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Jon Talton

Analysis and commentary on economic news, trends and issues, with an emphasis on Seattle and the Northwest.

May 1, 2014 at 10:20 AM

May Day and immigration

The irony of Seattle’s May Day march is that worker’s rights and immigration were historically at odds. Or perhaps it is an example of the arc of the moral universe being long but bending toward justice.

Today’s AFL-CIO supports “a comprehensive, worker-centered” approach to immigration reform. It was not always so. From the first modern May Day, called as a commemoration of the 1886 Haymarket Massacre, much of organized labor was opposed to large-scale immigration. The logic: more immigrants would drive down wages for native-born Americans.

Unions were among the backers of the draconian immigration restrictions of the 1920s, reacting to the severe recession that followed World War I. Not a little nativism and white supremacy informed the broader support for these laws, which especially targeted southern Europeans, Asians and people from the Middle East. The tight quotas remained until 1965.

Since the 1980s, American business has had an insatiable appetite for illegal immigrant labor: cheap, malleable and unable to seek redress. Many of the most virulent “what part of illegal don’t you understand!” supporters of Arizona’s odious Sheriff Joe Arpaio and anti-immigrant SB 1070 enjoy the benefits of cheap housing, lawn services, housekeepers and the staffs of restaurants and resorts, no questions asked.

In the years before the Great Recession, immigration of all types reached historic levels. How much this has driven down wages is difficult to answer with any degree of objectivity because so many other causes have been at work, such as union busting, globalization and industry consolidation.

So worker rights and immigration reform are twined in today’s march. It will only get results with strong unions and if more citizens vote for their own economic interests. Citizens United and McCutcheon allow the oligarchs to spend virtually unlimited money to indoctrinate, lie and confuse.

One May Day plea: Please treat the commons, the public spaces, transit and downtown, with respect. If you trash them, you only play into the hands of the people you are supposedly opposing. They are safe behind their gated properties, far from the city core. They dislike the commons and fight to degrade and defund them. So if you damage them, you are doing the bidding of the Koch brothers and all their toff buddies.

And Don’t Miss: Begging the inequality question | Stumbling and Mumbling

Today’s Econ Haiku:

Saint Alan will go

Not landing back at Boeing

He made Ford take off




Comments | More in Illegal immigration, Labor unions


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