by Jerome Grapel…….
(Regardless of everything that has gone down since Donald Trump turned American politics into a pro wrestling show, the one issue that most brought him to prominence is the immigration issue, something he has demagogued right to the top of the Republican primary fandango. In so doing, he has made this essay, written almost a decade ago, quite timely once again.)
I write this essay just one week after the massive demonstrations by undocumented immigrants in America on May 1st, the traditional day of working people everywhere. This comes on the heels of other such displays of unrest — gigantic unrest, millions of demonstrators in all parts of the country — just days and weeks before.
My previous essay on this topic (see essay, “Immigration”) still stands for what I consider the nub of all this, that being a global economic system that refuses to address the poverty of the immigrant donor nations. Whether this is the result of a calculated effort by those most benefiting this reality, or simply the inability of the system to respond to the problems it has caused, is debatable. Be it more the former or the latter, it is safe to say that some combination of wickedness and stupidity are in play here.
But this status quo of oxymoronic overt-covert immigrant labor is beginning to show signs of its unsustainable qualities.
For the most part, the immigrants themselves are somewhat unconscious as to just what this uprising means, and I use the word “uprising” very seriously. The fact that they chose the worker’s day of May 1st to air their grievances, is somewhat significant. For the average American, this date has always been associated with the Molotov cocktail of worker unrest and rebellion, a date that has been largely discredited and reviled in the gringo mind set. (It is truly amazing how the concept of corporal work is so maligned and disrespected in America, where shysters pushing paper in jackets and ties receive the hero’s treatment.) Obviously, for the participants in these demonstrations, there is some tenuous understanding that they are of a certain social class, that their struggle is related to a more universal movement that somehow encompasses them as well. But it is something that only exists as a threadlike connection to an old instinct, something that has been gradually emasculated as the neo-liberal world of Thatcher-Murdoch & Co. continues to claim more territory.
These immigrant manifestations are far less altruistic and far more individually motivated for narrower ends. They show very little ideological content, nothing that could be construed as revolutionary, or anything having to do with overturning the social order as it now exists. The participants are not anarchists, or socialists, nor is there any well developed feeling of class consciousness or worker solidarity.
As I watched the media coverage of these huge demonstrations, I was surprised to find a slither of resentment slipping into my consciousness. Was I a racist? Was the third world nature of this massive outpouring touching some deep running, subterranean stream of prejudice unknown to me before?
Upon further review, what bothers me is how the attitude of the immigrants does not get to the root of the problem, just as each side of the American body “politique” (or any body politique) misses the point. The focus of the immigrants is so narrow, it could even be described as selfish. Here they are, this tide of humanity that’s managed to cross the “rio” Jordan into the land of milk and honey, leaving behind hundreds of millions just like them who will continue to live in the economic desert that spawned these migrations. Does the marching immigrant, all decked out in his or her indigenous regalia, address these needs? Now that they are in the Promised Land, do they even think about it, or is it not their problem anymore?
Oh sure, I know, they send money home to mama, a miniscule pittance that certainly comes in handy for those living in countries with Monopoly money currencies. But does it do anything to alter the global socio-economic order that created these migrations? Do I have to answer that?
The immigrants and their spokespersons, in their too narrowly focused, perhaps even selfish mind set, make bogus claims as to why their status should be normalized. One of their flagship arguments is that their labor, along with what they consume, has now become an essential factor in America’s economy performing well. This concept can best be described as overrated. There is no shortage of labor in the United States. None of the low end jobs filled by immigrant labor — kitchen work, hotel workers, construction, even farm labor, etc. — could not and would not be filled by legal domestic workers if the pay was sufficient to live with some form of dignity in the United States. This gives birth to the somewhat hazy, ambiguous idea that we all profit from this depressed wage scale, because it leads to lower priced goods (which is the fundament of the quasi-slave labor system used by the global economy in the immigrant donor nations). One has to wonder just how much of this saving in labor costs is actually passed on to the consumer, but it seems that a well paid, stable labor force would benefit any economic system more than a poorly paid, paranoid, immigrant labor pool. If this is not the case, then why do we even use such an economic system?
The social costs of a poorly paid, unstable work force, help illustrate this point. Such an environment creates a semi-permanent underclass that can be expensive to deal with. Anyone checking even the most established “chicano barrios” of America’s southwest, will see unusually high rates of high school dropouts, a well developed gang culture reeking sadistic violence and criminality, along with other unsavory accoutrements of life on the dark side. Obviously, I am painting with a very broad brush here and examples of Hispanic success in America are easily found, but this residue of social deprivation is more than a counter weight to people like Alberto Gonzalez (uff! I said his name. How ironic that America’s version of Torquemada be Hispanic).
The immigrants themselves are naïve to certain aspects of their normalization. Let’s just say the magic wand is waved and all these millions of illegals are allowed into the light: work permits, green cards, an open road to citizenship. Somewhere along the line, this normalization of status would have to lead to a normalization of wages. At the moment, their illegal status is what makes their labor attractive. Being that the entrepreneurial sector neither wants nor is able to pay decent wages to such a huge mass of newly normalized labor, such normalization can do little more than bring down wages for everyone. Remember, the system doesn’t really need this immigrant labor, it only exploits its desperation.
It’s a fine mess these capitalists have gotten us into Ollie, and the boomerang is beginning to turn back on us.
At this point it might be difficult to convince you that I have nothing but the greatest sympathy for those participating in these demonstrations. They have every reason in the world to feel dismay for their situation. They are saying “enough of this nonsense”. We are tired of being here and not being here at the same time. We are human beings. You can’t keep using us like this. We are coming out of the closet. We want our just share of the pie!
And they are right. But instead of lashing out at a global system that has not only created their situation but thrives off of it, they are more focused on trying to be the few that can get into the country club (and few it is in global terms). But space inside the Promised Land is running out.
Regardless of whether they miss the point or not, these demonstrations, in spite of their narrow focus, are very significant. Whether they understand the concept or not, this huge outpouring of frustration in America could be seen amongst the earliest shots fired against a global financial system that seems incapable of addressing their needs. Whether they understand the concept or not, these immigrant manifestations in America represent the third world everywhere. They are joined at the hip and cannot be separated. Their status cannot be “normalized” in economies that prefer them as they are.
Put simply, any solution in the developed world has to be tied to a solution in the 3rd world.