Workers Must Unite against Classism

A reader reacted to my recent article, “The Left,” which calls for the dissolution of borders (and hence the state) and “the rights of people everywhere to move about freely, peacefully, respectfully, and contribute to communities wherever they might find themselves in the world.” The reader demurred:

Opening the borders for unrestricted immigration and the free movement of labor will harm the working class tremendously with the current and continuous scarcity of jobs. The working class has the full right to resent unrestricted immigration.

In the essay, I wrote:

It is easily understood that the presence of many immigrants expands the pool of available labor. This could mean greater unemployment and a downward pressure on wages caused by the competition for jobs. Are immigrants a rightful target for blame?

At present, capital is more-or-less borderless. This capitalists can set up shop with their cash wherever their cash is welcome. Workers are at a disadvantage vis-à-vis capital in this regard. In the eventuality of opening the borders for unrestricted immigration, initially, the free movement of labor might harm the domestic working class. But in the longer run, a global worker solidarity might emerge that could turn the tables on capitalists. However, the focus should not be on a parochial call for workers to relinquish their own rights.

Freedom of movement should be a fundamental right. Granted, the working class has the full right to resent anything that undermines employment or fair remuneration for labor, but the focus of workers should not be against immigration. That would be selfish and hypocritical, especially in the western hemisphere because anyone who is non-Indigenous is of immigrant origin. It would also be self-defeating. Why advocate a restriction on one’s own freedoms, a restriction capitalists do not have? The focus should not be worker against worker; the goal should be worker for worker. The focus should be against a capitalist system that crushes workers and for a system that empowers and frees workers, that ensures dignified working conditions, and that allocates wealth equitably and justly.

I wrote, “labor must have freedom of movement; otherwise borderless capital will more easily dominate the working class.” The venerable Adam Smith realized the necessity for the free movement of labor. In The Wealth of Nations, he wrote:

… the policy of Europe, by not leaving things at perfect liberty, occasions other inequalities of much greater importance. It does this chiefly in the three following ways. First, by restraining the competition in some employments to a smaller number than would otherwise be disposed to enter into them; secondly, by increasing it in others beyond what it naturally would be; and, thirdly, by obstructing the free circulation of labour and stock, both from employment to employment and from place to place. First, the policy of Europe occasions a very important inequality in the whole of the advantages and disadvantages of the different employments of labour and stock, by restraining the competition in some employments to a smaller number than might otherwise be disposed to enter into them. The exclusive privileges of corporations are the principal means it makes use of for this purpose…. