News Flash: Wage Workers and Immigrants Didn’t Create Our “Corporate Kleptocracy”

Jim Hightower

A nearly 100-year-old political cartoon published in Good Morning magazine in 1919.

The wail­ing in our coun­try about the inva­sion of immi­grants” has been long and loud. As one com­plainant put it, Few of their chil­dren in the coun­try learn Eng­lish… The signs in our streets have inscrip­tions in both lan­guages… Unless the stream of the impor­ta­tion could be turned they will soon so out­num­ber us that all the advan­tages we have will not be able to pre­serve our lan­guage, and even our gov­ern­ment will become precarious.”

That’s not some dia­tribe from the alt-right. It’s the anx­ious cry of none oth­er than Ben Franklin, deplor­ing the wave of Ger­mans pour­ing into the colony of Penn­syl­va­nia in the 1750s. Thus, anti-immi­grant erup­tions are old­er than the Unit­ed States itself, and they’ve flared up peri­od­i­cal­ly through­out our his­to­ry, tar­get­ing the Irish, French, Ital­ians and Chi­nese among oth­ers. Even Don­ald Trump’s project to wall off our bor­der is not a new bit of nut­ti­ness — around the time of the nation’s found­ing, John Jay, who lat­er became the first chief jus­tice of the Supreme Court, pro­posed a wall of brass around the coun­try for the exclu­sion of Catholics.”

Luck­i­ly for the devel­op­ment and enrich­ment of our coun­try, these past pub­lic fren­zies ulti­mate­ly failed to exclude the teem­ing mass­es, and those uproars now appear through the tele­scope of time to have been some com­bi­na­tion of ridicu­lous pan­ic, polit­i­cal dem­a­goguery and xeno­pho­bic ugliness. 

In our cur­rent nation­al imbroglio over immi­gra­tion com­ing from our 2,000-mile shared south­ern bor­der, our lead­ers” have set us up to look down at impov­er­ished work­ing peo­ple forced to leave their home­land and risk death in order to help their fam­i­lies escape poverty.

Instead of com­ing down on them, why not start look­ing up — up at the exec­u­tive suites on both sides of the bor­der. Up is where the pow­er is. The mon­eyed elites in those suites are the prof­i­teer­ing few who have rigged all of our trade and labor poli­cies to knock down work­ers, farm­ers and small busi­ness­es — not only in Mex­i­co, but in our coun­try as well.

In the Unit­ed States, the mid­dle class feels imper­iled because…well, because it is imper­iled. Politi­cians, econ­o­mists and the rich­ly paid pun­dits keep telling us that the Amer­i­can econ­o­my is robust and that peo­ple’s finan­cial pes­simism and anx­i­eties are irra­tional. At the kitchen table lev­el, how­ev­er, folks know the dif­fer­ence between chick­en sal­ad and chick­en manure. Yes, these are boom times for the lux­u­ry class, but the mid­dle and work­ing class­es are feel­ing pinched. In a let­ter to the edi­tor, a work­ing stiff put it this way:

We’ve replaced steaks with corn flakes; we can’t afford to get sick; we hope that our 10-year-old van keeps run­ning because we can’t afford a new one; our kids can’t buy a home because hous­ing prices are exor­bi­tant; our pur­chas­ing pow­er con­tin­u­al­ly regress­es; and worst of all, the pover­ty and near-pover­ty class­es are growing.” 

It’s this eco­nom­ic fragili­ty that anti-immi­grant forces play on. But point­ing to the undoc­u­ment­ed work­ers in the fields and kitchens and blam­ing them for the eco­nom­ic pain work­ing Amer­i­cans are feel­ing is a lie. The truth is that even if there were no undoc­u­ment­ed work­ers in our coun­try — none — the fragili­ty that is felt would remain, for poor undoc­u­ment­ed labor­ers are not the ones who:

  • Down­sized and off­shored our mid­dle class jobs
  • Per­vert­ed our bank­rupt­cy laws to let cor­po­ra­tions abro­gate their union contracts
  • Stopped enforce­ment of Amer­i­ca’s wage and hour laws
  • Per­vert­ed the Nation­al Labor Rela­tions Board into an anti-work­er tool for corporations
  • Ille­gal­ly reclas­si­fied mil­lions of employ­ees as inde­pen­dent con­trac­tors,” leav­ing them with no ben­e­fits or labor rights
  • Sub­vert­ed the right of work­ers to organize
  • Made good health care a lux­u­ry item
  • Let rich cam­paign donors take over both polit­i­cal parties

Pow­er­less immi­grants did­n’t do these things to us. The rich­est, most-pow­er­ful, best-con­nect­ed cor­po­rate inter­ests did them.

Immi­gra­tion reform can­not be sep­a­rat­ed from labor and trade reform. We can’t fix the for­mer with­out deal­ing with the oth­er two. We must stop the exploita­tive NAF­TA-fica­tion of such aspir­ing economies as Mex­i­co and instead devel­op gen­uine grass­roots invest­ment poli­cies that give peo­ple there an abil­i­ty to remain in their home­land. Then we must enforce our own labor laws against Amer­i­can cor­po­ra­tions who vio­late them — from wage and hour rules to the Nation­al Labor Reg­u­la­tions Board — so as to empow­er Amer­i­can work­ers to enforce their own rights.

Elim­i­nat­ing the need to migrate from Mex­i­co, Guatemala, Hon­duras, Ecuador, etc., and rebuild­ing the mid­dle-class lad­der here is an immi­gra­tion pol­i­cy” that will work. But it requires us to go right at the cor­po­rate klep­toc­ra­cy that now owns Wash­ing­ton and con­trols the debate, for Amer­i­ca’s immi­gra­tion prob­lem is not down on the bor­der — it’s in Wash­ing­ton and on Wall Street.

(To find out more about Jim High­tow­er, and read fea­tures by oth­er Cre­ators Syn­di­cate writ­ers and car­toon­ists, vis­it the Cre­ators web­page at www​.cre​ators​.com.)

Jim High­tow­er is the author of six books, includ­ing Thieves in High Places (Viking 2003). A well-known pop­ulist and for­mer Texas Com­mis­sion­er of Agri­cul­ture, he cur­rent­ly writes a nation­al­ly-syn­di­cat­ed col­umn car­ried by 75 pub­li­ca­tions. He also writes a month­ly newslet­ter titled The High­tow­er Low­down, and con­tributes to the Pro­gres­sive Pop­ulist.
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