Skip to main content

Challenges: Organizing Undocumented Workers

By Lorenzo Kom`boa Ervin, Black/People of Color Organizing Drive, Atlanta, GA. (Excerpt from "Anarcho-Syndicalists of the World -- Unite!"

Foreign born or "undocumented" workers have long been some of the most exploited members of the working class. Driven from their homelands in the search for higher wages and better living standards, they must emigrate or smuggle themselves into the US. Many times the United States is directly responsible for the depressed labor and economic conditions due to imperialist exploitation, as in Mexico, for instance. These workers are forced to perform the most menial, back-breaking labor at the lowest wages, jobs that the native-born workers refuse to do, such as migrant farm labor or in garment sweatshops.

Because of their delicate legal status as "illegal aliens," they are subjected to bullying and slave labor tactics by bosses, and forced to live in scandalously inhuman conditions at exorbitant cost. But even with such dismal conditions and ill treatment, foreign born workers are now fighting back. Through strikes, demonstrations, boycotts, lawsuits and other protest actions, these workers are standing up for their rights against the intimidation of the employers and the State. It is the State, doing the bidding of the rich capitalists, which has led a racist repressive campaign against so-called "illegal aliens" and who has jailed and deported these workers, through its Immigration and Nationalization Service.

These foreign born workers are combative and militant, and make the best union members, yet no major labor union will fight for them. In many respects, even the United Farm Workers Union has now withdrawn much of its support since it joined the reformist AFL-CIO.

This is not to deny that there are no labor organizations at all representing undocumented workers. Seventeen percent of them in this country are now union members. In addition, there are independent unions and associations like the Texas Farmworkers Union, CASA-General Brotherhood of Workers, and the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, which represents immigrant workers. But the independent farm worker unions and associations are not united in a nationwide effort or allied with organized labor. That must be one of the major tasks of the IWW. We must actively seek to recruit, represent, and organize undocumented workers and other immigrants, and affiliate with the independent unions and immigrant workers associations. The IWW must fight for these workers' rights and against the racism and xenophobia conjured up by the government and the bosses. The IWW must unite with foreign born workers and make their demands part of the demands for the entire working class for better conditions and humane treatment. Only by fighting for the most oppressed workers can we dare to call ourselves representative of the working class. We must demand:

  • an end to discrimination against foreign born workers. Union wage levels for all work performed.
  • improved working and living conditions, including being provided with union-approved low cost housing.
  • social and working benefits as native born workers.
  • the right to organize Labor unions without employer or government interference.
  • land to the tillers, and the disbanding of agribusiness conglomerates. Worker's should seize land if government will not provide them with land and implements.
  • creation of an independent Farm Labor Commission by unions to investigate the conditions of farm laborers and ensure that their living and working conditions meet federal safety standards and do not violate Labor laws, or the civil rights of workers.
  • an end to harassment and deportation by La Migra, the Immigration and Nationalization Service's police.
  • free immigration to the US for all who wish to work.
  • the freedom of all immigrants confined in federal or State prison for mere entry into the country.