Four years after massive immigrant protest for workers and citizenship rights and 124 years after the mass rally for an 8-hour day which spurred the creation of an International Workers Day, we celebrate another May Day with millions of U.S. working people denied even the minimal rights that most workers in the country have won. These workers are held hostage to an imperial system that forces millions to flee their native lands because of war, environmental degradation, and economic exploitation and destruction. As in all imperial systems, the flow of people follows the flow of capital and resources whether to Rome, London, or as is now the case, Washington. Upon arrival immigrants crash into the reality of U.S. immigration and labor law—which carefully shuffles humans into categories of more or less rights based on nationality, race, gender, sexuality and class.
However, despair not. When there is oppression there is struggle. This March over 200,000 people rallied to demand full democratic rights in the name of comprehensive immigration reform. At this moment approximately 12,000,000 undocumented US immigrants are subject to the cruel twists of congressional electoral politics as 536 elected officials carefully measure the likely vote gains and losses for supporting just and humane immigration reform. When there is struggle there is hope. Over the last 20 years, closely linked to the tide of immigration, over 200 new working class organizations have formed to fight for power on the job and in the community. As this movement has matured a half a dozen national alliances and networks have formed—National Day Laborers Organizing Network, Domestic Workers United and the Right To The City Alliance to name a few. The point is that, as time moves on, immigrants—primarily working class—are better organized and hence reaching the point where coordinated national struggles are both a need and a possibility.
Today there is a huge gap between the common sense that holds society together and the reality lived by large segments of society. The myth of “liberty and justice for all” and of, “…give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses,” stands in sharp contrast to the lived reality for immigrant families. We are, thus, rapidly reaching the level of a crisis of “legitimacy” for millions of immigrants. The rising frustration and militancy is palpable: youth are coming ‘out’ as undocumented and challenging the state to arrest them, civil disobedience is becoming a wide spread tactic, and voter and consumer boycotts are all under active consideration. Those of us in and around the immigrant rights movement need to dig in as this struggle intensifies. Those of us in labor or other civic struggles, now is the time to step up.
Moe has worked for the past 25 years building new working class organizations, forging national alliances and participating in local, regional and national immigrants rights struggles.Download this piece as a PDF