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|Updated: 18.12.2012 15:51|
Uniting African-Americans and Immigrants / Afroamerikaner und Immigranten zusammenbringen
Artikel von David Bacon vom 11.9.2004
Textzusammenfassung von Lisa Carstensen:
Während die Bush-Regierung weiterhin versucht,
Gastarbeiterprogramme voran zu bringen, gibt es einen Gesetzesvorschlag
von Sheila Jackson Lee, der versucht, durch die Integration von illegalen
Migranten Diskriminierung einzudämmen. Ebenso wie in der Position
der Gewerkschaft HERE (Hotel Employees Restaurant Employees Union) geht
es eben nicht darum, verschiedene Gruppen gegeneinander auszuspielen,
wie es insbesondere im Fall der, von Arbeitslosigkeit und Dumping-Löhnen
stark betroffenen, afroamerikanischen Bevölkerung und den meist lateinamerikanischstämmigen
MigrantInnen vorkommt. Ein legaler Aufenthaltsstatus würde dazu beitragen,
dass auch MigrantInnen für die Verbesserung ihrer Arbeitssituationen
kämpfen können, die Gastarbeiterprogramme dagegen üben
Druck auch auf andere Jobs und Löhne aus. David Bacon macht deutlich,
dass es sich bei Migration aber nicht um einen Trick der Unternehmer zur
Senkung der Löhne, sondern um ein globales
UNITING AFRICAN-AMERICANS AND IMMIGRANTS
By David Bacon
OAKLAND, CA (9/11/04) -- If you listen to President George Bush, the only way Mexicans can avoid the deadly and illegal trip across the US border is to come as guest workers - temporary contract laborers for US industry and agriculture. The 8-14 million immigrants already living in the US without visas, he says, must become guest workers themselves if they want to get legal documents.
While the president's proposal is the most extreme of those before Congress (and hasn't yet been formally introduced), all the other bills that would reform US immigration law also have some temporary contract worker proposal attached to them. All except one.
In March, Houston Congress member Sheila Jackson
Lee introduced the most comprehensive
The Jackson Lee bill is unique for another reason. Its 21 cosponsors are members of the Congressional Black Caucus, including California's Barbara Lee and Michigan's John Conyers. For many years the Caucus has been outspoken on other areas of social policy -- every session it outlines an alternative Federal budget prioritizing social goals like eliminating poverty, reducing military spending, and protecting social services and benefits. This is the first time, however, Caucus members have taken a pro-active approach to immigration.
Jackson Lee's bill is not the only effort to find common ground between African Americans and immigrants. Another is a unique union proposal in the current contract negotiations in Los Angeles hotels. In the current hotel negotiations, the Hotel Employees Restaurant Employees Union (HERE) has proposed connecting protection for the rights of immigrant workers with an effort to overcome past hiring discrimination.
In the early 1980s, Los Angeles janitorial contractors dumped their mostly African-American and white workers, and hired immigrants, tearing up union contracts and lowering wages. Hotels cut labor costs the same way. Low-wage factory jobs multiplied along the Alameda Corridor, while union jobs in auto, steel, rubber and aerospace plants vanished. To the owners of the new sweatshops, displaced workers were anathema -- too used to high wages, too likely to form unions, just plain too old, and often, too Black.
Sometimes employers miscalculated. LA's new immigrant janitors also proved to be pro-union, even willing to get beaten and fired in the long drive to push wages back up. New hotel and factory workers often did the same. But in South Central, Black unemployment stayed high.
Today, this economic history shapes the political terrain of cities like Los Angeles. Black workers make up only 6.4% of the present LA hotel workforce. Clyde Smith, a houseman at the Wilshire Grand, remembers that when he was hired 35 years ago African-Americans worked in virtually all areas. "There are significantly less today," he says, "often only one or two in each department, and sometimes none at all." The union has asked companies to commit to a hiring ombudsman and a Diversity in the Workplace Taskforce, to reach out to African American communities that need jobs, and eliminate any hiring barriers. "Some people would try to pit one race against another, especially Blacks against Latinos," Smith says. "I think we shouldn't blame any race or culture." At the same time, the union has proposed new protections for the job rights of the immigrants who make up a majority of the hotel industry workforce.
The union proposal strengthens an important ruling won four years ago by HERE in San Francisco, when an arbitrator held that immigrant workers couldn't be fired just because their Social Security numbers were in question, a problem faced by many immigrants. Then last year the union organized the Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride, a national demonstration for immigration reform joining immigrants with Black veterans of the original 1960s freedom rides.
