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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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Comment Preferences

  •  Trickle-up economics works every single time (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    xaxnar, cotterperson, Rube Goldberg, Sue B

    it has been tried, as evidenced by the period from 1947-1973, characterized by economists as the "great compression", where wage gains actually outpaced the growth at the top.

    Aka sustainable growth, where the nation is not eating it's own seed corn by turning over the hen houses to the foxes and prosperity widely shared created the world's largest middle class.

    Getting back to that model is so critical Republicans will stop at nothing to prevent it.

    "extravagant advantage for the few, ultimately depresses the many." FDR

    by Jim R on Mon Jan 14, 2013 at 07:38:59 PM PST

  •  That's the only proven way (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    cotterperson, Rube Goldberg, Sue B
    One way you stop the race to the bottom is by raising the bottom up.
    And we're doing the opposite. Things like this, for example, going from progressive taxes to regressive ones.  And even before taxes come into the picture, everyone below the 1% is getting screwed and has been for decades

    "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

    by xaxnar on Mon Jan 14, 2013 at 07:48:00 PM PST

  •  The United Farm Workers (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Rube Goldberg

    asks that you sign its petition for comprehensive immigration reform. A snip:

    The new process must include a roadmap to citizenship for 11 million new Americans. These new Americans aspire to become citizens and fully engage in the success and responsibilities of their new country.

    Farm workers who feed our nation and many others have earned the right to be considered for citizenship. As part of bigger changes to our immigration process, Congress must pass the Agricultural Job Opportunities, Benefits and Security Act (AgJOBS) bill. ....

    on October 8th, before President Obama spoke before 7,000 people in dedicating the Cesar Chavez National Monument, we spoke with him in private about the urgent need for a new immigration process. He vowed to us, and he has repeated in public, his determination to make reforming immigration laws a top priority in the new year.

    I've heard Obama say "comprehensive immigration  reform" as a priority repeatedly. Let's hold him to it. Better yet, let's hold Congress's feet to the fire.

    /Plea for Justice.

    "Let each unique song be sung and the spell of differentiation be broken" - Winter Rabbit

    by cotterperson on Mon Jan 14, 2013 at 08:00:56 PM PST

  •  There'll be few serious infrastructure projects (0+ / 0-)

    until there is some kind of immigration reform. The government/private contractors etc. are not going to hire any more of those expensive union workers than they absolutely must for infrastructure projects. That’s why infrastructure is taking so long (follow the money, i.e. they're waiting for that cheeeeeeeeap labor).
    The unions are probably doing what they think they have to  (i.e. organizing undocumented workers etc. in advance of immigration reform). They can see what's coming.

    •  What would stop (0+ / 0-)

      government/private contractors  from also by-passing the newly legalized 11 million?

      Would it be just as easy to hire only from the next wave of young undocumented non-unionized workers who haven't yet arrived at the cut-off time?

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