Category Archives: Immigration

Rallies in Vancouver Protest Continued Detention of Tamil Asylum Seekers

by Roger Annis
Weekly rallies are taking place in Vancouver in support of the 492 Tamil asylum seekers who landed on Canada’s west coast on August 13. The government of Canada seeks to block their entry into the country and right-wing forces are mobilizing for changes in policy that would sharply curtail the rights of refugees in future such arrivals. A long political battle has begun. Continue reading

Harvest of Injustice: The Oppression of Migrant Workers on Canadian Farms

By Adriana Paz. Some say that nothing happens by chance. At the very least, it was a fortunate accident that my first job, when I arrived in Canada from Bolivia three years ago, was in a tomato greenhouse in South Delta, British Columbia — one of the first in the province to request migrant farm workers from Mexico under the federal Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program (SAWP). My job was to run from the office managers’ office to the greenhouse and back relaying information on workers’ productivity levels. Continue reading

Bolivian President Evo Morales Condemns Europe’s Anti-Migrant Law

Introduction. On Wednesday June 18, the European Parliament voted by a large majority to adopt a “Return Directive” that includes an administrative detention period for irregular migrants of up to 18 months. This effectively criminalizes these migrants, who will be deprived of their freedom and detained in inhumane and improperly-run structures, without having committed any crime. Continue reading

Immigration Laws Serve Only the Bosses

Unions Must Defend and Organize Immigrants

By James Haywood

James Haywood is a Socialist Voice Contributing Editor. He lives in London, England.

In a December 8 speech, British Prime Minister Tony Blair gave orders to the country’s immigrants: Conform to British society!

After a tirade against Muslim “extremists” that the Muslim Association of Britain termed “alarming,” Blair hypocritically cited “toleration” as a core British value. “So conform to it, or don’t come here.” Immigrants have “the duty to integrate,” he said. “That is what being British means.” (BBC News Dec 8; Telegraph Dec. 12)

Blair’s speech provides a licence for reprisals against those who do not “integrate” into the profit-driven values of Britain’s rulers.

The capitalist media are quick to seize every opportunity to attack immigrants. For example the Daily Telegraph on November 25: “a bogus asylum seeker committed a series of armed robberies following his early release from jail.” Or the Sun’s headline earlier last year, “450,000 illegals in UK.”

This kind of hysteria helps the government increase harassment of working people through increased spying (CCTV cameras, phone tapping, internet monitoring, etc.) The Home Office recently announced a doubling of their budget to massively increase deportations in the UK. And the government announced in December plans to make deportation easier, introduce measures such as scanning eyes and taking fingerprints, and allow the arrest of “suspicious” people. Note also the government’s stated aim of introducing national ID cards by 2008.

Labour’s Response

The labour movement needs not only to resist these measures but to combat the racist and anti-immigrant ideology that stands behind them.

The Committee to Defend Asylum Seekers, the National Assembly Against Racism, and other groups have done good work in fighting back against government and media scapegoating. Unionists need to make this campaign their own. To do this, we must make the cause of immigrants our own. Immigrants, whether documented or not, are fellow human beings with whom we must unite, in order to fight effectively against the brutal reality that capitalists impose on us all.

Yes, there is a shortage of council housing, but this is not the immigrants’ fault: it is the government that doesn’t provide enough housing. Yes, real wages are declining, but immigrants don’t set wage rates: it is the bosses who super-exploit foreign labour in order to drive down all wages.

Immigrant workers aren’t “stealing” jobs: it is the bosses who are closing down factory after factory; it is the bosses who slash staffing to increase their profits. Who took away hundreds of thousands of jobs in the coal industry?

It is the bosses and their government who brutalize immigrant workers the moment they set foot on UK soil, to force them to accept nineteenth-century-style exploitation. The government claims that immigration is out of control. While the bourgeoisie talk about managing immigrants, we should be talking about organizing them.

If we aim our fire at the ruling class and its government, joining with immigrants as fellow workers oppressed by capital, then we can mount a powerful movement.

