Can Labor Get Out of This Mess?

Published on TruthOut Perspective, by David Bacon, August 11, 2009.

For anyone who loves the labor movement, it’s not unreasonable today to ask whether we’ve lost our way. California’s huge healthcare local is in trusteeship, its leading organizing drive in a shambles. SEIU’s international is at war with its own members, and now with UNITE HERE, whose merger of garment and hotel workers is unraveling …

… The debate over immigration policy now puts critical questions before U.S. unions. Are unions going to defend all workers (including the undocumented), or just some? Should unions support immigration enforcement designed to force millions of workers from their jobs, so that they will leave the country? How can labor achieve the unity and solidarity it needs to successfully confront transnational corporations, both internally within the US, and externally with workers in countries like Mexico?  

Understanding that NAFTA hurt workers on both sides of the border is a crucial step in answering these questions, providing the raw material workers need to understand globalization. But raw material is just that. Workers and unions need an education process, and educators who can help turn that raw material into consciousness and action. In more radical times, left-wing socialist and communist parties played that role of educator. Since this kind of organized left presence in labor is much smaller today, it is unclear what can take its place.

While we try to find organizational answers to these questions, however, we can find ways of trying to use these problems and crises to ask questions of each other, and the workers around us. Perhaps these questions, and our efforts to answer them, can tell us something, not only about the nature of the system, but why we want to change it, and to what.

So here’s a question. Let’s think about the future. If there were not such wide gulfs in the standard of living from country to country – if we had a socialist world, would the migration of people stop? We move and migrate in part because we can. We can get on a plane and travel halfway around the world in a matter of hours. Mexican undocumented workers, living on a hillside under the trees in San Diego, call and check in with their families by cellphone two thousand miles away in a small village in Mexico. And we are more connected than ever before by the bonds of family and friends to people across many borders.

So what does the great liberatory goal of socialism mean to the movement of people? The character of migration under capitalism, especially today, is that it is forced migration, manipulated by the powerful as a labor supply system. So wouldn’t socialism mean that we would do away with the forcible nature of migration, while we also protect the ability of people to move and travel wherever they want, and defend their rights wherever they go?

And the last question – do we have to wait for socialism to move toward this goal? Is it possible to end forcible migration and protect the rights of migrants under capitalism? Is this system capable of such a radical reform?

And of course the answer is, it depends on us. (full text).

Comments are closed.