David Bacon is one of the most insightful and forward thinking advocates for immigrant rights in the U.S. labor movement. His analysis of the relationship between trade and migration is essential to understanding the importance of the immigrant worker's struggles to the overall revitalization of the organized labor in the U.S. He has also consistently called for the most militant and thoroughgoing strategies to care the immigrant workers struggle forward. David circulated the following statement among immigrant rights groups in California last month. The type of working class solidarity, David calls for here is not only vital if we are to win the fight for migrants rights, but could lead to a radical transformation of union locals away from the type of business unionism that has dominated for decades toward a return to unions as vital organs of social change in the broadest sense…
A Solidarity Campaign in Response to No-Match Letters:
In the late 1980s, when anti-immigrant racism began to rise in Europe, the French labor movement and leftwing political activists responded with a campaign called "touch pas mon pot" (pardon my terrible French), which means "dont touch my pal." We can use this idea as an inspiration for getting our own members involved in solidarity and mutual support, and strengthen our unions and organizations. The problem with the way we've dealt with the threat of no-match letters and immigration raids in our workplaces and unions so far is that we've concentrated on a "know your rights" approach. There's no question that it's important for workers to know their rights, but limiting our activity to this has two big problems:
1. We don't have a lot of rights. This isn't a very effective way for our members to protect themselves and each other.
2. We're saying, by implication, that the threat of firings and raids is the problem of those people who would be directly affected -- immigrants themselves. We're not looking at how they affect the whole workplace and union, or asking members to stick up for each other. That is, after all, why we have a union in the first place.
I suggest instead that we begin by trying to find ways that our members and workers can stick up for each other. While our primary goal here is to help defend immigrant workers, this kind of campaign will encourage members to defend each other on other issues as well. That will help strengthen our unions and workers centers.
This campaign could involve, as a series of steps in which each builds on the one before:
1. A pledge, like the Jobs with Justice pledge, that says if any of us is fired unfairly or threatened with a raid, that we will treat it as an action against all of us. We could have cards like the JwJ pledge cards that say "an injury to one is an injury to all." The idea here is to get our members thinking about the danger, and how we should respond, before something actually happens.
2. We could have a ribbon or button campaign, that makes that support visible in the workplace. That would have a very good effect on the morale of immigrants, and make everyone feel like we have a real union.
3. We could organize a delegation to the employer, saying that we will oppose any firings based on no-match letters, and demanding that they consult with us immediately if they're approached by ICE demanding records. In the case of workplaces like those in Local 2 where the contract already offers this kind of protection, these delegations could make that contract language well-known among workers, and warn employers that we intend to enforce it. For unions without that language, this could inspire including it in future negotiations, especially if we have model language.
4. We can ask our members to take action outside their workplaces. At the minimum level, this can be the circulation of postcards by stewards, asking members to sign, that demand that the no-match regulation be rescinded, and that elected officials support that demand. As members become more educated and active around this issue, it can involve coming out to rallies and marches.
5. Unions can organize their own public demonstrations of opposition to the no-match letters and immigrant bashing. For example, unions with a lot of Filipino healthcare workers, like CNA or SEIU-UHW, could organize public protest over the racist and anti-immigrant "joke" on Desperate Housewives, denigrating the degrees received by health care professionals at Philippine universities. That's a real hot issue right now in the Filipino community.
To make this campaign work, we'd need an education program to go with it. We need printed materials, written in the language our members feel comfortable with, that explains what no-match letters and immigration raids are, and how they're used to harm all workers.
We need to train workers themselves to speak about this. If we have a core of active, educated workers, they can go with union staff to worksite meetings at lunchtime, for instance, to explain the campaign. As it begins to gather momentum, they can also talk about success stories in differnt workplaces. These workers can speak in public events, from rallies to hearings before city councils or supervisors.
I have not included worksite actions, like stoppages in the event of raids or firings, not because I don't think they're possible or desireable, but to concentrate on a campaign that gets members active where they are, and that starts from the education and commitment level that actually exists. If our members and workers can do most of the things outlined above, they're certainly capable of carrying out worksite actions if required.
-David Bacon, Photographs and Stories http://dbacon.igc.org