I imagine that at any point one expresses a view contrary to a goal of a given person or group, it opens a me up for a personal ideological attack. If I call Robert Murray a sociopath, then it is probably fair that someone expresses the view that I’m xenophobic for criticizing Murray for “employ[ing] foreign workers over his own countrymen.” As such, the positions I support, such as a Palestinian state might get me labeled as an anti-Semite, my conditional support for the “acting white” hypothesis might get me called a “racist,” or supporting a woman’s right to abortion in the first and second trimesters might get me called a “baby-killer.”
For my part, I do try to take these criticisms as seriously as I feel that they are warranted. Since xenophobia is the foremost on my mind and because I do not feel I adequately expressed my complete view in the Robert Murray post, I will try to specifically deal with this issue.
Since we are dealing with xenophobia, not just foreign labor, it is important to look at the overall historical context and dynamic. It is difficult to deny the overt racist xenophobia America has demonstrated in its history, whether it was the Irish, Eastern Europeans or Asians. In that purview, it is clear that Mexicans are merely the most recent target of American fears, only rivaled by anti-Arab or Muslim sentiment.
Businessmen and corporations frequently exploit these rifts and fears by favoring certain social groups over others. At the emergence of an underprivileged group, the businessmen then use the underprivileged group as leverage against the more favored group when they attempt to unionize or otherwise try to improve their working conditions. One technique is to use the underprivileged group as scabs.
The underprivileged group sees it as a great opportunity to improve its lot in life, however it comes at a cost to the whole. A good demonstration of the dynamics of this type of desperation is presented in “The Grapes of Wrath” by John Steinbeck. Much of the apparent schism in immigration and working conditions is present in Cesar Chávez’s views.
However, Chavez was no friend to undocumented immigrants during his time. He was born a U.S. citizen in Arizona and was loyal to American farm workers. In fighting for the rights of agricultural workers, in 1969 his union protested farms that hired illegal immigrants as scabs during a union strike. They even reported some suspected illegal immigrants to INS.
I have a great deal of sympathy for people who are willing to work hard to improve their lot in life. It is therefore difficult to be forced to exclude certain groups, and doubly so when it falls de-facto across ethnic line. However, I believe that the way that our society (and the best way) to remedy the problems that industrialists like Robert Murray pose is through democratic processes of government in conjunction with unionization. Undocumented workers and to a lesser extent foreign workers undermine the democratic processes for simple reasons such as they can’t vote. There are also other factors that aid in their exploitation including language barriers, the fact that they tend to live in separate communities, and it is easier to get disruptive workers removed, either by reporting undocumented workers to INS or simply firing foreign workers which generally revokes their visa.
Economic power and political power are intricately tied and it is difficult to achieve one without the support of the other. I admit it is difficult to read about the labor movement in books like “A People’s History of the United States” by Howard Zinn and not marvel at the epic struggles and some of the setbacks to the labor movement caused by what amounts to lower class self-destruction.
I can’t help but feel foreign worker programs being to labor what Echelon was to domestic spying. A way to deny rights of people through an international game of musical chairs. So, let’s not kid ourselves. Robert Murray was no friend to his workers. Why do you think he would go out of his way to hire Mexican workers? How about questioning his motivations and interests instead of focusing on mine? In my opinion, he is attempting to fundamentally undermine worker’s rights and democracy. It is especially upsetting for me when I perceive someone doing that and then acting as if they are draped in the American flag, which was my main complaint in the previous Robert Murray post. In my view, foreign workers are just the pawns of his game of profit. I feel that people that don’t see that are either somewhat naive or misguided. If someone wishes to still question my underlying motivation, so be it. I am one American citizen with one blog and otherwise unremarkable. I certainly don’t hand out money to politicians like Murray does. Let’s just hope that the miners and rescue workers make it out safely from this debacle. However, it also clear that this cave-in should never have happened in the first place, so maybe it does deserve a momentary reflection on how those particular men came to be working under the conditions of the mine that caused them to become trapped; will my supposed xenophobia or government dysfunction be more to blame? If it is government dysfunction, please think about why it was able to occur.