Economic Justice

Then  			2007

 

 

The crisis of bad jobs in the United States is simply a domestic manifestation of 21st century globalization. The policies which harm many people in other countries are closely linked to the policies which harm many people in the United States. Just as people and nations are battling to transform structural policies with respect to international economic forces, there is a need to transform certain structural policies in this country. —Steven Pitts (“The Fight for Quality Jobs: Our Battle Against Neoliberalism”)

 

Then  
2009 Employer sanctions have failed to reduce undocumented migration because NAFTA and globalization create huge migration pressure. Since 1994 more than six million Mexicans have come to the United States.... Attempting to discourage workers from coming by arresting them for working without authorization, or trying to prevent them from finding work, is doomed to fail. To reduce the pressure that causes undocumented migration, we need to change our trade and economic policies so they don't produce poverty in countries like Mexico.
— Bill Ong Hing and David Bacon ("Rights, Not Raids") 



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The Fight for Quality Jobs: Our Battle Against Neoliberalism

Then 2007Reprinted from RP&E Vol. 14, No.1: Just Jobs? Organizing for Economic Justice

Globalization is not a new phenomenon. The transatlantic slave trade was a manifestation of “globalization.” The carving up of Africa, Asia, and Latin America into colonies of Europe was a manifestation of “globalization.” Twenty-first century globalization shares some features with these previous eras, chief among them, the reality that the costs and benefits of a global economy are distributed unequally and, hence, our true challenge is building organizations and alliances with sufficient power to force a redistribution of these costs and benefits.

These issues of power and control are particularly important when fighting for quality jobs. Most jobs are not inherently good or bad; the key question for workers is the power to control the terms of work. Jobs in the auto and steel industries became “good” jobs because workers organized unions, which brought better wages, benefits, and dignity. Jobs in the casinos of Los Vegas became jobs that could sustain families because workers formed unions, and their collective action forced casino owners to redistribute their winnings. The victories of janitors in Houston, which led to the recognition of their union, will give them the power to improve their jobs.

The crisis of bad jobs in the United States is simply a domestic manifestation of 21st century globalization. The policies which harm many people in other countries are closely linked to the policies which harm many people in the United States. Just as people and nations are battling to transform structural policies with respect to international economic forces, there is a need to transform certain structural policies in this country. In the area of work and employment, this means a need to develop campaigns to transform the jobs which workers in the United States currently hold.

There are two essential economic elements of twenty-first century globalization: the rapid movement of technology, capital, goods and services, and people across space (“the world is getting smaller”); and the subsequent changing of the global division of labor. Production, which used to be exclusive to the United States, Europe, and Japan can now take place in most countries throughout the world. Also, during previous globalization eras, dominant countries contained most manufacturing and colonies and other lands were sites of raw material extraction. Now, manufacturing can occur in countries with cheaper labor forces and the production of services play a larger role in the economies of the global North. In addition, these policies have led to a change in the relationship between corporations, governments, and workers. This new relationship can be called neoliberalism.

Neoliberalism and What it Means

Key features of neoliberalism include a reduction in the role of government in regulating the economy; a greater role for the market in determining economic and social outcomes; and less protection for workers and citizens provided by governments. International economic institutions, such as the World Bank, reward countries that privatize national assets and balance budgets, even if these actions harm citizens. Transnational corporations seek those countries where markets are free of government regulations. The drive to balance budgets and have “business friendly” climates result in the elimination of needed social programs.

These features should sound familiar to activists in this country. Starting (with the Carter administration) in the late 1970s, the federal government has cut back its role in the economy and deregulated numerous industries, including trucking, telecommunications, and airlines. Local governments respond to insufficient revenue with cutbacks and contracting out. In the face of healthcare and pension crises, the Right calls for “market-based” solutions. Education is underfunded and welfare “reformed” to the point where former recipients are forced to take poverty level jobs.

