NEW YORK — “Fight for jobs for all workers! Build the unions! A working-class response to the ‘migration crisis’” was the topic of a lively discussion at the Militant Labor Forum here Sept. 16. Speaking for the Socialist Workers Party was Sara Lobman, the party’s candidate for City Council District 8.
With the arrival of more than 110,000 immigrants here since the spring of 2022 there have been protests in some neighborhoods against the city providing these migrants with housing and care there, Lobman said. Democratic Mayor Eric Adams demagogically claims that “this issue will destroy New York City” and tries to play workers against each other by saying the influx will result in steep across-the-board budget cuts affecting working people. At the same time, the SWP candidate pointed out, the city budget in fact has billions of dollars allocated to a “rainy day” fund for special circumstances.
“I recently visited neighborhoods in Staten Island where one of protests had taken place,” said Lobman, “and found workers there were open to talking about the issue. One guy from Poland explained he’s not against immigration: ‘After all, I’m an immigrant myself.’”
There is less anti-immigrant sentiment among working people in the U.S. today, as immigrant and U.S.-born workers work in the same factories and shops and live in the same neighborhoods. It’s under the pressure of low wages and competition for jobs that bosses promote scapegoating of immigrants to divide workers and strengthen their hand. They aim to attack all workers and divert attention away from the fact that the crisis facing workers today is the result of the deepening crisis of their capitalist system.
There is a crisis facing working people in New York, Lobman said. Homelessness is through the roof, crime is rising, and rents are sky high. But immigrant workers aren’t responsible for any of this. The deepening crisis of capitalism and its profit system is.
“The bosses want us to fight among ourselves for ‘limited’ resources,” she said, “but workers create the wealth, most of which goes into the pockets of the ruling class as profits.”
“What’s needed,” the socialist candidate said, “is a program to unite all workers. The SWP calls for jobs at union-scale wages, with schedules so that workers can spend time with their families and participate in union activities and politics. All union contracts, Social Security and other social benefits should include cost-of-living clauses so that as inflation rises so do wages and other benefits.
“We need a massive federally funded public works program that could provide decent jobs to millions, building child care centers, housing, repairing roads and the subway, and other things working people need,” she said. “And while we use our unions to fight for higher wages and social benefits, we need supplemental income to help make up the difference between what workers and their families need and what they’re getting today.”
Central to winning these things is building the unions, Lobman said.
One example she pointed to is the construction industry in New York. Historically construction has been one of the most heavily unionized and highest-paying jobs in the city. But in recent years the bosses have hired tens of thousands of workers without papers the government considers sufficient and the unions are shrinking, immigrant workers are paid less and working conditions are increasingly dangerous.
Build unions to unite working class
“The way forward is for the unions to recruit everyone on the job, regardless of what papers they do or do not have. This is crucial to unite all construction workers and organize a fight to rebuild the unions,” Lobman said.
The SWP demands amnesty for the 11 million undocumented workers living and working in the U.S. and an end to deportations. “This is a life-and-death question for the labor movement and the entire working class, to be able to fight as equals against the bosses and their government,” she said.
Over a million immigrants arrive in the U.S. every year, most with “papers,” many without. It’s the needs of the capitalist class for labor that determines how many, not the existence or lack of walls on the border.
“In fact, there is no ‘immigration crisis’ today, as capitalist politicians of all stripes claim,” Lobman said. “The bosses want more workers, and they want to cut wages.”
The number of H-2A visas granted to temporary agricultural workers from abroad has exploded. In fiscal year 2022 it climbed to 298,000, from 77,010 a decade ago. In the first five months of this year, there have been over 163,000 visas granted to farmworkers from Mexico alone. With no union representation and few rights, these workers face low wages and harsh conditions from the bosses.
The integration of immigrants into the U.S. working class has made our class stronger, Lobman said. That doesn’t mean that calls by some middle-class radicals for “open borders,” which would lead to a crisis for working people on both sides of the border, is in the interests of working people.
Immigrants seeking work permits in New York face a labyrinth of bureaucratic and confusing procedures. Those requesting asylum have to wait nearly six months until they can even apply for one. And they have to come up with nearly $500 to file the forms, and hundreds more to get help filling them out.
In the forum discussion two women workers from Mexico were eager to talk about their experiences. “Most workers, like me, are undocumented,” said one. “For all these people the government says it will give them work permits, many haven’t gotten them for years. Most work without a permit.”
“I make $17 an hour as a home care aide,” said another, “but what the company charges for the work I do is $45 an hour. This is outrageous. This has to change, but politicians do nothing. I say the Democrats and Republicans are the same thing.”
“Everyone living in the U.S. should be able to live and fight together here as equals,” said Lobman. “To most effectively wage this struggle, workers need to break with the two bosses’ parties and build our own party, a labor party based on the unions. Such a party can help lead the fight for amnesty, fight for jobs and rebuild the labor movement on a much broader political basis.”