Of course the politics on Texas' State Board of Education reflect this very hostility and racial hatred and fear, as well.
I agree as well that while we desperately need immigration reform—including the passage of the Dream Act—"we also need to launch an all-out offensive against racism." Great piece.
Arizona's New Laws: An Attempt to Secure Cheap Labor?
By Paul Ortiz
Published in Truthout
[Paul Ortiz is an associate professor of history at the University of Florida. He is writing a book titled "Our Separate Struggles Are Really One: African American and Latino Histories," that will be published by Beacon Press.]
Why are there 40 million poor people in America? When you begin to ask that question, you are raising questions about the economic system, about a broader distribution of wealth. When you ask that question, you begin to question the capitalistic economy. And I'm simply saying that more and more, we've got to begin to ask questions about the whole society. We are called upon to help the discouraged beggars in life's market place. But one day we must come to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring….
-Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., message to Southern Christian Leadership Council (1967).
In the debate surrounding Arizona's laws targeting immigrants and ethnic studies, we've heard very little mention of capitalism and its place in American politics. Senate Bill 1070 is an insurance policy for capitalism, a way to ensure that the cheap labor that serves the foundation of the new economy remains cheap forever. House Bill 2281 is part of a package deal. The erasure of ethnic studies courses that show how poor people have changed history - when they have organized - will allow the invention of a historical narrative as one sided as the old myths of the European Conquest. These bills are a gift from a steadily shrinking, white, ruling class to its own posterity and to any white workers and ethnic minorities willing to accept second-class citizenship in order to avoid something far worse. Unless we mobilize to defeat these measures, worse things are on the horizon. Our history proves it.
SB 1070 makes racial profiling the de facto law of the state, but police in Arizona or anywhere else for that matter do not need a law to continue feeding working-class people to the expanding prison industrial complex.(1)
Arizona, Is This America?
Arizona has a long record of robbing working people in order to provide a "safe and secure environment" for big business. The US conquest of northern Mexico resulted in a dual racial system with similarities to Jim Crow in the southeast.(3)
Armed vigilantes seized and deported 1,300 striking miners in Bisbee, Arizona, in 1917. Many of the workers were members of the Industrial Workers of the World, who envisioned a world without capitalism. Arizona also gave us the anti-labor crusader Barry Goldwater. Elected to the US Senate in 1953, Goldwater sought to extinguish the New Deal. He was an ardent foe of unions and warred against social welfare programs. After initially supporting civil rights, Goldwater embraced the GOP's "Southern Strategy" of wooing white voters away from the Democratic Party by using coded racial appeals to white masculinity.(7)
During Goldwater's first term, the federal government initiated "Operation Wetback" in Arizona and other southwestern states. Reprising the brutal racial repatriations of the 1930s, Federal agents seized and forcibly deported tens of thousands of Mexican-Americans from the state using what one critic calls a "mass deportation on the Soviet model."(9)
The defeat of the Copper Miners' Strike of 1983-1986 in Arizona was a devastating blow to the labor movement. The victory of the Phelps Dodge Corporation over the miners was made possible by massive state military force as well as infiltration of the unions by the Arizona State Criminal Intelligence Agency.(12)
Arizona delivered Chief Justice William Rehnquist to the Supreme Court in 1971. Two decades earlier, as a clerk for Justice Robert H. Jackson, Rehnquist defended the Court's 1898 Plessy v. Ferguson decision that validated racial segregation. The young lawyer was also a leader in the Republican Party's "Operation Eagle Eye" in Arizona. According to retired State Senator Manuel Peña, this group deployed what Gregory Palast later called "voter harassment teams" who tried to prevent African-Americans and Chicanos from voting in Phoenix during the 1962 elections.(14)
Among its many anti-labor rulings, the Rehnquist Court ruled in Hoffman Plastic Compounds v. NLRB (2002) that "….a worker who is undocumented could not recover the remedy of back pay under the National Labor Relations Act." How convenient for the bosses!(15)
Actually Existing Capitalism
Latina/o workers have been in the forefront of new labor organizing.(16)
Arizona's SB 1070 is capitalism's latest salvo against the American working class.
