It was May Day last week and you would think there would be some attention paid to the problems of American workers, particularly in the hard hit manufacturing sector. As this article in the Washington Post indicates there still is life in the United Auto Workers union.
But instead of organizing support for this important strike at American Axle, the left was off advocating open borders (of course the “framing” phrase is “no one is illegal”) to import more non-union low paid workers into the struggling American economy.
One visage seen frequently at the numerous immigrant rights marches is that of Cesar Chavez, the founder of the United Farm Workers Union in the 1960s. Ironically, and probably a shock to the organizers of these marches, Chavez was an opponent of open immigration into the United States. He had trouble enough unionizing the fields and raising wages for the workers that were here. To lose control of the labor force would be to invite disaster.
Of course, criticizing this strategy of the left has nothing do with whether one ought to defend the rights of immigrant workers here. Those rights exist in domestic and international law and ought to be defended vigorously. But a separate political question is what ought to be done to improve conditions in places like Mexico so that workers there are not motivated to flee northward. And it should be recognized that just as the threat of moving to Mexico or China – as indicated in the American Axle strike – undermines labor’s bargaining power, so does the shipment of massive numbers of low paid, non-english speaking workers here. (If you want a marvelous picture of how workers are pitted against each other in this fashion, I recommend watching John Sayles’ Matewan.)
Some in American labor and on the left have all but given up on existing American workers and think that by importing the third world here, that maybe their third worldist politics might become relevant again. Big mistake. Instead they get a defensive reaction by the existing workforce that unfortunately often turns into racism.
The right meanwhile thinks that we should just get over it – globalization is giving way to the era of the knowledge worker. David Brooks of the New York Times tries to suggest that countries like China and India are “abstractions”! Really? So why exactly is China is spending billions on that Red Army? The reality is that China is rapidly building itself into a low wage global power using a state centered authoritarian model that is tearing apart U.S. manufacturing. For the low down, I highly recommend Eamonn Fingleton’s new book, In the Jaws of the Dragon.
No place in the new Brooksian “cognitive” world view for unions and democratic social movements. Instead we should all get on the bandwagon for the kinds of pathetic “human capital” policies supported by Robert Reich or charter schools’ advocates like the Broad Foundation and “educate” our way into new jobs. Try telling that tale to 40 and 50 year old workers losing good manufacturing jobs in Ohio and Pennsylvania.