Once upon a time, unions were not the most immigrant- or immigration-friendly organizations. Today, it's a different story. Most unions want to see comprehensive immigration reform that doesn't demonize immigrants and doesn't create a pool of low-wage guest workers with few legal rights, subject to the whims of a single employer. And they don't just want it. They're fighting for it.

In a broad look at the history of unions and immigration, from Cesar Chavez's "hardline position against illegal immigration, which he viewed as an endless source of scab labor" on, TPM's Benjy Sarlin reports on how unions have come together around immigration as a key priority during President Barack Obama's second term:

With victory in sight, SEIU is committing the full force of its 2.1 million members to pushing comprehensive reform in 2013, with plans for rallies around the country, education campaigns for members, and an inside game aimed at lobbying lawmakers in Washington towards a final vote. The AFL-CIO, the nation’s largest federation of unions, is on board as well; and the two sometimes rival groups are united around a common set of policy principles after splitting on President George W. Bush’s failed immigration effort. Both organizations identify passing a bill that includes a path to citizenship for the undocumented population as one of their absolute top priorities for the 113th Congress.
Business groups are still going to be fighting for that pool of guest workers with few rights, and unions will be fighting against it. But the momentum is on the side of immigration reform happening, and unions are committed now, as they have been for a decade or more, to supporting it and winning the best reforms possible. That's not without potential benefits for unions:
[A]ccording to Ruth Milkman, a sociologist at CUNY who researches labor and immigration, the emphasis on passing a bill does point toward an emerging focus on low wage workers that’s increasingly defining the movement. It’s not just because immigrant-heavy jobs like janitors and nurses assistants are growing the fastest. By stressing their struggles working in typically low wage jobs, the SEIU and AFL-CIO may have a better shot at winning hearts and minds outside the movement than they would by highlighting workers in industries with more generous wages and benefits.
Additionally, most of these low-wage service sector jobs can't be sent overseas, so organizing them is a key to strengthening the role of workers in the economy overall. One way you stop the race to the bottom is by raising the bottom up. The closer we get to immigration reform, the more important the fight between unions trying to raise the bottom up and business groups trying to push the bottom down will become.

Originally posted to Daily Kos Labor on Mon Jan 14, 2013 at 11:45 AM PST.

Also republished by Daily Kos.

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