One of my UC-Santa Cruz students, Marisa Verónica Espinosa, wrote a senior thesis in 2005 titled "Capitalism at Work: A Contemporary Look at Mexican Immigration to the United States." In this brilliant essay, Ms. Espinosa showed that the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was forcing tens of thousands of Mexican farmers off of the land on terms wildly advantageous to US businesses. She argued that "The capitalist tendency to displace people and force them into migration is not recognized in public policy."(19)
A generation of propagandists claimed that capitalism emancipates the poor as long as the state stays out of the way. Espinosa's thesis proves otherwise. She quotes a 1926 Congressional hearing on immigration that illuminated how capitalism really works:
Mr. Chairman, here is the problem in a nutshell. Farming is not a profitable industry in this country and in order to make money out of this, you have to have cheap labor…[I]n order to allow land owners to make a profit on their farms, they want to get the cheapest labor they can find and if they can get the Mexican labor it enables them to make a profit. That is the way it is along the border and I imagine that is the way it is anywhere else."(21)
Decades later, Jorge Bustamante observes that social conditions for migrant workers in the border states have declined even as NAFTA-fueled agribusiness has thrived.(22)
SB 1070 is not only an anti-immigrant bill, it is an anti-labor bill designed to scare a portion of the American working class into accepting their lot. It criminalizes the Latina/o working class the way that Jim Crow criminalized the African-American working class in the South. Segregation, like slavery is a labor system. It is designed to extract wealth from one portion of society in order to distribute it - unequally - to the rest of the nation.(23)
Representative Lee is absolutely correct. SB 1070 will help to sustain the Jim Crow style racism that Latino workers face nationally. A survey of recent United States Equal Employment Commission (EEOC) cases demonstrates that sexual and national origin discrimination against Latina/o workers is a pervasive problem. The EEOC recently filed suit against Sizzler Restaurants "for the explicitly targeted harassment of Mexican women by non-Mexican men. Latinas were targeted as 'Mexican bitches only good for sex,' physically and verbally harassed and told 'go back where you come from if you don't like it.'" Latina workers at an Arizona firm were fired after they reported being subjected to discrimination and intrusive body searches.(27)
An analysis of the EEOC cases reveals Latina/o workers are often paid lower wages than their white peers for doing the same work regardless of educational attainment. This confirms contemporary findings of wage discrimination in the scholarly literature on race and wage inequality.(28)
Racial injustice continues to be a major barrier to Latina/o progress. We need immigration reform. However, we also need to launch an all-out offensive against racism. What other than racism explains the slander spread on cable television stations about what Latinos do in the United States? We need more truth tellers. "In case you don't know what immigrants do in this country," Barbara Ehrenreich observes, "the Latinos have a word for it - trabajo. They've been mowing the lawns, cleaning the offices, hammering the nails and picking the tomatoes, not to mention all that dish-washing, diaper-changing, meat-packing and poultry-plucking."(30)
Barriers to Unionization
Comprehensive immigration reform will not improve the lives of America's working people unless workers regain the right to collective bargaining. Recent reports by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch show that US workers - particularly Latino workers - who try to organize face severe corporate and state hostility. The obstacles that workers faced in their decade-long quest to organize Smithfield Foods in North Carolina show why few workers are able to form unions in the United States. Employees testified that pro-union employees were harassed and fired while management tried to convince Latino workers that African-Americans were organizing to steal their jobs. One former manager of the firm admitted to Amnesty International that "We were told to fire anyone who advocated for the union." According to the manager, a company lawyer instructed her to deal proactively with a union-inclined employee under her supervision: "Fire the bitch. I'll beat anything she or they throw at me in court."(31)
Local government officials assisted the firm by distributing anti-union propaganda at the workplace. Investigators responded to workers' safety complaints by haranguing them about their union sympathies. The federal government later targeted the firm for a raid on suspected illegal immigrants. Union activist Julio Vargas affirms that Latino and African-American workers believed that the government raided their plant "because people were getting organized."(32)
House Bill 2281
In order to maintain an environment that keeps big business safe and secure, Arizona's leaders understand that it is not enough to control contemporary labor markets; they must also control history. HB 2281 is part of a resurgence of white nationalism that wants to make sure that capitalism and the Confederacy are given their proper due in our nation's classrooms.(34)
Sociologist Oliver Cromwell Cox noted, "The capitalist exploitation of colored workers, it should be observed, consigns them to employments and treatment that is humanly degrading. In order to justify this treatment the exploiters must argue that the workers are innately degraded and degenerate, consequently they naturally merit their condition."(36)
HB 2281 means that Arizona students will not learn about the rise of the United Farm Workers nor will they be allowed to study the histories of the Western Federation of Miners or the Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers' Union in Arizona. These organizations taught that unbridled capitalism was not going to solve the problems of the working class. It is fine for scholars to publish articles about these organizations in academic journals, but state educational officials are fighting harder than ever to keep Chicano studies and narratives of resistance out of the high school classroom. The Texas Board of Education is replacing UFW co-founder Dolores Huerta in favor of "conservative hero" Phyllis Schlafly in forthcoming textbooks.(38)
The Way Forward
On May 1, 2006 - International Workers' Day - Latina/o workers initiated the largest work stoppage in the history of the Americas. Migrant laborers, Nuyoricans, Chicana/os, Afrocubanos, Guatemaltecos and immigrants from every continent on earth united in protest of immigration restriction measures that threatened their families, their livelihoods and their dignity. Hundreds of thousands of Latina/o workers and their allies sought to end the cycle of isolation and alienation from the broader society which has left them vulnerable to exploitation. The protests were marked by a profound sense of urgency.
