John M. Kelley
If you work in America for a wage, bend over and grab your socks, because the government (Yes that is all of them, Republicans and Democrats alike) are getting ready to give you another massive hosing. The bankruptcy of Delphi and its reorganization that will result in a loss of benefits and a two third reduction in wages for their workers is just the beginning of the impact of the two horned monster of "Free Trade" policies and "Guest Worker" programs. Globalization is fast turning America into a third world nation and big business and the administration are all for it. They just don't want you to thinks so.
Given the Bush administration's propensity for double speak we can make a good projection of what the new guest worker bill will look like when it is passed and instituted. Like the Clear Skies Initiative, that allowed increased air pollution; the proposed Healthy Forest Bill, which allowed the cutting of old growth forests; and the No Child Left Behind Bill, that promises to destroy the educational opportunity of millions; the immigration bill should be a doozy. In fact I would like to suggest to the administration that in the spirit of its previous legislation that they name the bill In-Sourcing: The Equal Wage Opportunity Bill. Equal with a third world nation that is.
Causes of Illegal Immigration
While there has always been a flow of immigrants legal and illegal to the U.S. looking for increased opportunity, economic and foreign policy (often inseparable) have forced great increases in immigration. There are several actions that they U.S. has taken and continues to pursue that encourage illegal immigration and they serve policy makers in a number of different ways.
1) TRADE POLICY: NAFTA resulted in the dumping millions of tons of cheap corn on the markets of Mexico and lowering prices that small farmers couldn't compete with. Estimates are that up to three million farmers were put out of work in Mexico alone. Other "free trade agreements" have similar effects. The irony is that many times this land is consolidated by corporations and rich landholders into vast fields producing soybeans or corn to produce even cheaper products displacing even more small farmers.
Many of these farmers moved to the cities to work in Maquiladoras, but found out that companies preferred to hire their wives and daughters before them because they were cheaper and less likely to organize. Even many of these jobs left for China for even lower wages after a few years. The vast majority of these desperate people had no choice but to journey north looking for any work they could find.
The social problems this causes are immense. Families are split up, people die in the passage, groups of men live together in subhuman conditions in the states and become involved in alcohol, drugs or crime as a result of the limited access to productive investment or involvement in the community in which they reside. Already illegal, their inclusion in the illegal U.S. economy, drug trade, gangs etc is a strong draw. These are refugees from the uncaring effects of corporate globalization.
2) RELIEVING THE PRESSURE FOR REVOLUTION: Immigration and the remittance of moneys earned in the U.S. to families in Mexico and Central American countries serve the purpose of American foreign policy. American foreign policy historically supports dictators and oppressive government against populist movements that threaten corporate wealth and control. One only needs to look at the current attitude towards Venezuela let alone its history in Central and South America to see a consistent pattern. That pattern of policy supports corruption and oligarchy in countries that exploit their own people for the benefit of multinational corporations in two ways.
Populist movements are created when a certain percentage of the working age population are dissatisfied enough to bring about radical reform. Allowing a certain portion of primarily young males to be exported lowers the risk of revolt. The second is through shoring up of the economies of these countries, especially the plight of the poor through remittances, or money shipped home by the working aliens in this country.
How important is this? Over $30 billion dollars a year leaves the U.S. to other countries in the form of remittances to the relatives of illegal workers each year. In 2003 approximately 5 million Mexican illegal's sent home $13 billion dollars in remittances, 238 thousand Guatemalans sent $1.2 billion, 336 thousand Salvadorans (10% of the Salvadoran work force) send home $2.5 billion. Similar numbers go on not only with other Central and South American countries but also many in Asia.
This is no small amount, it is the second biggest source of income next to oil in Mexico, constitutes 17% of the GDP of El Salvador and 10% of the GDP of Guatemala impacting 30% of the households in the country. In Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua the destruction of the local economies is a direct result of American government support for repressive governments that destroyed populist uprisings. The U.S. support of this repression was primarily to protect American multinational companies exploitive interests. Government repression of these movements has forced whole populations of indigenous peoples to become economic and political refugees, many fleeing first to Mexico and then the U.S.
As a result multinational companies can continue to bribe and corrupt the governments of other countries to allow them to exploit their natural resources and economies for their benefit and at the same time undercut American workers with desperate alien workers in the U.S. The impact for the U.S. government is it makes those governments dependent on U.S. based companies and international aid, primarily military to maintain repression of populist movements.
