have to compete for them, viciously if necessary. We’re set against one another in every way we can be divided: white against Black, American-born vs. immigrant, unionized vs. non-unionized, men against women, younger vs. older.
This is not by accident. Capitalists always want one thing above all else: to pay lower wages. When an Iowa fertilizer plant fired 1,480 local workers and then turned around to advertise those same jobs in Texas, one commenter noted the reason: “you can all be replaced … for half the price.”
For capitalists, it’s a pain in the ass (and expensive) to force workers to accept lower pay through overt violence. They figured out a long time ago that it’s easier if they can get us to undercut each other and blame other workers (instead of them) for our misery. So while exploiting everyone, they’ll allow one group to receive some minor extra privilege or benefit that’s denied to another, in a method of “divide and rule” that’s as old as oppression itself.
The triumph of capitalism in the U.S. during the 19th century coincided with its spread across the globe. Western Europe and North America sent capital to their colonies and neo-colonies to set up mines, plantations, and transportation infrastructure to extract raw materials and commodities. Worldwide, the imposition of a money economy and the privatization of common lands for export crops resulted in rural populations being dispossessed, pushing them into the working class and consigning them to a desperate lifelong quest for wages. In the U.S., this quest sent millions of former slaves from the rural south to the industrial north. It also brought millions of immigrants to U.S. shores, where there was a soaring demand for labor—for manufacturing and to build infrastructure such as dams, subway tunnels, sewer systems, and railroads.
Waves of immigrants came from Ireland, Italy, Germany, Japan, Finland, Mexico and many other places. By 1882, 300,000 Chinese had arrived in the U.S. to build railroads and toil in mines. By 1913, a quarter of all Slovaks in the world were working in U.S. mines and mills.
Today, the reason immigrants come here is the same as it was then: capitalism and imperialism make it impossible to survive at home. And as always, capitalists take advantage of their presence. By widening the labor pool, they increase competition between workers, create different pay scales based on nationality to promote possessiveness and resentment, and spread the ideologies of racism and xenophobia. In doing so, they keep wages as low as possible for all workers.
They’re still playing the same game. And too many U.S. workers are still falling for it.
An immigrant from Haiti told me: “The U.S. invaded us several times, first in 1915, installed puppet governments ever since, and fucked up the rural peasant economy by dumping subsidized Arkansas rice. We were a country rich in resources—the French called the island ‘the Pearl of the Antilles’—but we have been robbed. The masses have no way to survive. We don’t want to come here, but we have no choice.”
An immigrant from Bangladesh told me: “Our country was destroyed by colonialism and imperialism. Everything we produce is for export, for U.S. and European companies. Of course I’m homesick; I want to go home. But I have to support my parents and my sisters. A lot of families have to send at least one family member abroad to earn money.”
I live in South Florida, where there’s a large immigrant population. When I’m out with other organizers leafletting about the need to unite and fight as workers, we find that many people from other countries already agree. But when we approach U.S.-born folks, especially white people, they often blame immigrants for their economic problems.
This is playing right into the hands of capitalists, who want us at each other’s throats so they can better take advantage of us. They eat the whole cake, while throwing down a few little crumbs for some of us, then telling us we need to protect these crumbs against each other. Shouting “Get out of my country!” (ahem—whose country was it initially and how did you come to believe it to be yours?) at a Trump rally doesn’t help us; it helps our class enemy. Whatever they may claim, Trump and all the other politicians and billionaires don’t give a fuck about U.S.-born workers. And far from being against illegal immigration (which they also claim), they are the first to take advantage of it, and rake in astronomical profits from it. They just try to stir us up around the issue so that we’ll actually assist them in dividing and weakening ourselves.
For us, nothing could be more self-destructive. Capitalists will exploit us all to the maximum level they can get away with. Let’s not be their fools. U.S. workers need to understand the relentless global economic forces that are causing immigrants to come and work for lower pay. Their countries become unlivable due to the extraction of wealth, which becomes the initial investment capital for many of the enterprises we now work at here. Immigration is not the cause of low wages and unemployment; but instead that the global capitalist/imperialist system is the cause of migration, low wages, and unemployment.
Meanwhile, all of us need to make a living. Our struggle to do so would be more effective collectively than it is individually. We need to realize that we have more in common with our brother and sister workers, no matter what country we’re from, than we do with any capitalist or their political representatives. So instead of blaming each other for conditions caused by capitalism, or fighting over the little crumbs we’re bribed with, we have to find a way to solve the contradictions between us on terms favorable for all workers. It’s time to get some class consciousness. We’ve carried capitalists on our backs for more than 200 years, and it’s time to throw them off. The only way to improve our lot is to back each other up, organize a powerful and unified autonomous workers movement, and fight together, side-by-side, for our common interests.