What do these changes mean for jobs in the United States? Among the many impacts, three can be singled out. First, the rising importance of manufacturing in foreign countries means a greater role for the “goods movement” industry in this country. This industry includes the ports, which receive the goods, the trucks and trains, which move the goods off the docks, and the warehouses, which temporarily hold the goods. Second, the rising importance of a number of service industries, including hospitality, healthcare, and building services. A special feature of these jobs is that they cannot be shifted overseas because they involve people-to-people contact. Third, the strain on budgets cause local governments to use their land-use policies to increase revenue streams. Thus, the retail industry becomes a special target for subsidies, with the resulting increase in retail jobs.

Given these domestic manifestations of neoliberalism, what lessons can be drawn by activists? Many advocates reference a so-called “Golden Age” of the United States economy between 1945 and 1973, when blue collar workers could earn decent incomes and the government had social programs to address poverty, healthcare, and retirement. In addition to the fact that this era was more complicated than depicted, it is important to note that the benefits of this period reflect a confluence of many factors, including the dominance of the United States in the international division of labor; the relative strength of labor, civil rights, and other social justice movements; and a range of social protections provided by the State. The first factor, United States pre-eminence following World War II, cannot be replicated. (Nor is it clear that we would want to return the world to such a state.) However, the other two factors reflect the conscious efforts of activists.

As we move forward, the battle for quality jobs in goods movement, services, and retail industries is a key arena where social justice activists should place their energies in the struggle against neoliberalism. Strong labor and social movements can indeed win direct concessions from employers and from the State, and force a redistribution of the gains from globalization. 

Steven Pitts is a labor policy specialist at the University of California Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education, where he focuses on strategies for worker organizing and labor-community alliances.


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Blacks and Immigrants: More Allies Than Adversaries

Then 2007Reprinted from RP&E Vol. 14, No.1: Just Jobs? Organizing for Economic Justice

May Day 
2006. © 2006 Bob Wing

The year 2006 will go down as a watershed year for the immigrant rights movement in the United States. Bringing millions of immigrants and their families and supporters into the streets was a huge accomplishment. But much more needs to be done to consolidate a fragmented movement and bring on new allies.

Last April, a group of African Americans and black immigrants in Oakland, California came together to form the Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI). “BAJI was founded to support the demands of the immigrant rights movement and to engage African Americans in a dialogue about the underlying issues of race and economic status that frame United States immigration policy,” says co-founder Rev. Phillip Lawson.
But why are African Americans taking up the cause of immigrants, many of whom are breaking United States law just by being in this country? “We believe that African Americans, with our history of being economically exploited, marginalized, and discriminated against, have much in common with people of color who migrate to the United States—documented or undocumented,” Rev. Lawson explains.

There is a long history of blatant discrimination against the people attempting to migrate from Latin America, Africa, Haiti, China, and other regions, in favor of Western Europeans. Historically, as now, immigrants of color have been scapegoats for the economic ills of the United States and been subjected to exclusionary laws and racist violence.

BAJI’s goal is to organize a core group of African Americans prepared to oppose racism in all of its forms by actively building coalitions with immigrant communities and immigrant rights organizations, to further the mutual cause of economic and social justice for all. To succeed in the long run, activists must build a movement that incorporates all social justice movements, including immigrant rights and civil rights.

Formula for a Disaster
A public opinion poll conducted by the Pew Charitable Trusts in April 2006 found that a large majority of African Americans feel that immigrants are hard-working (79 percent) and have strong family values (77 percent). African Americans were more than twice as likely as whites (43 percent vs. 20 percent) to support public benefits for undocumented immigrants. Two-thirds of whites and 79 percent of African Americans said that the children of undocumented immigrants should be allowed to attend public schools.

Yet, more African Americans (22 percent) than whites (14 percent) say that they, or a family member, have lost a job, or not been hired, because an employer hired an immigrant. In fact, 34 percent of African Americans, as compared to 25 percent of whites, say that immigrants take jobs from United States citizens.

Despite the concerns of many African Americans, the high unemployment rate endemic to their communities is not the consequence of immigration. Rather, its root cause, like the root cause of current mass migration trends, lies with the worldwide phenomenon called globalization. Through its domestic and international policies on trade, lending, aid, and investment, and its military policies and actions, the United States government and its corporations are the main promoters (and beneficiaries) of an unjust economic system that is negatively impacting poor people, locally and globally.

