A lot’s at stake in Wisconsin. Public understandings of the meaning and worth of labor are up for debate. National displays of solidarity are popping up nationwide. And, in amongst all of that, the very livelihood of thousands of Wisconsin workers is at risk. We are looking at the resurgence of the labor movement.
One more thing that’s at stake in Wisconsin: corporations’ control over elections and legislative sessions. To be clear, if Wisconsin conservatives get their way, corporations will be the only voice well-resourced enough to be heard in state politics. By defunding unions—or preventing them from forming altogether—the biggest contributors to elections will be corporations. Look, of course everyone approaches elections with their own interests at heart. By breaking unions, we’re removing their voice from elections—which means corporations are the only voice left. To make it all Marxist, we’re eliminating proletarian participation in democracy in order to play up bourgeois interests. Given that labor unions also fund and support most of issues we care deeply about Women’s rights, LGBT rights, POC rights this is not just an attack on labor its an attack on everything.
labor and immigration
Increasingly, “made in America” is a thing of the past. Our economy is global, which means labor must be global, too. When corporations can’t exploit labor abroad, they do it here—within immigrant communities. When we fail to address immigration reform in a deep and comprehensive way, we unintentionally perpetuate classist and anti-labor systems of thought, policy and rhetoric.
This is an opportunity to re-imagine labor. Cesar Chavez had it right. The farmworker’s movement developed because migrant workers were the one pool of labor that could not legally unionize in the United States. So business owners had carte blanche to treat farm workers however they saw fit—and with the latitude they had, they proved that corporations can play tidily into Hobbesian narratives of self-interest. In short, they treated immigrant labor like shit.
So what’s the Chavez connection to Wisconsin? The farmworkers movement of the 1960s and 1970s interrupted what the labor movement was at the time. Corporations were just beginning to outsource jobs and seek cheaper labor in other countries—thereby exploiting policy divides in nations that had less established labor laws. In the United States, migrant workers existed (and still do) in a no man’s land: many aren’t documented residents who can leverage American labor laws against unjust employers. At the same time, they also cannot unionize and speak out as a group about their own best interests. It’s a stalemate in the truest form. And corporations have been exploiting and perpetuating that stalemate for decades.
As of yet, major American labor unions haven’t deeply addressed the needs of immigrant workers. In so doing, they have missed an opportunity to get union workers and their many allies to do something radical and actually identify with immigrants: as workers who can be all too easily exploited when they can’t frequently and vigilantly voice their own needs and enforce their rights. And in the absence of intersectional, pro-immigrant perspectives, anti-immigrant xenophobia takes hold, even in the most progressive communities. By not drawing the parallel between labor and immigration, we reify systems that keep immigrants undocumented and prioritize corporate interests over those of workers.
And the labor connection to immigration is just one opportunity that progressive people in the United States miss. There are many more opportunities to connect our work for immigration reform to choice, LGBT rights, and progressive activism around globalization.
Gender justice is a term used to unite struggles for queer rights, trans justice, and choice & reproductive justice. And guess what? Immigration reform connects to all three! Here’s how:
Reproductive justice & “anchor babies.” A primary scare tactic used by the far right accuses immigrant women of entering the United States to give birth to “anchor babies” that will provide their path to citizenship. In this trope are deep and unspoken fears of a conscious racial takeover. And in using the “anchor baby” line of thinking, conservatives once again paint the fertility of women of color as something that’s “predatory” and must be restricted. Once again, women’s families and reproductive health are up for public debate.
LGBT rights and asylum. As astonishingly anti-LGBT stories continue to roll out of Uganda, and many LGBT people in the United States join together to show our support, we lose immigration and asylum as a key mode of supporting LGBT people in other countries. Asylum is very rarely afforded to LGBT immigrants to the US, showing that, once again, homophobia and transphobia aren’t “real” enough, that it’s all in our heads, and that ultimately, we could choose to be or do something different. (You know what’s not a choice, though? Being gay.) At the same time, we fail to expose the role of American evangelists in creating the anti-LGBT climate in Uganda and then exploiting that climate by seeding sensationalist policies like the infamous “kill the gays” bill.
Trans justice, documentation and Arizona. Recently, Arizona effectively legalized racial profiling of people perceived to be immigrants (read: Latinos). If you’re brown, police will assume you’re not a citizen. Something similar happens to transgender people every day: if they don’t present as gender normative, their documentation is challenged and questioned at every turn. The whiter, and more gender normative you are, the less your citizenship is interrogated.
globalization & foreign policy
Globalization is inevitable, but the way it’s taking shape is not. For decades, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and so-called “free trade” agreements have defined what kind of power and money nations can access when they don’t already have power and money. Many of us know that this is unfair, some of us know that this disproportionately breaks along lines of race (creating shitty impacts for nations of people of color), but few of us make the connections to immigration into the US.
In truth, “free trade agreements” could be more accurately renamed as “free labor agreements,” which allow American corporations to build maquiladoras and sweatshops in, among other places, Central and North America. When those sweatshops open up, they employ many—if not most—people in the town where they’re located. That means that corporations define the going price for labor in that area while simultaneously establishing a deep local dependence on that corporation to keep the local economy alive. At the same time, corporations can decimate local natural resources and introduce social power structures that eventually decimate indigenous ways of living. It’s malevolent, it’s racist, it’s insidious, and it’s forever.
do this, right now, today.
So, what can you do? Here are some action steps:
- Redefine “the immigration problem.” Overwhelmingly, people on the left and the right will agree that the solution to “the immigration problem” is to stop the flow of immigrants to the US. But the need for immigration reform runs much, much deeper than that. If we had thought more deeply about the impacts of free trade agreements on Latino nations, we would have predicted the wave of immigration from Central America. “The immigration problem” is more than documentation for farm workers, naturalization for LGBT immigrants, or the DREAM Act for students. It bleeds into movements for labor, choice, and global justice in US-powered foreign policy. And, at its core, it asks US voters who we think should be allowed to be an American.
- Explicitly connect your liberation to the liberation of immigrants. Because, as we’ve explored here, those two things are deeply connected.
- Ask yourself: who benefits? Overwhelmingly, you’ll find that the people who benefit from anti-immigrant policies and discourse are (surprise!) US corporations.
- Come out as an ally to immigrant communities. Speak up about your support for immigrant communities, and continue to educate yourself on the lived experiences of immigrants, the problems with public discourse about immigration, and how public policy continues to define who can be a “real American.”