3) UNDERMINING AMERICAN UNIONS AND WORKERS: The constant mantra of "illegal workers do jobs that American workers don't want to do" is purely baloney. The official American unemployment rate of 5.5% is based on a definition that makes unemployment appear to be lower than it is. If you take the total unemployed, plus all marginally attached and discouraged workers, plus total employed part time who want full time work the real number is 12.2% or 18.5 million workers. In addition there are 1.3 million people who are incarcerated that are not counted. Much of the time the incarcerated are the product of lack of hope of participating in the legal economy. Another 4.4 million worked full time and made less then than the federal poverty rate of $19,000/year. Amazingly this figure included 500,000 families where there were two full time workers.
Also not counted are the 20 million U.S. workers who are under employed for their skill and educational level. Consequently if you add the real unemployment numbers of 18.5 million, 1.3 million incarcerated, 4.4 million poverty workers, and 20 million underemployed you get a total of 44.2 million workers who are unemployed or underemployed in the American workforce. This dwarfs the estimated 10 million illegal workers in the country.
With the defeat of the recent miserly proposal to lift the $5.15 minimum wage ($11,330/year) by a $1.10 reveals the real motive of government policy, suppress wages. The real problem is not getting people to work, it is to get people to do backbreaking work for minimal wages. To do so companies and government policy pit desperation against employment to drive down worker wages not only through outsourcing to other countries, but also a policy of allowing if not encouraging insourcing, the admission of legal and illegal workers to push down American wage and benefits.
This problem is not only limited to the uneducated worker. Legal immigration of educated workers has caused an increase in the unemployment and underemployment (being employed at a lower salary and skill level then they have been trained for) of college educated U.S. natives. While the bio-tec, information technology and medical fields have been especially hard hit by this phenomena, others are soon to open. Last year Mississippi started recruiting teachers from India.
Unemployment and underemployment (not earning enough to lift themselves from poverty) is a world wide problem effecting an estimated one third of the worlds population. Consequently, corporations which feel no obligation to alleviate this situation but every desire to exploit it shape government policy accordingly. There are more people in India with bachelors degrees that speak English then there are people in the U.S. There is why Republicans show no real desire to support public education because at any level you can import labor already educated and trained for a cheaper cost.
If government wanted to stop illegal immigration it could do so tomorrow, simply jail corporate employees and officers who hire illegal aliens or contractors who do it for them. The message would soon travel south of the border to let people know there are no jobs in America, but that would mean wages and benefits would have to increase and corporate profits decline. Corporate control of government will not allow that to happen.
Government policies focus on apprehending aliens because it creates the illusion of action while doing nothing to actually stem the flow. Government action against employers is hundreds of times more cost effective but that would mean offending campaign contributors. Demonstrating this, government actions against employers for hiring illegal aliens have fallen from a meager 400 complaints per year to one.
4) EXPLOITATION OF LABOR: Working cheaply, most of the time off the books, the employer doesn't pay benefits, unemployment, workers compensation, social security or other government required compensations. Workers can be forced to work in unsafe conditions, overworked, and exploited. Wage and work conditions are suffered by illegals that would never be tolerated by American workers. Workers who complain or try to organize are often turned into INS by their own employers for deportation. The government has become an enforcer for companies who would exploit workers.
Motivation for Guest Worker Legislation
The corporate and government motivation for a guest worker program is not to deal with illegal immigration but to legalize its exploitive effects and solve its public relations problems.
Outsourcing of American jobs has become a source of backlash against an American corporations and Republican policies. While enforcement against employers is non existent, as long as it is on the books it is a potential liability. In addition outsourcing jobs has increased trade deficits and sometimes failed because of a lack of supporting infrastructure. The use of insourcing or allowing legal and illegal workers into the country solves these problems and maintains the advantage of undermining workers here at home. The combination of outsourcing and insourcing causes the very real suppression of wages, benefits and loss of jobs to Americans workers who are becoming increasingly dissatisfied with government policies.
The use of irrational fear of terrorism after 9-11 was exploited for Republican gain but increased the awareness that there were millions of people floating around the country with no identity or address attached to a government file somewhere. The
government increased enforcement to put on a show of action but knew that this would not stem the tide of immigration. In addition, a virtual flood of immigrants pushed into smaller and rougher entry points into the U.S. left a trail of dead immigrants, overrun property owners and a feeling of invasion in some border areas.