Road Out of Unions’ Crisis

The union movement urgently needs such a campaign. Union bureaucrats are in crisis in Britain, as in every imperialist country today. In 1979, the union membership made up 55% of the UK workforce; in 2004 this percentage had fallen to 26%, and is still falling to this day. Last year Britain saw the lowest level of strike action since records began.

The bosses’ success is based in large part on the principle of “divide and rule”—keeping immigrant workers isolated, oppressed, and fearful. Immigrant workers now make up a large proportion of the industrial work force. This partly reflects the bourgeoisie’s efforts to displace older and British-born workers who had won many gains and rights over the years. The immigrant workforce is mostly unorganized. They work under the watchful eye of the cops, ready to deport an undocumented union militant at a moment’s notice.

Encouraging Beginnings

The labour movement needs to commit resources for focused recruitment drives aiming to help immigrant workers organize. Some efforts of this type are under way. The huge Transport and General Workers Union (TGWU) has begun an organizing campaign targeted specifically at Polish immigrants – the biggest nationality of immigration here – especially at the massive Grampian meat factories.

The Gate Gourmet strike last year was an example of how important immigrant workers’ role is in the union movement. The strikers, overwhelmingly immigrants from Asia, fought a long battle to defend their union, and were joined by an unofficial walkout by a thousand workers at the British airways airport, where their factory supplied food for in-flight meals.

The TGWU has also made encouraging gains in London among contracted cleaners of big buildings. Immigrants in their overwhelming majority, they are paid barely £2 per room. For example, at the Hilton hotel, for cleaning a room that rents at up to £500 a day, the cleaner receives no more than £2.50. Cleaners have protested such conditions recently with pickets and leafleting outside these buildings, including top city banks. Some of the contractors targeted have already agreed to make some concessions. (For an example of such a campaign in Canada, see Socialist Voice #97)

In December grant workers detained at Harmoundsworth made headlines with a militant protest against conditions at this notorious prison, which has a filthy record of abuse, solitary confinement, and suicides. The rioting was sparked by prison officers who refused to let these people see a TV report of their own prison!

‘Rescue the Unions’

In the United States, immigrant workers carried out a mighty uprising in 2006, including several mass strikes, which constituted the greatest uprising of the U.S. working class in sixty years. Ricardo Alarcón, president of Cuba’s National Assembly, summed up the significance of these actions on May 6:

“The struggle for the rights of immigrants and against discrimination expressed in public demonstrations that mobilized millions of people and in the historic May Day protest — a date that never before had been expressed in this way in the United States — brings to the forefront a political force that now cannot be easily ignored….

“To free the immigrants from their exploitation becomes, therefore, essential for the emancipation of the workers in the developed countries. To forge a union between both exploited sectors, in an area that has had advances that are still insufficient but whose importance cannot be underestimated, is today a task that cannot be postponed.

“To rescue the role of the labor union, true bulwark of civil society, and to guarantee the rights of all workers, without exceptions, to organize oneself is an indispensable response to a capitalism that ever more openly casts off its ‘liberal’ mask and demonstrates the perverse face of tyranny.” (

Successful recruitment among immigrant workers will change the unions profoundly – with the potential of revitalizing the working class as a whole. With a strong base among immigrant workers, the unions will be well placed to oppose attacks on immigration by the government and to counter the super-exploitation of immigrant workers by the bosses. If unions are in the thick of these struggles, they can strike massive blows against the employers and set labour on the path of growth and increasing strength. We are seeing signs of this today.

Unions Must Champion Immigrant Rights

But to do this — in Alarcón’s words, to “rescue the role of the labour union” — the unions must themselves change profoundly. Many unions today are incompetent to reach to workers outside their own ranks. Union campaigns tend to be exclusively devoted to legal packages and cheap loans for its membership, rather than hitting the streets and fighting to win the millions of unorganized. Too often, when the government lashes out against immigrants, union officials stand by in embarrassed silence. Unions must be outspoken defenders of the rights of all workers, regardless of where they were born or whether they are documented.