Latino workers used International Workers' Day to prove that their labor power is an integral part of the New Economy. Indeed, several days in advance of the gigantic protest dubbed as "A Day Without Immigrants," corporations such as Cargill Inc., Tyson Foods and the Seaboard Corporation announced that they would be closing due to a lack of personnel.(40)
Latina/o marchers expressed a democratic vision of an economy where labor is the source of all wealth instead of being a pitiful captive to capital and paternalistic employers. Nursing home worker Corina Payan, who participated in the Denver march, explained, "I know that without us, they're not going to be able to do anything. They're not going to go out in the field and clean the bathrooms or anything…Everywhere you go, Wal-Mart, anything, all you see are Hispanic people filling their carts to the top….We're the ones making them money."(41)
SB1070 is part of a larger effort to crush the nascent Latina/o social movement that has formed the base of the May Day protests. The measure is part of a national trend to steal our rights and to keep us powerless in our workplaces and neighborhoods. HB2281 is designed to enforce a historical amnesia upon younger Americans and to teach them that any problem they may have will be magically solved by the free enterprise system. Never mind organizing for mutual interests. Leave that to the National Association of Manufacturers.
We must support the students, workers and reformers fighting SB1070 and HB 2281. Our future hangs in the balance. If we value a society where human rights are defended, we must act now. Today, the focus is rightly on Arizona. However, we must understand that Arizona is only one part of the problem. Unless we democratize American workplaces, even comprehensive immigration reform will not improve the lives of millions of workers.
Marisa Espinosa's senior thesis serves as a starting point for understanding this crisis, especially her insight that "The capitalist tendency to displace people and force them into migration is not recognized in public policy." Until we grasp what Espinosa is telling us we cannot solve the immigration problem. Workers' rights must be at the foundation of all US trade policies. NAFTA needs a massive overhaul or revocation if it continues to push Mexican farmers to the wall. In the US we need to reconsider the relationship among capitalism, public policy and immigration. For example, Social Security, Workers' Compensation and Unemployment Security implicitly recognize that the free market creates a number of harmful conditions at critical points in human life that must be mitigated by the state. Capitalism also has harmful effects on migrants, but where are the social programs to ameliorate their plight?
Along with assertively stating that "No human being is illegal," we must add the cry "Capitalism needs Perestroika." A system that impoverishes people and imposes harsh public measures to preserve itself, needs to be rethought.(42)
We need to deepen our commitment to grassroots organizing, and we need to listen to the workers who are carrying our rickety economic system on their shoulders. Their voices are missing in the current debate and that is a fatal oversight. As María Elena Durazo, executive secretary-treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, reminds us:
The most dramatic social changes of the past did not happen because a few politicians and rich people took pity on black people or workers. It did not happen in Congress, or in the White House. It happened in the streets - churches, unions and workplaces. And it needs to happen there again. We must build a movement with thousands of leaders and millions of supporters that can pressure elected and corporations to do the right thing. When we build a movement of the working poor, we will have the power to end poverty.(43)
1. Jon Swartz, "Inmates vs. Outsourcing," USA Today, July 6, 2004; Ruth Wilson Gilmore, Golden Gulag: Prisons, Surplus, Crisis and Opposition in Globalizing California (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006); Robert Perkinson, Texas Tough: The Rise of America's Prison Empire (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2010); Critical Resistance at: http://www.criticalresistance.org/
2. "New Immigration Law Won't Hurt Economy, Arizona Governor Says," CNN.Com, April 26, 2010.
3. I discuss the impact of the Mexican-American War on Latina/o workers in: "¡Si, Se Puede! Revisited: Latino/a Workers in the United States," in Social Work Practice with Latinos, Eds., Richard Furman & Nalini Negi (Chicago: Lyceum Books, 2010), 45-66.
4. Los Mineros. (The American Experience), Dir. Hector Galan. Writer, Paul Espinosa. Perfs. Luis Valdez. PBS. 1992; Katherine Benton-Cohen, "Docile Children and Dangerous Revolutionaries: The Racial Hierarchy of Manliness and the Bisbee Deportation of 1917." Frontiers: A Journal of Women's Studies, (2003, June-September) 24.2-3, 30-50.
