What is it with the absence of worker solidarity when it comes to migrants?

A common sentiment, even among some factions on the left, is that immigration undercuts wages and is generally a way for capitalists to attack the working class.  For example, check out this interview between Ezra Klein of Vox and Bernie Sanders.  When asked about increasing opportunities for people to immigrate into the US, up to the level of open borders, Sanders said:

It would make everybody in America poorer —you’re doing away with the concept of a nation state, and I don’t think there’s any country in the world that believes in that. If you believe in a nation state or in a country called the United States or UK or Denmark or any other country, you have an obligation in my view to do everything we can to help poor people. What right-wing people in this country would love is an open-border policy. Bring in all kinds of people, work for $2 or $3 an hour, that would be great for them. I don’t believe in that. I think we have to raise wages in this country, I think we have to do everything we can to create millions of jobs.

But we need to ask, why exactly it is that immigrants are doomed for low wages.  It makes sense if you think about the issue using the simple Econ101 supply-and-demand model: immigration = increased supply of labor = decreased price of labor = lower wages for everybody.

Except this isn’t how labor markets work at all, and leftists–especially old-school union leftists like Bernie Sanders–should understand this better than anybody.  Workers aren’t a commodity whose only value is that which is determined by the market–we’re alive and kicking, and are able to manipulate and deform and influence market structures in accordance with what our needs are, and what we think our wages–and that of our comrades–should be.  This is a basic, fundamental observation of any serious leftist ideology, whether you’re looking at what Karl Marx was talking about in the mid-1800s, or what Karl Polanyi was talking about in the mid-1900s.

The “solution” to immigration, and the downward pressure on wages that it exerts in a simple supply-and-demand model, should be to escalate labor organizing, workers’ solidarity networks, connections between native and migrant unions, and so forth–y’know, anything to increase the ability of the working class to defend and increase their wages, benefits, and rights.  Indeed, the major reason why immigrants (especially undocumented immigrants) have to work for such low wages today is arguably because their precarious status undermines any organizing or militancy they might want to engage in–and this precarious status is itself linked to the hostility of modern unions toward immigrants!  Talk about a self-fulfilling prophecy (and self-defeating strategies).

If old-school unionists are serious about defending wages and benefits from the capitalists who want to exploit precarious migrant labor, they should be lending migrants a hand–not bolstering the very laws and institutions that force them to devalue their labor in the first place.  And thankfully, plenty are indeed doing just that.

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One thought on “What is it with the absence of worker solidarity when it comes to migrants?

  1. […] America’s White working class.  The following excerpt stood out, mostly because it echoes my thoughts on how worker solidarity is the best way for “native” workers to deal with the […]

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