Within a framework of action, we can begin to discuss with co-workers and unionists how the question of immigration can be resolved in a revolutionary spirit. We will have a good occasion for this in March 2007, when No One Is Illegal is holding a trade union conference to discuss immigration controls. The conference, to be held in Liverpool, has initial sponsorship from seven local trades councils. The conference announcement explains: “The well-known slogan ‘Workers of the World Unite’ means what it says. It does not mean ‘Only workers with the correct immigration status unite.’ ”

Conference organizers are rightly concerned with slogans such as “No to harsh immigration controls,” which could suggest support for “fair” controls. Workers should be outspoken in the call for “No borders.” We should call for full civil rights to anyone in the UK, regardless of whether the government considers them legal or illegal, and the right for working people to travel freely wherever we choose.

The No One Is Illegal conference is a good beginning. We should urge unions to send delegates. (Contact

The conference can take as its starting point the need to defend the political and economic rights of all workers, whether documented or not, whether born here or elsewhere. And to achieve that goal, labour needs a targeted campaign that focuses energy and resources in building a broad alliance for immigrant rights.

In this framework, we need to work up specific demands to counter the oppression of immigrants, such as:

  • Stop deportations. Release inmates of immigrant prisons.
  • End police harassment of immigrants and their detention on phoney “security” pretexts.
  • End waiting periods for citizenship and access to social services.
  • Open up professions, technical trades, and other job trusts that generally exclude immigrants.

Build the March 31, 2007 Conference!

(No One Is Illegal is organized internationally: for links to its branches, see

Immigration Protests: An Inspiration for All U.S. Workers

National consciousness deepens militancy

Editors’ note: More than one million Americans of immigrant origin and their supporters marched, boycotted stores and stopped work on May 1st. The May Day demonstrations were the largest to date in a wave of protests and marches held across the United States in recent weeks. (See Socialist Voice #77) These protests have been sparked by draconian legislation — HR 4437, the Border Protection, Antiterrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act — adopted by the U.S. House of Representatives in December 2005 and now before the Senate for final adoption.

HR 4437 will, among other effects,

  • criminalize undocumented immigration status by creating a new federal crime of “unlawful presence”. It would permanently bar the entire undocumented population (some 11 million persons), including 1.6 million children, from the United States;
  • criminalize organizations and individuals assisting undocumented immigrants, by expanding the definition of “alien smuggling” to include assisting a person to remain or attempt to remain in the USA;
  • require the Department of Homeland Security to detain all non-citizens apprehended along the border until they are removed from the United States;
  • gut the federal courts’ authority to review immigration matters; and
  • turn many minor crimes into aggravated felonies, with the worst possible immigration consequences.

In a related move, President George W. Bush on May 15 announced plans to deploy up to 6,000 National Guard troops along the boundary with Mexico to bolster existing drastic controls on immigration. Bush also said he will increase the size of the 6,000-member Border Patrol by a further 50 percent. “Free trade” in goods, services and capitalist investments are not to be matched by open borders for labor.

In the following article, a Socialist Voice reader in Newark, New Jersey, describes the impact of this legislative assault and the response to it by his coworkers, many of whom are among its direct targets. He also points to some significant features of the protest movement and its special importance to the labor and socialist movements.

by Fred Feldman

NEWARK — In recent weeks millions of Latinos have demonstrated for the rights of immigrants. They are not marching for the American Dream. They are not demanding to be melted down in the melting pot. These protests have a nationalist and Latino/Latina thrust and character. They are an assertion of their rights to be here, in the United States, as they are and as persons who belong to a people.

These are the biggest working class actions in the United States in decades. They are something new in the class struggle here. They deserve the support and solidarity of all working people.

The protests represent a thrust toward Latino power and also Mexicano power — the latter expressed especially in border states seized from Mexico in the mid-19th century, where significant Mexican-descent populations have lived ever since.

“Illegal,” as a blanket characterization of millions of workers in this country, is an American expression of untouchability. Of course, illegality — being in the USA without the authority of statutes or courts — is also a social reality, for these people live outside the rights conceded by U.S. law. They are, for the most part, workers who don’t have unions or have very weak ones, like mine at a fruit and vegetable-packing plant in Newark, across the Hudson River from New York City. The organizations they fight through are immigrant rights groups and other organizations, usually based in some ways on their national groups although sometimes on a broader Latino basis.