Exploiting fears of immigrants to increase surveillance and police powers is also a tactic of the administration. The "Real ID" policy which will force every American to carry federal identification papers and the virtual suspension of the bill of rights, especially the fourth amendment against illegal search and seizure with in 100 miles of any U.S. border are but two examples. The militarization of the border and the expansion of homeland security is part of the concentration of police power under federal government control.
The Minutemen are a perfect example of the Republicans exploitation of the negative consequences of their own policies. Caught between these conservative blue color militias and their business constituents. Republicans and many Democrats alike claim to understand their concern, but refuse to crack down on their infringements on other Americans while promising more troops, fences and other law enforcement actions.
The Republican/Corporate Solution
The political solution for the Republicans is the Guest Worker program, a policy that will allow them to claim credit for controlling the problem while legalizing the exploitation of aliens and undermining American labor.
All immigrants will be registered allegedly to satisfy security concerns. Faced with an underground life avoiding immigration authorities or registering with the implied promise of future legitimacy, illegal aliens will be lined up as far as the eye can see to register. Even though the President has stated that this is not a prelude to amnesty (this I believe he is being honest about) illegal immigration has surged since his announcement in hopes of a future amnesty program.
The real reason for registration is to legalize the employers who have been exploiting these workers. The President seems to believe that employers who previously exploited and abused immigrant workers would not do that now that they will be given total control over a worker's right to remain in the country. Where before, workers could at least disappear and seek other illegal work they will now be tied to their employer to avoid deportation. "Hey Pablo, would you mind mowing my yard and cementing my patio for free this week end?" He is also using the bill to expand government police control, boosting the number of INS officers, homeland security powers and building more detention centers.
Registration would allow a worker to the U.S. for three years on the basis of a contract with an employer and then renew for an additional three years. After six years the immigrant would have to return to their home country at least one year. The setting up of a system that makes workers completely dependent on the employers good graces is one that almost demands exploitation under legal sanction. These workers will have no right to organize, change jobs, get U.S. benefits, make complaints, claim unemployment, or other legal rights of a U.S. citizen. It will be the legalization of a semi-slave class in America.
The President is saying that they would contribute to some kind of fund that they could draw on after their return. Given the President's record it will be mandatory, no employer contribution and guess what, it will be to a privatized stock market account benefiting the Prez's large contributors. At the end of six years it will be "Hey Pablo, when you get back to Mexico have your brother call me and I'll get him a worker registration card."
The guarantee the President proposes is that employers will post jobs on a government web site and if no potential employee wants to provide that service for that wage the employer would be free to hire an immigrant. The result will be when any campaign contributor has union problems, disgruntled employees because of working conditions or people fed up with being exploited, the jobs will be posted on the government site. In other words it will be something like this:
Wanted: Coal Miner, 12 hr/day, 7 days/week, salaried position (no overtime), no healthcare, no retirement, no vacation $432/wk. Wanted: Computer Programmer, Masters Degree Required, 20k/yr, no benefits. ETC.
Don't forget conservatives worship Reagan. Remember him the man who fired all of the air traffic controllers, decertified their union and forbade the rehiring of anyone who was fired. It will be Capitalist Nirvana, immigrants and Americans willing to cut each other's throats to work at slave wages for any job available. And we wonder why the Republicans don't want to allow federal funding overseas to go birth control.
If the President and the country want real solutions then they must take steps that deal with the causes and problems of immigration. Those would include:
1) Fair Trade Agreements - that actually benefit the broad populations of a country not just a few multinational companies and the controlling elite in the governments of those countries.
2) Advocate for Real Democracy - End the interference in the internal affairs of countries where active populist movements are trying to bring more equity and freedom to people.
3) Development Assistance - Stop the consolidation of money and power in a few hands and help countries to develop local economies.
4) Sharing the Wealth - Paying living wages in both this country and abroad.
5) Requiring Employers to be Legal - Instituting civil and criminal penalties for hiring illegal aliens and enforcing them.
6) Treating Aliens Right - If after Americans are employed at decent wages there are jobs left, allow registered legal migration and give those people the opportunity to bring their families and become citizens following the naturalization process. This is a country of immigrants and we need to honor that tradition.
These are the real solutions. Will they happen? Probably not until workers around the world realize they are all being exploited and join forces to stop it. Until then the Minutemen will be exploited for political gain, the aliens for economic gain and the rest of us will suffer the consequences.
John M. Kelley is a teacher, philosopher, writer, artist, political activist, singer of ballads, rebellious Irishman and agent for change who worries daily about the world he is leaving for his grandchildren. His blog is at http://www.mytown.ca/johnkelley
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