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Unions protect workers. More accurately and specifically, workers who build strong unions protect each other from the ruthless profit seeking of corporations and the callousness of politicians. And solidarity across lines of race, gender and immigration status is necessary for the building of strong unions.
Yet, many politicians and pundits in Alabama are using this heated election cycle to foment division along these lines. This division must be resisted by union members on both moral and practical grounds, because the labor movement will never win by doing the boss’s bidding and artificially constricting the bounds of our solidarity.
This dynamic takes many forms, but generally what happens is a demagogue will point to a real problem that workers in Alabama are facing — low wages, poverty, unemployment, crime — to stir up resentment. Instead of pointing this resentment where it belongs — at the boss, politicians, or the system that allows so few to get unimaginably wealthy while wages stagnate — this resentment is pointed at scapegoats.
Right now in Alabama, few are more targeted as scapegoats than immigrants, especially the undocumented.
Immigrants are a scapegoat so popular among Alabama Republican politicians that even the implication that they should receive a fair shake from our government can land you in hot water for weeks, as it did for Tommy Tuberville, the current GOP nominee for U.S. Senate. Back in February, Tuberville made the mistake of humanizing immigrants, saying that they simply want to come and make a life for themselves. This took over the discourse around the campaign for weeks and even prompted a Jefferson County sheriff to pen an op-ed opposing Tuberville’s candidacy in the primary. Tuberville is now full throated in his denunciations of any compromise on immigration though: A full half of his last ad is comprised of such rhetoric.
Jeff Poor, a Breitbart contributor and host on Mobile’s FMTalk 106.5 radio station, in April featured former Acting ICE Director Tom Homan making the case that undocumented immigrants hurt Alabama workers because they work for less because they are easily exploitable. (Homan was, of course, not reminded that it is through the use of ICE as a disciplinary measure for the boss that undocumented immigrants are exploitable.)
Amazingly, even concerns about the disastrous response to the pandemic are turned on the undocumented. My representative, Mo Brooks, did this in August in his explanation of a no vote on S.386 — a bill that would’ve allowed more immigrants in the country legally, lamenting 40 million lost jobs. His lamentations are hollow though: The same day he offered them up he decried “debt junkies” and voted against a relief bill.
Unfortunately, turning pandemic anxiety into immigrant resentment is a theme. In one recent column, a host at WVNN (a local radio station where I also host a show), Dale Jackson, asserted that the solution to small Alabama businesses not feeling “comfortable” with their cash flow because of the recession is, get this, better border security.
The morbid irony of the reactionary position on immigration is that Republicans are trying to deflect attention from their own dismal records, which are hurting all poor and working people.
These politicians balk at raising the minimum wage — a position that has been increasingly implemented at the state level and is largely responsible for the low wage growth that Trump is so excited about.
One of the first things Republicans in this state did once they realized the pandemic would be a long-term issue was strengthen employer immunity in cases where workers get sick on the job.
Republicans in the U.S. Senate have left workers out to dry for months after funds from the original relief bill dried up, and they have refused to extend unemployment stimulus or pass an eviction moratorium, or rent or mortgage forgiveness, even though up to 48% of Alabama renters are currently at risk of eviction.
After all this inaction, Republicans in the Senate dropped everything to pack the Supreme Court with a nominee who has publicly said that the Affordable Care Act ought to be struck down (and protections for pre-existing conditions with it) and that hurling racial epithets does not constitute a hostile work environment, among a myriad of other anti-worker, anti-consumer, anti-liberty judicial opinions. And this nominee has been added to a Supreme Court that is already pro-corporation and anti-worker.
When making the case that they are working-class guardians, Republicans generally do not defend this record. Instead, they obfuscate it with divisive rhetoric — a rhetoric that misdirects the legitimate economic anxieties of working Alabamians, some of which are the creations of the very same politicians.
We must resist these politicians’ distractions, though, because we know that the exploitability of migrant workers is not an innate component of their person, but our society’s choice to make them exploitable. We also know that strong unions drive wages and benefits up. And, of course, hyper exploitative labor — the kind that migrant workers, especially the undocumented, are forced to toil under — is worth opposing on those grounds alone. No one should have to suffer the indignity of knowing that your boss can snap their fingers and have you deported, and no boss should have that much power over their workers.
The solution that addresses both of these problems — exploitation of immigrants and low wages and unemployment for U.S. born workers — is solidarity. Immigrants, including people who are undocumented, are a large part of our work force, and we can’t build worker power without them. And we can’t build worker power with them without standing in solidarity when they are attacked.
The path forward is clear: We must reject calls to scapegoat vulnerable populations for the problems created by the powerful in our society. We must reject working-class division and unite and organize with our fellow workers — documented and undocumented — for higher wages, better working conditions, and a society that makes it easier for all to exercise these fundamental rights to organize.
Alabama Republicans and their media mouthpieces want you to be mad at your immigrant neighbors so that you aren’t mad at them. Don’t fall for it.
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