Monday, January 4, 2010

Dec. 6 Migration and Immigration at SIXTH U.S./Cuba/Venezuela/Mexico Tijuana Labor Conference

Tijuana Conference Sunday Session

The conference’s Sunday session focused on issues pertaining to immigrant workers and their struggles. The opening speaker was Ben Prado, a leader of Unión del Barrio. Prado asserted the right of Indigenous people, in particular the Mexican people, to retake possession of the land of what is now known as the U.S. Southwest. He denounced the racist U.S. policy of Manifest Destiny, which attempted to justify the genocidal policies of the historic European invasion, which wrested total control of the North American continent from its former inhabitants.

Addressing the economic crisis, he said, “We know this crisis. We have been living it for more than 15 years.” He described the former circular migration, where Mexican workers working on this side of the border returned to their families periodically. He pointed out that this pattern has been replaced, since 1994 when the militarization of the border began, by the need for workers to bring their families with them, in the face of daunting fences and armed border guards.

Prado denounced the Democratic/Republican consensus in Washington, D.C., for superexploitation of the most vulnerable workers. Migrating workers do the hardest work for the lowest pay. At the border, the so-called War on Terror becomes the so-called War on Drug Trafficking. But the strategy remains the same: criminalizing the working class.

Another topic of concern, he pointed out, is the privatization of prisons with its accompanying private investment in prison industries. Working for pennies a day, prisoners are now producing a vast array of commodities for the capitalist market.

Prado concluded his remarks describing the horrific character of ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) raids, where families are broken up and children become wards of the state. “This is state terrorism,” he emphasized. “The challenge is organizing our communities. The change that’s happening in Latin America will be our guide.” His concluding thought: The re-election of Evo Morales in Bolivia this weekend is cause for great optimism.

The next speaker was Gloria Salcedo of Hermandad Mexicana Nacional. She paid tribute to Bert Corona, a great labor leader and organizer of immigrant workers, as someone who taught workers how to struggle. She asserted the urgent need for legalization of undocumented workers. This would mean, she explained, political, economic and religious power, something that all human beings want. The victories against racism, such as the election of Barack Obama are the result of our struggles, she noted. But we must continue the struggle. We can’t rest. We don’t know what the politicians are doing. We must organize for May 1.

Teresa Gutierrez, representing the New York May 1 Coalition and the International Migrants’ Alliance, opened with the observation that everyone should be proud that our pressure forced Lou Dobbs, the racist TV commentator who focused many of his attacks on immigrant workers, off the air. She then noted the worldwide character of the migration nightmare: an estimated 350,000,000 working class people who have been forced to leave their homes, due both to economic pressures and the environmental changes that are producing what is coming to be known as “climate immigration.”

 Gutierrez accused the big bankers of responsibility for the deaths of unknown numbers of immigrants. She pointed out how, in New York City, the billionaire rulers and their political lackeys are using the excuse of the economic crisis for their failure to provide either equal marriage rights or legalization for undocumented workers. But polls have shown that most people are for these rights. So this ruse is very dangerous. She added that the government has the upper hand right now because there is no mass movement. “But we can’t let them divide our class,” she emphasized.

And it’s the same with international issues, she commented. “The Republicans openly supported the Honduran coup. And what was Zelaya’s crime from their point of view? He wanted to raise the minimum wage in Honduras so workers wouldn’t have to come to the U.S. to earn a living wage. Hypocrites! We confronted Sen. Charles Schumer in East Harlem because his immigration proposal is terrible. We were polite. He wasn’t.  He said he would meet with immigration rights groups. He hasn’t.

“The only thing we can count on is mobilizing in the streets. We need to organize in a new way because there is a crisis and they are trying to divide us, to get us to fight each other. We have to raise the war and the sham election in Honduras. Threats against Cuba and Venezuela must be raised as well as the potential destruction of the planet. Take the advice of the Cuban comrades yesterday to raise the political level. It won’t be easy.

The International Migrants’ Alliance was put together by the Filipino comrades. It’s clear about being anti-imperialist. So we look for ways to unite all the global struggles. As our Colombian comrades told us yesterday, we have to use technology. We need an international May Day, except for Israel. One day May Day will be a worldwide strike!”

