The guest worker program exposes what is at the heart of both the Democratic and Republican parties immigration policies: guaranteeing a superexploited layer of workers to bolster capitalist profits.
The best-known project to bring in immigrants as temporary workers was the 1942-64 bracero program instituted by the U.S. and Mexican governments. At its peak more than 400,000 Mexican workers a year harvested produce and cotton in the United States.
The Mexican workers were often put up in derelict housing and many worked 12 hours a day or more. Those who received medical care were frequently treated by veterinarians instead of doctors.
Under the agreement 10 percent of the farm workers pay was deducted, ostensibly to deposit into a bank for pensions after their return to Mexico. But the money was never paid out. In 2005 the Mexican government agreed to pay $3,800 each to ex-bracero, or their descendent, who could prove they worked in the United States during World War II.
After the bracero program ended, U.S. capitalists continued to recruit temporary workers from many countries under the H-2 visa program. Of the 121,000 H-2 visas issued in 2005, most were to workers from Mexico, Jamaica, and Guatemala.
Workers with H-2 visas have a few more tenuous rights than undocumented workers. The visas can be renewed for a maximum of three years, but are tied to a specific employer. If workers are fired, laid off, quit, or go on strike their papers are invalid and they can be deported.
Bosses use the visa process to blacklist those they consider troublemakers. Among the reasons bosses have placed workers on a Ineligible for Rehire Report, are slowing up other workers, being lazy, and abandoning a job because of death in the family.
On Nov. 21, 1986, more than 300 cane cutters from Jamaica and other Caribbean islands working on a Fanjul family sugar plantation in Florida went on strike because the company was paying them less than agreed to. The company called in the cops, who used guns and dogs to remove the guest workers from the company labor camp and had them deported.
In 2006, 500 metalworkers from India started repairing oil rigs for Signal International in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina under the H-2 program. When they complained that they had been misled about the work conditions and the opportunity to become permanent U.S. residents, the company threatened to fire them and have them deported.
Signal International sought guidance from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on how to fire the chronic whiners. In testimony this year responding to a federal lawsuit filed by the workers in 2008, Signal CEO Ronald Schnoor said that an ICE agent told him: Take them all out of the line on the way to work; get their personal belongings. Get them in a van and get their tickets and get them to the airport and send them back to India.
On March 9, 2007, Signal tried to carry out the ICE advice and put several workers into vans, but immigrant rights advocates found out and blocked the shipyard gates. In 2008 workers held a 29-day hunger strike to win support for their fight. The case is still in court.
Immigration reform proposals from Schumer-Graham to a bill proposed by Congressman Luis Gutiérrez, include guest worker programs that would guarantee this reserve army of labor for U.S. corporations.
Arizona protests hit anti-immigrant law
High school students lead walkouts
New law in Arizona is antiworker
Front page (for this issue) | Home | Text-version home