Since the 1970s, globalization has meant the de-industrialization of the United States, with union jobs in manufacturing being moved to low-wage countries in Latin America and Asia. More recently, it has meant the corporate outsourcing of jobs in the high tech and service industries. Add to that the historical employer biases against African Americans, the deterioration of the tax base due to white flight from inner cities, and the systematic public and private disinvestment in urban areas, and you have the formula for the devastation of black communities across the United States.

The True Cost of Free Trade
A clear example of the bilateral and multilateral international policies of the United States that force migrants to risk their lives to come to the United States in search of a better life is the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Ratified in 1996, NAFTA forced Mexico to open up its markets to subsidized food crops from the United States. As a result, 2.8 million Mexican farmers could not compete with cheap United States commodities and lost their land and their livelihood (according to The New York Times). Many of those farmers and their dependents have migrated to the United States, looking for employment.

Consequently, African Americans and immigrants of color are pitted against each other for the proverbial crumbs on the table. This competition is a result of the normal operation of an unjust economic system.

The United States is now attempting to impose a Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) on countries in the region. Similar, so-called free trade agreements are also being proposed or implemented in many countries in Africa, Asia, South America, and the Caribbean.
The United States media loves to show images of a few African Americans protesting “illegal immigration” with rightwing groups, such as the Minutemen. With classic, blame-the-victim logic, these misguided individuals have ironically cast their lot with modern day Ku Klux Klansmen.
So what are we to do? BAJI says that African Americans must join forces with immigrants to fight for economic and social justice for all.

A New Model for an Old Struggle
Unite Here Local 11 has set an important precedent for our struggle. In its latest settlement with the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Los Angeles, the 5,000-member, predominately Latino and immigrant union won a contract obliging the hotel to increase wages, maintain an employee health plan, and hire more African Americans. The victory is a model for negotiations with other Los Angeles hotels.

“The tensions between African Americans and immigrants will not be lessened until you increase the quantity and quality of jobs for African Americans,” says Steven Pitts, an economist at the University of California Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education. “It’s good that one industry is taking baby steps in that direction.”

Pitts maintains that African Americans would benefit if undocumented immigrants were granted legal status, citing recent studies, which show that legalization would improve wages and working conditions for both, immigrant and non-immigrant workers.

The African American struggle for civil and economic rights has never been waged without allies. Conversely, the struggle of immigrants for recognition of their human rights cannot be won without friends and supporters. If they join together, the two movements can take giant strides toward victories now and for future generations. 

Gerald Lenoir is coordinator of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI) and a long-time anti-racist activist.


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Rights, Not Raids

Then 
2009Reprinted from RP&E Vol. 16, No. 1: Everyone has the Right to...    

When the Obama administration reiterated recently that it will make an immigration reform proposal this year, hopes rose among millions of immigrant families for the “change we can believe in.” That was followed by a new immigration position embraced by both the AFL-CIO and the Change to Win unions, rejecting the expansion of guest worker programs, which some unions had supported.

An immigrant 
worker at a day labor center where he joins others to organize to pursue
worker rights. © 2009 David BaconAs it prepares a reform package, the administration should look seriously at why the deals created over the past several years failed, and consider alternatives. Beltway groups are again proposing employment visas for future (post-recession, presumably) labor shortages and continued imprisonment of the undocumented in detention centers, which they deem “necessary in some cases.” Most disturbing, after years of the Bush raids, is the continued emphasis on enforcement against workers. We need a reality check.
For more than two decades it has been a crime for an undocumented worker to hold a job in the United States. To enforce the prohibition, agents conduct immigration raids, of the kind we saw at meat packing plants in the past few years.

