The immigration issue has been cast as an insoluble problem pitting the philosophy of “free trade” against the rights of the exploited. This representation is fundamentally wrong. Free trade is not the root of the immigration problem; it is the solution.
We must initially acknowledge the essential role of the rights of labor in trade agreements. Any nation that does not provide workers with living wages, decent working conditions and basic benefits is subsidizing corporate profits. It is no different than a government providing direct funding to an industry or imposing tariffs on targeted imports. It is therefore a violation of the essential principles of free trade.
What are the consequences of recognizing the rights of labor in the free trade equation? CAFTA, NAFTA and virtually all international trade agreements negotiated under the banner of free trade are rendered invalid and subject to renegotiation.
When trade agreements are contingent on labor rights, there will be a reduction in the influx of migrants across the border. More and more citizens of Mexico and Latin America will opt to remain in their own nations when their respective governments guarantee that their basic needs will be provided.
That is the end game. It will mandate a virtual realignment of the current international order. Given the failure of that order, it is eminently reasonable but it will require time. Our immediate goal must be more direct: Liberty and justice for all!
The following measures should be taken primarily to alleviate the plight of the immigrant (secondarily, to solve the immigration problem to the extent that it can be “solved”):
First, document the undocumented.
The obvious solution to illegal immigration is to legalize immigration. The reason there are so many undocumented workers in America is not that immigrants enjoy running from the law; it is precisely because the undocumented have no rights. They can be paid cash wages at below minimum without any considerations of labor. They are cheap and disposable workers. If the employer does not wish to pay them at all, there is no legal recourse.
When employers document the undocumented, they will have to pay them decent wages. They will have to offer basic benefits. They will not be able to ignore industry regulations and worker safeguards.
When the employers begin paying migrant workers living wages, others will begin to compete for the same jobs.
Second, define and establish a minimum living wage in every nation of the western hemisphere, from Canada to Chile and Argentina. Require all nations to abide by that minimum standard in order to qualify for preferred trade status. The penalties for violating the rights of labor should be proportionate but severe.
Third, take down the wall! We have a right to know who has entered the nation and we can find it out at the points of arrival. If the landlords, innkeepers and employers are required to document migrants, the problem is solved and the massive waste of building a wall along our southern border can be transferred to more constructive uses:
Rebuilding New Orleans with resident labor, providing universal health services, building schools, hiring teachers, constructing mass transit, developing alternative energy, funding space exploration and training minority citizens for better employment.
For a nation deeply in debt to squander its limited resources on a wall that keeps more illegal workers in than it keeps out is both immoral and bad policy. As Princeton’s Douglas S. Massey stated in a New York Times op-ed (4/4/06): “The only thing we have to show for two decades of border militarization is a larger undocumented population than we would otherwise have, a rising number of Mexicans dying while trying to cross, and a growing burden on taxpayers for enforcement that is counterproductive.”
It is a national disgrace.
Fourth, rebuild organized labor from the ground up. Given the opportunity, workers in all nations have demonstrated the capability to manage operations and contribute to company policies. The new unions should be democratically structured with meaningful representation in management and on boards of directors. They should be dynamic and cooperative organizations that respond to the dual interests of productivity and labor. The migrant labor force must be unionized.
Above all, government policy must be responsive to the rights of labor rather than exclusively to the powerful interests of corporations.
Liberty and justice for all!
Jack Random is the author of Ghost Dance Insurrection (Dry Bones Press) the Jazzman Chronicles, Volumes I and II (City Lights Books). The Chronicles have been published by CounterPunch, the Albion Monitor, Buzzle, Dissident Voice and others. Visit his website: Random Jack.
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