Joy de Guzman, representing the Global Council for International Migrants and the International League of Peoples Struggle, spoke next. She observed that, in common with all the peoples of Latin America, the Filipino people have a terrible historic legacy of colonization. “But really, it’s imperialism,” she noted. Presently, Filipino immigrant workers are scattered in 196 other countries and the remittances they send home constitute a very important part of the Filipino economy. These workers face long hours, low wages, sexual abuse and all the other common features of superexploitation. They are mostly unorganized. They need our help to become organized so that they can challenge their exploitation.

Martín López Ortiz, speaking for the Frente Amplia de Izquierda Social, announced an ambitious project, already underway, for a Latin American sanctuary for workers in the Mexican state of Michoacán. The sanctuary will run on an economy based on sharing rather than private profit. The workers of Michoacán will no longer have to cross borders to survive and the sanctuary will welcome all migrant workers as an alternative to forced immigration.

John Parker, Los Angeles organizer of the Bail Out the People Movement, spoke on the pressing issue of Black/Brown unity. Historically, he explained, unpaid slave labor allowed U.S. society to grow strong economically. “We African Americans share this reality of superexploitation with immigrant workers. It’s an important basis for unity. Another point worth mulling over is the contact that most immigrant workers maintain with family and friends in their home countries. Suppose the Spanish plans of colonial conquest had been revealed in time to the Indigenous peoples of the Americas. With modern communication, the situation for cooperation among workers of different nationalities is much more favorable today.

“Right now, U.S. imperialism has its eyes on Africa, in particular the newly discovered oil deposits off the coast of Ghana and around the Horn of Africa. So already under Obama there is more U.S. military activity in Africa, sometimes involving 30 nations at a time. What will African Americans think when they see their African relatives being killed? They will be very angry. The government will respond with more domestic repression, more state terrorism. So we need unity with Native, Asian, Latino and white workers.”

Parker urged Black and Brown workers to find opportunities to stand in solidarity with each other’s struggles, not just for the immediate benefit, but also understanding what a powerful example such actions are for the rest of our class. “With class unity,” he concluded, “our victory is assured.”

It was a great honor for the conference to have among its attendees José González, representing the Binational Front of Indigenous Organizations. He opened his presentation with the observation, “I am a stranger in my own land.” He came to the U.S. from Oaxaca, Mexico, out of necessity and was a farm worker for seven years. He recounted how hard crossing the border was. Referring to his co-panelist Ben Prado, he said, “I took Ben last month to meet my brothers living in a canyon.” He observed that what goes on in the agricultural fields is modern slavery. “We have a common enemy,” he concluded. “Capitalism!”

An earlier speaker at the conference had referred to the kidnapping of a Tijuana union activist on Dec. 4. At the conclusion of the Sunday session, Dr. Pedro Salcedo Guzmán of the Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores Sociales took the floor to ask that conference attendees sign a petition demanding an immediate investigation into the abduction. Clearly angry at this act of anti-worker terrorism in Tijuana, Salcedo Guzmán assured the conference that such acts would  not silence the spirits of Martí, Che and other revolutionary heroes who were such an inspiration to continue the struggle for all the victims asking for justice.

Other speakers who took the floor at the conference’s ending included Fernando Velázquez, who reminded the audience of the need to take advantage of the technological possibilities of spreading revolutionary ideas, such as those expressed at the conference, Carmen Valadez of the Tijuana Workers’ Information Center (CITTAC), who spoke briefly on the continuing struggle of the people of Atenco and recent attacks on Mexican Indigenous people.

Finally, Sabrina Green of the International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal took the floor to speak on the current, very dangerous legal situation facing this globally recognized political prisoner. Dec. 9 is the 28th anniversary of his frameup by the Philadelphia police. He is still on death row and the racist state is still seeking to have him executed, totally unconcerned with the mountain of evidence demonstrating his innocence in the death of a police officer, evidence that has never been allowed in court.

It was a politically intense weekend. Though clearly not yet at this early stage a body worthy of the label “workers’ council,” or one capable of challenging on the international level imperialist political authority, these profoundly serious deliberations certainly set in many ways a minimum standard for the workers’ councils that are sure to follow.