Both the Hotel Employees and Jackson Lee envision a new civil rights movement, geared to a changed world of globalization. The key is prohibiting discrimination - against immigrants because of their status and vulnerability, and against displaced workers, by enforcing job creation and affirmative action as national policy. Both proposals also share the same assumption that unions and high wages are the best protection against job competition.
Jackson Lee is careful to note that she doesn't want her
bill viewed as just an African-American proposal, but her voice nevertheless
carries a note of pride in referring to her cosponsors as "the conscience
of America, the conscience of the Congress." Bill Fletcher, president
of TransAfrica Forum and former education director of the AFL-CIO, rejects
the idea that the changing demographics of the US population are not a
concern for African Americans. He recalls a time when even liberal
Today a growing number of labor, immigrant rights and Black political activists recognize the similarity between the denial of civil rights to African Americans and the second-class status of immigrants in the US. Jackson Lee looks at the situation of immigrants, and sees the historic discrimination against people of color, especially Black people, and women.
"I had the benefit of the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments,
the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act, and the executive
order signed by Richard Nixon on affirmative action. Without them, I would
never have seen the inside of the United States Congress," she declares,
while cautioning, "the rights of minorities in this country are still
a work in progress. Nevertheless, someone recognized that the laws of
America were broken as they related to African Americans - that we had
to fix them. Now we have to fix other laws to end discrimination against
Jackson Lee opposes temporary worker programs because she believes they inevitably result in second-class status, in which workers can't enforce labor rights or use social benefits, if indeed they're entitled to them at all. Fletcher agrees, and to those who assert that legislation expanding temporary worker programs can also protect workers' rights, he answers: "maybe I'm from Missouri - show me. If it's possible to protect their rights in real life, I haven't seen it yet."
According to Jackson Lee, temporary status not only encourages abuse of workers, but also has a high social cost. "Who pays for their housing and healthcare?" she asks. "Do they pay into Social Security, or are they denied benefits? What rights do they really have?" The social cost of guest worker programs can also include the impact on the jobs and wages of other workers. Here Jackson Lee and Fletcher are stepping off into a political mine field, because of a widely held perception that Blacks and immigrants, especially Latinos, compete for jobs. "Certainly you're made to believe that," she says, "that one group hinders the other. That's absolutely wrong, and I believe in fighting against it."
The heart of her bill makes a direct connection between immigration and jobs. It would grant permanent legal status to undocumented immigrants who've lived 5 years in the US, and have a basic understanding of English and US culture. The money paid in application fees would fund a job creation and training program for unemployed workers. Creating jobs for the country's 9.4 million unemployed would require more resources than this. But the bill recognizes that the issues of jobs and immigration don't have to pit immigrants and native-born against each other.
Instead they can unite in a common pursuit of jobs, legal
status and workplace rights. And it
In July, a new study from the Center for Labor Market Studies
at Northeastern University
Between 2000 and 2004, jobs held by immigrants rose by 2 million; the number of employed native-born workers fell by 958,000, and of longtime resident immigrants by 352,000. According to the report's authors, "the net growth in the nation's employed population between 2000 and 2004 takes place among new immigrants, while the number of native-born and established immigrant workers combined declines by more than 1.3 million."
Black unemployment nationally has grown at a catastrophic
rate - from 10.8% to 11.8% in May alone. Nearly half (172,000) of the
360,000 people who lost their jobs in June were African American, although
they're just 11% of the workforce. In New York City, only 51.8% of Black
men from 16 to 65 had jobs in 2003, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
For Latinos it was 65.7%, and for whites 75.7%. June's overall unemployment
rate in 2003 was 6.4%. Very little of the rise in African American unemployment
is a result of direct displacement by immigrants. It's caused overwhelmingly
by the decline in manufacturing and cuts in public employment. In the
In the growing service and high tech industries of the 80s,
those displaced workers were anathema. Employers often identified their
race with pro-union militancy, according to sociologist Patricia Fernandez
Kelly. Today, corporations in those same industries argue they need workers
to fill labor shortages to come, and promote temporary workers as the
answer. Fletcher argues "if there are people in communities destroyed
because the industry which employed them is gone, and a few miles away
there are labor shortages in other industries, then displaced people should
fill the void. Instead, now we're hearing proposals for guest workers.
If African Americans were moving from lower to higher level jobs, there
would be no reason for fear, but that's not the case."