5. Carlos M. Larralde and Richard Griswold del Castillo, "Luisa Moreno and the Beginnings of the
Mexican-American Civil Rights Movement in San Diego," The Journal of San Diego History, Volume 43, Number 3 (Summer 1997).
6. Zaragosa Vargas, Labor Rights Are Civil Rights: Mexican-American Workers in Twentieth-Century America (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005), 220-223.
7. Laura Jane Gifford, "Dixie is no longer in the bag": South Carolina Republicans and the Election of 1960,"
Journal of Policy History, Vol. 19, No. 2, (2007), 207-233.
8. John W. Dean, The Rehnquist Choice: The Untold Story of the Nixon Appointment That Redefined the
Supreme Court (New York: The Free Press, 2001), 129.
9. Pierre Tristam, "'Operation Wetback': Illegal Immigration's Golden-Crisp Myth," Daytona Beach News-Journal, April 5, 2007. For the forced reparations of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans to Mexico in the 1930s, see: Francisco E. Balderrama and Raymond Rodríguez, Decade of Betrayal: Mexican Repatriation in the 1930s (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2006)
10. "Owed Back Pay, Guest Workers Comb the Past," The New York Times, November 23, 2008.
11. John Dillin, "How Eisenhower Solved Illegal Border Crossings from Mexico," The Christian Science Monitor, July 6, 2006.
12. Jonathan Rosenblum, "Union Busting: How Arizona's 'CIA' Helped Phelps Dodge Destroy The Unions," The Tucson Weekly, June 29, 1995, http://www.tucsonweekly.com/tw/06-29-95/curr4.htm (Accessed May 22, 2010)
13. Barbara Kingsolver, Holding the Line: Women in the Great Arizona Mine Strike of 1983 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press), 113.
14. "Panel Hears Conflicting Voter Challenge Testimony," Times-News (Hendersonville, NC), August 2, 1986; Gregory Palast, Armed Madhouse, 10th Plume Printing p. 261; Laura Flanders, "A Racist Elephant," Common Dreams.org, December 13, 2000. (Accessed May 22, 2010.); Alan Dershowitz, Telling the Truth About Chief Justice Rehnquist," The Huffington Post, May 20, 2010. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/alan-dershowitz/telling-the-truth-about-c_b_6844.html (Accessed May 20, 2010); John W. Dean, The Rehnquist Choice (New York: Free Press, 2002).
15. Amy Sugimori, Rebecca Smith, et. al., "Assessing the Impact of the Supreme Court's Decision in Hoffman Plastic Compounds v. NLRB on Immigrant Workers and Recent Developments," National Immigration Law Center, n.d.
16. John Trumpbour and Elaine Bernard, "Unions and Latinos: Mutual Transformation," in Latinos: Remaking America, ed., Marcelo M. Suárez-Orozco and Mariela M. Páez (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009), 126-145.
17. "Immigration Raid Breaks Up Organizing Drive at Iowa Meatpacking Plant," Labor Notes, August 26, 2008.
18. David Bacon, "Mass Firings, The New Face of Immigration Raids," The Progressive (December 2009/January 2010).
19. Marisa Verónica Espinosa, "Capitalism at Work: A Contemporary Look at Mexican Immigration to the United States," Undergraduate Thesis, UC-Santa Cruz (2005), 33. See Jorge A. Bustamante's important essay, "Mexico-United States Labor Migration Flows, " International Migration Review, Vol. 31, No. 4., Special Issue: Immigrant Adaptation and Native-Born Responses in the Making of Americans (Winter, 1997), 1112-1121.
20. Espinosa, 5. A powerful analysis of the continuing devastation wrought by NAFTA is found in: John Ross, "The Feminization of Mexican Agriculture," Counterpunch.org, May 19, 2010 (Accessed May 21, 2010).
21. Espinosa, 32.
22. Jorge A. Bustamante, "Mexican-United States Labor Migration Flows," 1116.
23. Paul Ortiz, "Before the CIO: Segregation and Black Labor Struggles," Against the Current, (January/February 2009).
24. "Al Sharpton Wears 'Los Suns' Jersey During March to Arizona Capitol Protesting SB 1070," Phoenix New Times Blogs, May 6, 2010 http://blogs.phoenixnewtimes.com/bastard/2010/05/al_sharpton_wears_los_suns_jer.php (Accessed May 22, 2010)
25. "Immigration Advocates Rally for Change," The New York Times, May 1, 2010.
26. " Dems: Ariz. Law Like Jim Crow, apartheid," Politico, April 28, 2010. http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0410/36503.html (Accessed May 15, 2010).