Today, some suggest “softer,” or more politically palatable, enforcement—a giant database of Social Security numbers (E-Verify). Employers would be able to hire only those whose numbers “verify” their legal immigration status. Workers without such “work authorization” would have to be fired.
Whether hard or soft, these measures all enforce a provision of immigration law on the books since 1986—employer sanctions—which makes it illegal for an employer to hire a worker with no legal immigration status. In reality, the law makes it a crime for an undocumented worker to have a job.
The rationale has always been that this will dry up jobs for the undocumented and discourage them from coming. Those of us who served on a United Food and Commercial Workers commission that studied Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids at Swift meat packing plants across the country learned that the law has had disastrous effects on all workers. Instead of reinforcing or tweaking employer sanctions, we would be much better off if we ended them.

Raids and workplace enforcement have left severe emotional scars on families. Workers were mocked. Children were separated from their parents and left without word at schools or daycare. Increased enforcement has poisoned communities, spawning scores of state and local anti-immigrant laws and ordinances that target workers and their families.

Employer sanctions have failed to reduce undocumented migration because NAFTA and globalization create huge migration pressure. Since 1994 more than six million Mexicans have come to the United States. Ismael Rojas, who arrived without papers, says, “You can either abandon your children to make money to take care of them, or you can stay with your children and watch them live in misery. Poverty makes us leave our families.”
Attempting to discourage workers from coming by arresting them for working without authorization, or trying to prevent them from finding work, is doomed to fail. To reduce the pressure that causes undocumented migration, we need to change our trade and economic policies so they don't produce poverty in countries like Mexico.

Ken Georgetti, president of the Canadian Labour Congress, and AFL-CIO president John Sweeney wrote to President Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Harper, reminding them that “the failure of neoliberal policies to create decent jobs in the Mexican economy under NAFTA has meant that many displaced workers and new entrants have been forced into a desperate search to find employment elsewhere.” The new joint position of the AFL-CIO and Change to Win federations recognizes that “an essential component of the long term solution is a fair trade and globalization model that uplifts all workers.”
Continued support for work authorization and employer sanctions contradicts this understanding. Even with a legalization program, millions of people will remain without papers. For them, work without “authorization” will still be a crime. And while employer sanctions have little effect on migration, they will continue to make workers vulnerable to employer pressure.

When undocumented workers are fired for protesting low wages and bad conditions, employer sanctions bar them from receiving unemployment or disability benefits, although the workers have paid for them. It's much harder for them to find another job. An E-Verify database to deny them work will make this problem much worse.

Workplace enforcement also increases discrimination. Four years after sanctions began, the Government Accountability Office reported that 346,000  employers applied immigration-verification requirements only to job applicants with a “foreign” accent or appearance. Another 430,000 only hired applicants born in the United States.

Despite these obstacles, immigrant workers, including the undocumented, have asserted their labor rights, organized unions, and won better conditions. But employer sanctions have made this harder and riskier. When raids and document verification terrorized immigrants at Smithfield's huge packinghouse in Tar Heel, North Carolina, it became harder for black and white workers to organize as well. Using Social Security numbers to verify immigration status makes the firing and blacklisting of union activists all but inevitable. Citizens and permanent residents feel this impact because in our diverse workplaces, immigrants and native-born people work together.

Low wages for undocumented workers will rise only if those workers can organize. The Employee Free Choice Act would make organizing easier for all workers. But “work authorization” will rob millions of immigrant workers of their ability to use the process that the act would establish.

The alternative to employer sanctions is enforcing the right to organize, minimum wage, overtime, and other worker protection laws. Eliminating sanctions will not change the requirement that people immigrate here legally. ICE will still have the power to enforce immigration law. And if a fair legalization program were passed at the same time sanctions were eliminated, many undocumented workers already here would normalize their status. A more generous policy for issuing residence and family-unification visas would allow families to cross the border legally, without the indentured servitude of guest-worker programs.

Immigrant rights plus jobs programs that require employers to hire from communities with high unemployment can reduce competition and fear. Together they would strengthen unions, raise incomes, contribute to the nation's economic recovery, and bring the people of our country together. Employer sanctions will continue to tear us apart. 

Bill Ong Hing is Professor of Law and Asian American Studies at the University of California, Davis. His most recent book is Defining America through Immigration Policy. David Bacon is a freelance writer and photographer.  His newest book, Illegal People: How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants is published by Beacon Press. This article first appeared in The Nation magazine.


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