Jackson Lee's bill tries to balance these interests. For
US citizens and residents, she proposes retraining and jobs programs,
while for immigrants she proposes legalization and a ban on
Fletcher also prizes unity across racial lines, and accuses
President Bush of playing racial and national groups off against each
other to undermine it. In mid-June Bush became the first Presidential
candidate in decades to refuse to appear before an NAACP convention. That
Immigration is not a conspiracy by employers to drive wages down. Migration is a global phenomenon. According to Migrant Rights International, over 130 million people today live outside the countries in which they were born. The movement of people from developing countries to rich industrial ones is not only happening everywhere, it is unstoppable. Poverty and war force people to leave their homes. The deaths every year of hundreds of people trying to cross the US/Mexico border is bitter testimony to the price paid by families migrating north, desperate to survive.
Immigration law can't and doesn't stop people from coming, but it can and does make people unequal here. Undocumented immigrants can't drive a car, or collect unemployment or Social Security. The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 made the act of working itself illegal. When working becomes a crime, workers must risk a lot to protest low wages and bad treatment, join unions, and assert their rights. With or without temporary programs, migration to the US and other industrial countries is a fact of global life. The question is really whether or not the purpose of US immigration policy should be supplying labor to industry at a price it wants to pay.
Jackson Lee also recognizes that US foreign and trade policy often exert great pressures on people to migrate, by spreading poverty and war. The country should welcome the immigrants who continue to arrive, while attacking the poverty and oppression that uproot people, she concludes: "We would do better to build the economies of countries like Mexico, so people can live their own dream in their own nation. If we don't help build the economy of the nations who surround us, we will continue to have people fleeing for both economic reasons and because they're being persecuted."
Fletcher adds that US unions, in particular, haven't taken this problem seriously enough. Unions have changed a great deal in the way they see immigration, he grants, and are now part of a large national pro-legalization coalition. Fletcher especially credits the Service Employees and the Hotel and Restaurant Employees with changing the priority US labor gives to immigrant rights. Unions even adopted the language of the 60's civil rights movement to promote last year's Immigrant Workers' Freedom Ride to Washington DC, and today have lined up behind an immigration reform proposal sponsored by Senator Ted Kennedy and Representative Luis Gutierrez. That bill contains both a legalization and a temporary worker program, which its proponents argue makes passage more likely in a Republican-controlled Congress.
Nevertheless, there's a disconnect, Fletcher asserts, between advocacy for immigrants and looking at the role US policy plays in creating the poverty which makes migration necessary. "There's very little understanding in the labor movement about why people migrate. We don't look at the role of US foreign policy in particular as an essential cause - the way the war in Central America forced the migration of Salvadorans, or the Vietnam War the migration of people from Southeast Asia. When we don't speak out on foreign policy, we don't anticipate the human cost."
While the Jackson Lee bill doesn't address foreign or trade policy directly, it does seek to correct some of the inequities created by an immigration policy that often is used as an instrument of political reward or punishment. The Congresswoman points to the huge backlog of applicants waiting for visas in Third World countries, while many European countries can't even fill their quotas. For Europeans, whose standard of living is often higher than that in the US, there's very little pressure to use up their visa allotment. But from Latin America to Africa, the poverty created by war and neoliberal economic policies produces far more applicants than there are visas vailable. Jackson Lee's approach is a diversity proposal that would take those differences into account.
She further seeks to help refugees from two countries, Liberia and Haiti, whose refugee status is imperiled or denied, and whose cause the Black Caucus has championed in the past. Liberians were allowed to come as refugees a decade ago as their country was engulfed in civil war, and her bill seeks to give them permanent rather than temporary refuge. Haitians are victim of a "system driven by politics," according to Fletcher. A double standard allows Cubans to become legal residents as soon as they step onto US soil, while the Coast Guard picks up desperate refugees from Haiti, fleeing repression in tiny boats, before they get to the Florida beach. If they somehow reach it, they're held behind barbed wire as illegal refugees. "There is an inequity between those fleeing from one island and those fleeing another," the Congresswoman comments dryly.
Jackson Lee is the granddaughter of Jamaican immigrants, and sees in their effort to build a home in the US the same daily struggle carried on by the many immigrants in her own Houston district. But unlike her grandparents, today's immigrants face a system she condemns as broken, and often pay a painful price. She cites especially post-9/11 discrimination against immigrants from the Middle East. "Families are torn apart," Jackson Lee laments bitterly, "and we're not adding to our security, but only to the misery of human beings who want to give their best to this country. We have a system that's not helping anyone. It's not helping to build the economy - it's helping to tear it down. For immigrants here we need an orderly system that allows them to do their jobs and build the American economy, and US workers to have jobs and do likewise."
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