Thursday, June 29, 2006


According to the nice folks at Wikipedia, a Wedge issue is “a social or political issue, often of a divisive or otherwise controversial nature, which is used by one political group to split apart or create a "wedge" in the support base of an opposing political group, with a view to enticing voters to give their support to the first group . . . Both the Republican and Democrat Parties have been accused of using social issues as wedge issues to divide the opposing voting base.”

We have been hearing an AWFUL lot about immigration. Again. Constantly. Thought I’d finally put in my two cents.

The U.S. is a funny place, in that we have readily available historical facts dealing with this issue and how to deal with it - the issue being that U.S. immigration is a construct of the cycles of the capitalist economic order that goes back as far as early colonial days when White-Europeans immigrated to the new world and exterminated native dwellers who would not become slave labor to the new colonists. We all know how that turned out. The colonists then forced by kidnap and sale, the immigration of African natives to do the labor required to build the New World.

As many of us learned in U.S. History class, the Civil War, which was fought from 1861 to 1865 between the then United States of America and the Confederate States of America was over the use of slaves for labor. Over 600,000 people died, $5 billion in property was destroyed, and 4 million black slaves were given their freedom. Freedom to a point. But with the end of slavery and the onset of the Industrial Revolution, cheap labor was needed.

Booker T. Washington stated in his 1895 address that the nations white leaders ought not “look to the incoming of those of foreign birth and strange tongue and habits for the prosperity of the South” (Davidson 1932, 38). Hmmm. I don’t think they listened.

Enter the Chinese. Actually, the use of Chinese plantation labor actually began in 1848. They were to fill the positions previously held by African slaves. Many worked on the transcontinental railroad, which was completed in 1869. Hard and dangerous work. I’m pretty sure that many died during their labors. An early leader of the Workingmen’s Party (which was formed as a reaction to Chinese immigrants) said, “To an American, death is preferable to life on a par with the Chinese.” (Swisher 1969, 11). The Chinese helped to develop the American West, however many saw them as inferior people who were unsuited to become U.S. citizens. American workers and labor unions began an intense anti-Chinese campaign, fueled by fear mongering of a Yellow Peril and in 1882, the Chinese Exclusion Act passed, banning further emigration from China.

But wait, cheap labor was still needed and a void had to be filled. Enter the Japanese. However, the same problem existed that did with the Chinese and by the late 1880’s, the newly organized AFL “joined with the Socialists, liberals and conservatives in viewing all Asian immigrant workers as a threat to the living standard of white workers and a threat to white purity.” (H. Eric Schockman, 1998). Soon all Asians were seen as a threat to the economic welfare of white workers and the Gentleman’s Agreement of 1907-1908 lumped Japanese and Koreans into the exclusion. The 1924 Immigration Act placed quotas on national origin, so that from 1931 to 1960, 58 % of immigrants came from Europe, 21 percent from North American, 15% from Latin American and 5% from Asian countries. In non-academic speak, that means mainly white people. In 1952, President Harry Truman attempted to veto the 1952 Immigration Act due to the prejudicial provisions towards Asians. Congress overrode his veto, pandering to the xenophobia of the masses.

But folks, cheap labor is still needed. Enter the Mexican labor force, followed by a time to complain again. An Employer Sanction Law was passed in California in 1971, which was basically riding on the idea that undocumented workers would stop coming across the border if sanctions were placed on employers who hire illegal workers. I guess no one really wanted to place sanctions on our business owners really, because that’d be bad for the economy. To date, not a single person in California has ever been convicted under the employer sanction law. Nationwide, state laws have resulted in five convictions. (Cornelius and Montoya 1983, 143).

Our nation has a rather bi-polar pattern of welcoming immigrants at times of economic need, then turning against them the second the economy sours or the number of newcomers grows to a large number. “Restrictionists argue that massive infusions of alien beliefs, customs, and genes undermine the nation’s unity, destroy its cultural identity, and mongrelize its population. Those who support an open immigration policy believe that the immigrant experience has a minimal impact on the overall society and, in the end, the diversity they contribute accelerates economic development.” (Schockman, 235). “The only ‘consistency’ in U.S. immigration policy is the use of immigrants as a political football - opening and closing our borders and our hearts and manipulating public sentiments as it served the varied and changing interests of corporate and governmental elites” (Labor/Community Strategy Center 1994, 9).