Protests buoy workers’ spirits

One of the fears these demonstrations evoke for the rulers is that at some point in a future raid on a meatpacking plant to round up “illegals,” a kind of Stonewall rebellion of illegal immigrants will result, somewhat like the revolt that erupted in New York City in 1969 when cops engaged in a routine raid on a gathering place of “illegals” (gay men) and set off a profound social explosion.

At my workplace in Newark, dozens of immigrant workers face dismissal for having used questionable social security cards — an accusation pressed on the employer by the government. Yet on May Day, when literally millions demonstrated in the streets of cities and towns throughout the United States, the vast majority of my Latino coworkers did not show up for work. The boss stormed about how “they are only hurting themselves” and set about training replacements — very unsuccessfully, I might add. But the Latino workers returned to work the next day more confident and in a much better mood.

My Latino coworkers appear to be organized to some extent, and have set things in motion legally and otherwise to try to defend their jobs and, more importantly, their right to remain here. Before the action, they seemed crushed and upset. Now they are calm and more confident. All were much more buoyed in spirit than they had been before the protest. The very fact that they were not driven into silence or intimidated into staying away from the protest was itself a big victory.

The primary demand of these Latino workers appears to be for “legalización” — not “open borders”, “amnesty,” or some more “radical”-sounding position. They do not consider themselves to be “illegal” as human beings. They want full recognition as “legal” by the U.S. authorities.

I think the workers of all nationalities where I work feel a little stronger today because of this self-assertion of the Latinos for their rights as immigrants. And this includes the Black workers, despite the mixed feelings some express about the possibility of getting more Blacks into jobs if some of the Latinos leave. Almost all the workers felt that having dozens of coworkers being forced out of their jobs and into the underground was bad news for all of us.

More than a labor struggle

There have been other big mobilizations, substantially working class and plebeian, of South Asians and Muslims against “war on terror” attacks on them: their culture, their religion, their rights, and simply for being who they are. It is of crucial importance that white radicals and all progressives stand with them, and in no sense be or seem to be above the battle. And it is important to understand that these protests are an expression of the nationalism of the oppressed.

The recent mobilizations followed the mighty action of the transit workers who shut down New York City in December 2005. This too was a predominantly nonwhite action, and its impact is still being felt even though subsequent developments have weakened the first surge of unity. There the ranks mobilized to create a more militant leadership that would also be an expression of Black power in and out of the labor movement. The gain for Black power in the election of Roger Toussaint, a Trinidadian immigrant, as the local union president strengthened the hand of all transit workers, the strike being in part one of the consequences.

And the government attacks on the union, including Roger Toussaint, will tend to reinforce determination to hold on to the ground they gained in achieving this change in their union. The power of the united workers in the strike that shut down New York City will not be lost on working people, despite the heavy sledding that the union has run into since.

The national question in the transit union — the national, and not just trade-union consciousness of the Black, Haitian and Chinese workers — is one of the big challenges the movement faces in figuring out how to advance the fight of that union.

The marches of Latinos and Latinas are a thrust into the United States of the worldwide resistance of the hundreds of millions of working people — farmers, peasants, unemployed, refugees, artisans and pedlars, homeless, student youth, etc. — who are threatened with destruction and increasingly mired in poverty and violence by imperialism today.

The anticapitalist and socialist movement in the United States has to be won politically to turn our activity and outlook more towards these people. In my opinion they are the future of real revolutionary organizations in every country. These are the people who have powered the Cuban revolution and the progressive changes now taking place in Bolivia and Venezuela. Our antiracist work, and, yes, our union work has to place them in the center of our thinking and strategizing, no matter where and with whom we work.

There is widespread discomfort on the U.S. left with the concept initially raised by Lenin that the nationalism of the oppressed has a general democratic content that revolutionaries support. But I believe this basic insight is vital for us today. We should support the nationalism of oppressed peoples in much the same spirit as we support the trade unionism and trade-union consciousness of the exploited and oppressed working class, the feminist self-assertion and consciousness of oppressed women, the self-assertion and liberationism of gay people as gays. We must support not only particular demands for rights but movements and outlooks that shape these demands. We cannot identify with prejudices or divisiveness put forward in the name of nationalism, trade unionism, or feminism. But we must relate sympathetically to the progressive forward thrust of nationalism, feminism, and trade unionism as expressions and means of struggle of the oppressed and exploited.