27. US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. EEOC Settles Suit Against Arizona Company for $3.5 Million on Behalf of Low-Wage Workers. August 8, 2001; EEOC, Central Casino to Pay $1.5 Million in EEOC Settlement for National Origin Bias. July 18, 2003) EEOC, "EEOC Settles Lawsuit on Behalf of Hispanic Employees," April 12, 2006; EEOC, Statement of William R. Tamayo, February 28, 2007. See also: "Life Under Siege: Life for Low-Income Latinos in the South," Southern Poverty Law Center (April 2009).
28. Daley M. Camoy and Ojeda R. Hinojosa, Latinos in a Changing US Economy: Comparative Perspectives in the Labor Market Since 1939. Inter-University Program for Latino Research, New York: Research Foundation of the City University of New York, 1990; Edwin Melendez, Clara Rodriguez and Janis Barry Figueroa, eds., Hispanics in the Labor Force: Issues and Policies (New York: Plenum Press, 1991).
29. Raul Yzaguirre and Charles Kamasaki, "Comment on The Latino Civil Rights Crisis: A Research Conference," The Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles, University of California, Los Angeles (2007), Retrieved October 9, 2007 from http://www.civilrightsproject.ucla.edu/research/latino97/latino97.php
30. Barbara Ehrenreich, "What America Owes its 'Illegals,'" The Nation. Org. (http://www.thenation.com/doc/20070625/ehrenreich) (Accessed, June 13, 2007).
31. Kristal Brent Zook, "Hog-Tied: Battling It Out (Again) At Smithfield Foods," Amnesty International Magazine (Winter 2003), http://www.amnestyusa.org/Winter_2003/ (Accessed June 4, 2007).
32. David Bacon, "Feds Crack Down on Immigrant Labor Organizers," The American Prospect Online, May 11, 2007, http://www.prospect.org (Accessed June 5, 2007).
33. Human Rights Watch, "Unfair Advantage: Workers' Freedom of Association in the United States under International Human Rights Standards," (New York: Human Rights Watch, 2000), 141-142.
34. "Texas School Board Hears from Critics of Social Studies Changes," The Washington Post, May 21, 2010.
35. Critical work in Chicano and Latino Studies include: Ernesto Galarza, Spiders in the House & Workers in the Field (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1970); Carey McWilliams, Factories in the Field: The Story of Migratory Farm Labor in California (originally published, 1935; Santa Barbara: Peregrine Publishers, Inc., 1971); Rodolfo Acuna, Occupied America: A History of Chicanos (New York : Harper & Row, 1988); Elizabeth Martinez, De Colores Means All of Us: Latina Views for a Multi-Colored Century (South End Press, 1999); Vicki Ruiz, From Out of the Shadows: Mexican Women in Twentieth-Century America (Oxford University Press, 2008); Carlos Muñoz, Youth, Identity, Power: The Chicano Movement (London: Verso, 1989); David Gutiérrez, Walls and Mirrors: Mexican-Americans, Mexican Immigrants and the Politics of Ethnicity (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995).
36. Oliver C. Cox, Race: A Study in Social Dynamics. New Introduction by Adolph Reed Jr. (Monthly Review Press, 2000), 19.
37. "Arizona Gov. Signs Bill Targeting Ethnic Studies," Yahoo News, May 12, 2010. http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20100512/ap_on_re_us/us_arizona_ethnic_studies (Accessed, May 20, 2010)
38. Lauri Lebo, "Texas Textbook Massacre," Religion Dispatches.org, April 27, 2010 (Accessed, May 20, 2010).
39. Bill Bigelow, "Those Awful Texas Social Studies Standards. And What About Yours?" CommonDreams.org
May 22, 2010 (Accessed, May 23, 2010); Christine E. Sleeter, "Standardizing Imperalism," Rethinking Schools, Volume 19, (Fall 2004). http://www.rethinkingschools.org/restrict.asp?path=archive/19_01/impe191.shtml (Accessed, May 23, 2010).
40. Immigrants Take to US Streets in Show of Strength," The New York Times, May 2, 2006; "US Latinos expect a momentous May Day," The Star-Ledger (Newark, New Jersey), April 28, 2006.
41. "Prompted By Anger, A Colorado Immigrant Marches for Principle," The Associated Press (Denver), May 2, 2006
42. Mikhail Gorbachev, "Capitalism in Crisis," The Guardian, October 30, 2009.
43. María Elena Durazo, "Living Wage for All: A Plan for a New Living Wage Movement," The Burning Bush: A Publication of the Center for the Working Poor. http://www.centerfortheworkingpoor.org/ (Accessed May 1, 2010).