The problem is not the Mexican border. Nor does the problem lie with the Russians. Or the Chinese, the Koreans, the Japanese, the Philipinos, the Laotians, Haitians or even Australian actors. Protecting our borders from potential terrorists or drug traffickers is important - but what are we doing to protect ourselves from the Tim McVeigh’s of the U.S.? The Ted Kaczynski’s? The chemistry major at UCLA with a meth lab in the trunk of his car and a vial of home made GHB in his pocket that he takes to the clubs? They are right here.

The problem lies with the economic need of a capitalist economy to make things and buy things on the cheap and with the American consumer’s willingness to turn their head the other way while they shop. The problem lies with the heads of corporations and their profit structure. The problem lies with the consumer for giving the corporations permission for that profit structure. If we don’t want to pay $10 for a bag of oranges, then things need to remain as they are. But we don’t want to pay taxes; we don’t want to pay for items that might cost a little bit more; when we wear those Mardi Gras beads we don’t want to be told that they were made by 14 year old Chinese girls who work 16 hour days for $2.00 a week and we certainly don’t want to sew our own clothing. The Minutemen are more than willing to show off their beer bellies on teeVEE and talk about the damn Mex’cans, but completely unwilling to stop shopping at places like Wal-Mart where they might actually be doing something for their country.

We vote with our feet, people. If we want things to change, then we have to actually pay attention to how we’re contributing to it remaining the same and become willing to act accordingly. In a capitalist society, that generally means acting with our wallets.

For information on the labor practices of our nation’s major corporations with respect to cheap and often undocumented labor, here is a link:

Check out those companies. See how they’re doing.

We can learn from our own history, or repeatedly choose to ignore it. This is America. We do have choices and we need to remember we are responsible for those choices - even while we’re loudly complaining.

Cornelius, Wayne, and Ricardo A. Montoya. 1983. America’s New Immigration Law. San Diego, Calif.: Center for U.S. Mexican Studies, UCSD.
Davdison, E. 1932. Selected Speeches of Booker T. Washington. Garden City, New York: Doubleday.
Labor/Community Strategy Center. 1994. “Immigration Rights and Wrongs: Don’t Comply With Proposition 187.” Los Angeles, CA.
Schockman, H. Eric 1998. California’s Ethnic Experiment and the Unsolvable Immigration Issue: Proposition 187 and Beyond. The Regents of the University of California, Berkeley.
Swisher, Carl B. 1969. Motivation and Political Technique in the California Constitutional Convention: 1878-79. New York: Da Capo.


Blogger R said...

I think that to say I am turning on the immigrant the way others turned on the Irish or the former slaves too simplistic. It's a much more educated and culturally aware society now. I think what turns me off is the numbers. The sheer amount of people leaning happily on resources that are dwindling fast. Like water, where I live.
And I would challenge the need for cheap labor. People forget that those farms are no longer owned by families. The families were run off and now large corporations own them and grow our food. It was estimated that if you doubled the salary of the migrant worker that lettuce would only go up ten cents. And the "cheap labor" fever has spread to other formerly well paying, high tech jobs, simply because of the sheer numbers of people here willing to do the job cheaper. That leaves the middle class tax payer losing his wage gains while simutaneously paying for the social services that he himself is not eligible for.
I take issue with people who are not here legally having a third world birthrate and getting care on my dime, while our veterans who make over 30K cannot be seen at the VA. It's wrong.
I don't have the ten kids I'd love to have and expect the world to suppport them.
I am voting for ANYBODY willing to shut that border, and ship home anyone not here willing to do things the legal way.
TExas is a hell hole because of illegal immigration, California has shut down hospitals and schools are non functioning because of this, Crime has gone through the roof and parts of Florida are a third world country.
I sympathize for the reasons they are here. I invite them to join us the legal way.
As history (Rome anyone? Anyone?) proves, anything but orderly, integration provides for chaos and distruction of a society

02 July, 2006 11:17  
Blogger 1138 said...

Very good commentary MF.
I can't argue with any of it.
Racism/Xenophobia is a funny thing, it hides under a thousand disguises and excuses - from economic to religion, from culture to heratige.
I've yet to meet a racist that would call themselves such, except in defiance.

Again VERY GOOD commentary.

11 July, 2006 14:44  

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