A national question

Lenin’s stance was the most profound shift on the national question in the history of the Marxist movement and reflected the rise of imperialism, the imperialist conquest of the world. It meant strategically looking at the struggles of oppressed nations from the standpoint of the oppressed themselves, and seeing oppressed peoples as central allies and actors in the working class struggle — not just in a trade-unionist sense as groups of workers fighting discrimination and not just as dependent allies, but as partners in the struggle for change.

Since Lenin’s time revolutionaries have learned to leave abstract condemnations of “all nationalism” in the abstract to liberal “internationalists,” the right wing of the pacifists, and the flat-earth enthusiasts of imperialist globalization.

We don’t support everything trade unions do. They collaborate with employers against their own members. They support Democratic politicians. They support imperialism. But workers need trade unions and trade-union consciousness, and we advocate and defend them as part of our socialist worldview.

However, we don’t just support specific union struggles. We have a broader outlook than trade-unionism alone. We support trade unionism as a necessity for the working class that arises organically, both as consciousness and organized movement, out of the daily struggle. But nationalism and national movements arise the same way, out of the daily oppression and struggle of oppressed peoples.

The sharpest and clearest expressions of internationalism come from socialists and thinking working people taking sides in real struggles with the nationalism of the oppressed in the United States and around the world against our ruling class and against their “American” nation. This is fundamental to building an international socialist movement that can unite oppressed and exploited humanity in struggle. It means taking a stand on the side of the oppressed as peoples.

If we don’t do so, we will tend toward economist and workerist analyses and approaches that look at the struggles of oppressed peoples and of the billions of black and brown and yellow of the earth from the outside and even above, and primarily from the standpoint of trade unionism, of the organized workers as the ordained leading layer.

Viewing the struggle “from below”

We will tend increasingly to have trouble when the struggles of oppressed nations and people come into conflict with trade unions. The Black and Puerto Rican struggles for community control of schools in New York City in the 1960s and 1970s, and the teachers’ union’s savage struggle against these communities, were an example of what can happen.

It will be harder for us to stand unconditionally with Muslims against attacks on their peoples and cultures and nations, in which religion has been and is an important part of their self-definition and identity as peoples, even while we support the movements for progressive change among these oppressed peoples.

We need to start seeing the world not from the standpoint of strata that are better off, a little more secure, and not so combative, but from the standpoint of the millions in the world who are really being driven to struggle. It is important to remember that the trade unions, except during upsurges when they broaden out rapidly in membership, always tend to be made up of a relatively better off layer, in part simply because it is better to have a union than not to have one.

From the standpoint of the fight against the employers and their government, trade unionism is a “from below” outlook and movement. But relative to tens of millions of oppressed today, it can also sometimes become a perch from which the struggles of the most oppressed and exploited are criticized or even opposed in a “from above” spirit.

May Day 2006: Millions March, Boycott, Take Off Work and School for Immigrant Rights

By Barry Sheppard

San Francisco – Police estimates total 1.1 million immigrant workers and their supporters marched in over 75 major cities across the country. Many more participated in smaller cities and towns. Over and above those who marched were hundreds of thousands more who boycotted shopping, and skipped school or work.

Even accepting the police estimates, which are notoriously low, it’s clear that millions participated in this historic May Day, the largest demonstrations ever seen in the United States.

In the San Francisco Bay Area there were huge marches. The largest was in San Jose, with hundreds of thousands in the streets. A massive march filled the main thoroughfare in San Francisco, ending in a giant rally at City Hall. Another march of 10,000 took place in Oakland. Even in the small city where I live, Hayward, there was a rally of 1,000.

The Bay Area was not unique in the spread of the actions to even the smaller towns and cities across the nation.

The cops said 500,000 marched in Los Angeles, and it was probably closer to one million. They said that 100,000 were on the streets of New York, and 400,000 in Chicago. In Denver, the official estimate was that one sixth of the total population was out. And so on.

