Recent years have seen a massive wave of immigration to the United States from the “Third world,” especially Latin America. Politicians and corporate media personalities like CNN’s Lou Dobbs continually attack these undocumented workers as “illegal aliens” and “criminals.”
The real criminals, however, are not immigrant workers, but the corporate chieftains and politicians who, in their insatiable lust for profits, plunder the natural resources of poor countries, set up sweatshops, and wage wars for oil and empire. It is their policies that create the grinding poverty and social breakdown throughout the neo-colonial world which forces millions to flee their home countries in search of work here.
While U.S. corporations earn record profits, 128 million people in Latin America live on less than $2 per day (USAID.org). More than 130 million have no access to safe drinking water, and only one in six persons enjoy adequate sanitation service (NACLA.org).
Big business sets up shop in all corners of the world, searching for the cheapest labor and slackest environmental regulations. They argue that in a globalised world we need “free trade” and capital should be free to pick up and move to any country with the best market conditions - yet they oppose the rights of workers to move to countries with more favorable labor markets.
The passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1994, under Democratic President Bill Clinton, allowed U.S. companies to massively step up their assault on working people by laying-off unionized workers in the U.S. and setting up sweatshops across the Mexican border.
NAFTA has spelled a complete disaster for workers in Canada, the U.S., and Mexico. U.S. workers have lost around 395,000 jobs, while their new jobs pay on average 23% less. Simultaneously, poverty has exploded in Mexico, with two-thirds of the population now living on less than $3 per day.
Millions of poor Mexican farmers have been driven into bankruptcy after being forced to compete with subsidized U.S. agribusiness (which relies on the cheap labor of Mexican immigrants, who are often paid less than minimum wage).
Most immigrant workers don’t want to leave their country of origin. They would prefer to stay with their families, where they know the language and culture. The risks they face coming to the U.S. are many: death in the desert, suffocation and starvation in shipping containers, or kidnapping and exploitation by smugglers.
Immigrants only come to the U.S. out of dire economic necessity. They come hoping to make a better life for themselves and their families – a goal they share in common with U.S. workers. However, this goal comes in direct conflict with the logic of capitalism and the desire of big business to maximize profits.
We can’t allow borders and nationality to divide us. In reality, workers of all countries have more in common with each other than we do with the bosses in our own countries. Although a U.S. worker and Bill Gates are both U.S. citizens, their lives are worlds apart. A U.S. worker and an immigrant worker are both likely living paycheck-to-paycheck, struggling to get by, while Mr. Gates has billions of dollars to live in luxury.
Our struggle is international, a struggle against corporations that seek to increase profits by pitting workers in different countries against one another in a race to the bottom. If corporations can push down wages in Mexico and China - or among immigrant workers in the U.S. - they are in a stronger position to demand U.S. workers make similar concessions in order to “compete.” We see this playing out daily, from the auto industry to software development.
On the other hand, if workers in Mexico or China win higher wages and benefits, U.S. workers will be in a stronger economic position to demand better wages and benefits here.
Build the Latin American Labor Movement
As long as massive poverty is the norm in the “Third world,” no matter how many fences are built and laws are passed, millions of desperate workers will find a way into the U.S. and other industrialized countries in search of a better life, and multinational corporations will want to outsource as many jobs as possible to take advantage of cheap labor in poor countries.
The only viable answer to this situation is building the labor movement in Mexico and throughout Latin America to fight for decent jobs and living conditions. The U.S. labor movement needs an internationalist outlook, with a policy of mobilizing its massive resources – financial, human, and political – to help build the strongest possible workers’ movement in Mexico and Latin America.
A fighting workers’ movement in Latin America will very quickly come up against the narrow limits of capitalism in the neo-colonial world and the resistance of U.S. imperialism, as has happened again and again.
That is why the workers’ movement needs to be armed with a clear programme and strategy for overthrowing capitalism and replacing it with socialism, where working people have democratic control of their workplaces and the resources of their society.
Rather than U.S. corporations exploiting their labor and resources to make mega-profits for their owners, the workers of Latin America could use this wealth to create jobs, schools, hospitals, public services, and infrastructure.
The potential impact of such policies can be seen now in Venezuela, where the left-wing government of Hugo Chavez has used Venezuela’s oil revenue to benefit ordinary workers and peasants instead of enriching the elite, as was the tradition. However, the Venezuelan revolution has unfortunately not yet gone all the way in decisively toppling capitalism and instituting democratic socialism, which means these reforms are limited and precarious, as the Venezuelan capitalists and U.S. imperialism prepare for a counter-revolution.
International Socialism is the Solution
While some claim that globalization is rendering the nation-state obsolete, the reality is that capitalism needs national borders and nation-states. Corporate America uses the U.S. government to assert its interests - that’s why they spend so much money on lobbying and funding corporate politicians!
Big business needs its own nation-state and military to pursue its interests internationally against competitors, because it is in direct competition for the world’s markets and resources.
For example, U.S. capitalists engaged in a bitter dispute with their competitors in France, Germany, Russia, and China over the invasion of Iraq. U.S. imperialism out-muscled these countries, and used its military might to topple Saddam’s regime in an attempt to grab Iraq’s oil and assert its power over the Middle East. Today we see sharpening trade tensions between the U.S. and China and Europe.
Simultaneously, big business needs a state apparatus – police, military, courts, jails, etc. - to prevent the working class and oppressed at home from rising up. Just look at the racist “war on drugs” that has criminalized a generation of black and Latino youth, or the brutal state repression of the civil rights movement in the 1960s.
The nation-state, which at one point in history played a progressive role in developing the economy and society, has now become a tremendous obstacle to the further development of society. With the development of global capitalism, our society and economy are increasingly globally integrated. Problems such as poverty, war, and global warming are international and cannot be solved on a narrow national basis. International coordination and planning is desperately needed.
However, with capitalist nations constantly divided by ruthless competition, genuine global cooperation is not possible. But there is a social force whose material interests compel it to organize together on an international plane - the working class. The working class is economically and socially bound together globally by capitalism. It is an international class that is united by common interests and faces a common enemy.
In taking power, the working class would be able to free the economy and society from the artificial confines of the national boundaries capitalism has established. Instead, a democratic socialist plan would link together the U.S., Canada, and Mexico with the rest of Latin America in a voluntary socialist confederation of the Americas to share our resources, knowledge, and technology.
A socialist confederation of the Americas would lay the foundation for decent living standards for working people across both continents, while protecting our environment. People would no longer be forced to leave their homeland for economic reasons, and free movement across borders would no longer be something to fear.
Only through fighting for a socialist world can we end this brutal capitalist system that pits workers against each other, seeks to take away our rights, and drives our living standards into the ground. When the workers of the world unite, the only thing we have to lose is our chains.