Speech delivered by Ajamu Dillahunt, for Black Workers for Justice, to a rally of 10,000 demanding Justice for Immigrants in Siler City, NC on April 10, 2006. Translated from the Spanish.
Good Evening. I bring you greetings from the Black Workers for Justice and the growing number of African Americans who understand your struggle and unite with your fight for justice. Thank you for allowing us to a part of this historic event.
We want to say clearly and without hesitation that we oppose the “Senseless-Brenner Bill” and all legislation that criminalizes immigrant workers without documents. We say down with any bill that makes criminals out of workers, their families and their allies.
In our peoples history here in this country we were criminalized if we escaped from Slavery. Anyone, like the Abolitionists and people along the Underground Railroad who helped us, were considered criminals.
Today they try to criminalize our youth because of the way they dress, the music they listen to and their rebellion against oppressive policies and regulations.
The wall along the border will be a wall of death. To us it will be like the levees in New Orleans that failed when Katrina hit and killed so many of our people. We say no to the wall of death and levees of death.
The enemies of immigrants say that you must obey the law. We say that not all laws are just laws or fair laws. There were laws that prohibited Black people from voting; from attending schools with whites; from riding in the front of the bus.
They were wrong and we fought against them; we disobeyed them. HB 4437 is wrong and we must challenge it with all of our resources.
Like the Hip Hop artist and activist Tupac Shakur said, “We Ain’t Mad at You.”
We are mad at globalization and free trade that imposes it products and investments on other countries and ruins their economies. We are mad at NAFTA and CAFTA for the harm it does to workers in the US and the global South.
The elite want capital to be able to move around the work freely to extract profits but they want to restrict the movement of labor. Well, my friends, they cannot have it both ways.
We are mad at the fact that corporate bosses like Bruce Rohde of Con Agra could make 45 million dollars over eight years with a 20-million-dollar retirement package while twenty-year employee James Smith from the Omaha plant only earns $28,000 a year and may get laid off because of plant consolidation.
We are mad at the fact that immigrant workers under present conditions, and more so under even the best Senate compromises, will be people without a voice, living in the shadows, afraid to fight back against bad working conditions, low pay and abusive employers.
But things are changing. The millions of people in the streets over the last two weeks is a welcome sign that the sleeping giant is waking up.
We especially want to commend the courageous students who have been walking out of schools. They are in the best tradition of the Chicano Student Walkouts of 1968 and the Chicano Student walkouts against California Proposition 187 in the 1990s. Long live the students!
What we need is living wage jobs for all workers; the current minimum wage is too low. What we need is health and safety protections for all workers. What we need is union protection for all workers.
People talk about the American Dream, but the reality is often a nightmare. It has been a nightmare for Black workers since we were brought here against our will in the 18th and 19th centuries. And in spite of the gains of the Civil Rights and Black Power movements, the system of white supremacy has kept us without full equality or democracy.
Likewise, it was no dream for Mexican workers in the Bracero program of the 1950s who did not get paid and were sent home; it is no dream for workers in plants with lines that are too fast, hours that are too long and bosses ready to fire them if they speak up; and it’s no dream for farm workers exposed to pesticides and without decent housing.
The problems for Black workers are old ones and will not be solved quickly. And our history as migrants from the South to the Northern cities and its factories tells us that employers will use new groups of workers to undermine the efforts of current workers. The lesson from that history is that we have unite and remove all the barriers the employers have constructed.
As members of the African American Latino Alliance we ask you to unite with us and reject the racist claims of the bosses that we don’t want to work and join us in the fight for dignity and fair wages. We have to get past our fears and distrust. We have to work together in the community and in the workplace.
We ask you to join us in the fight for public employee collective bargaining, justice for the workers at the Smithfield Packing Plant, justice for all farmworkers in North Carolina and the right of return of all Katrina Survivors.
We stand with you in your fight and will be with you even in the face of those who want to do you harm and to do Black people harm.
A better world is possible. A better South is possible. Together we can win.Download this piece as a PDF