One of the goals of the actions, which were called by the coalition that organized the huge march in L.A. on March 25, was to demonstrate the impact of a “Day Without Immigrants.”

This goal was surely met. School attendance in cities with large concentrations of immigrants was way down. The New York Times reported “stores and restaurants in Los Angeles, Chicago and New York closed because workers did not show up or as a display of solidarity with demonstrators.” In one area of Chicago only 17 percent of students showed up. There were TV pictures of empty supermarkets usually patronized by immigrants.

In California’s Central Valley, where much of the country’s produce is grown, no farm workers came to work. TV shots of the vacant fields were eerie. Much of the construction industry was shut down across the country. Major meatpacking companies, including Tyson Foods, Swift, and Perdue chickens, shut down many plants because their immigrant workers didn’t show up. The largest port on the West coast, in Long Beach, California, was shut down, because the truck drivers were nowhere to be seen.

Vast swaths of service industries — hotels, restaurants, car washes, and so forth were affected. Nannies took a day off.

Workers who couldn’t take the day off came to rallies after work.

Although the actions were predominately Latino, a feature of the day was greater participation of other immigrants — Irish, Polish, Korean, Chinese and Haitian to name a few.

May Day was a crushing refutation of the more moderate wing of the movement, who implored immigrants not to boycott, not to take off work or school. These forces, including Catholic Church, the leaders of the few unions who did support the action, the more conservative Latino organizations, were joined by capitalist politicians posing as friends of the immigrants, as well as editorials in the major press seeking to tone down the protest.

These same forces also didn’t like the central demand of the marches, for the legalization of the 12 million undocumented, for “amnesty.”

Most of the organized labor movement, to its shame, stood aside.

The militant thrust of the movement, which was at the same time very peaceful and jubilant, reflected that it is a grass roots movement which has sprung up around the country, built by Spanish language radio and newspapers, emails and web sites. It is not saddled with a bureaucratic leadership, although the more conservative forces and Democratic Party politicians are trying to co-opt it.

Another goal was to re-establish May Day in the U.S. Most Americans had not even heard before that May Day is celebrated around the world. The immigrants knew because it is celebrated in their countries of origin. For the first time, the media had to explain that May Day is the international workers holiday, although it steered clear of the origins of May Day in the 1886 fight in Chicago for the eight hour day, and its association with socialism and communism and militant workers’ struggles.

Many of the immigrants who are coming to the U.S. from Mexico and Central and South America have been driven, ironically, by Washington’s policies. Many have come as political refugees from places like Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua, ravished by U.S.-sponsored wars.

U.S. imperialist penetration has impoverished tens of millions more who then are driven by desperation to risk life and limb to emigrate to the U.S. Imperialist “globalization” has intensified this trend in recent years. A case in point has been the effects of the North American Free Trade Agreement on Mexican peasants, tens of millions of whom have been driven off their lands by competition with U.S. agribusiness. These displaced peasants congregate in the big cities to live marginal existences. Many try to find a way to get to the U.S.

In sympathy with their brothers and sisters demonstrating in the U.S. on May Day, many Mexicans boycotted U.S.-owned businesses like McDonalds. A march in central Mexico City was led by Zapatista leader Marcos in solidarity with May Day USA. He read off names of Americans he identifies with, beginning with the Haymarket Martyrs, who were executed for their part in the 1886 struggle, and including Eugene Debs, John Reed, Emma Goldman, Elizabeth Gurly Flynn, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King and more. At the usually heavily trafficked border crossings in southern California, there was an eerie silence with no vehicles crossing from Mexico!

Some talking heads in the capitalist press have warned that the big immigrant demonstrations are creating a “backlash” in “middle America.” Nothing is further from the truth. The real bigots are frothing at the mouth, to be sure, but they have been pushed back. The movement has already shifted the discussion to the left, as tens of millions of ordinary Americans have seen the “illegal immigrants” as human beings for the first time, and have begun to hear their demands. It’s hard to hate working class families you see in the streets or on TV come out in their millions to demand simple justice.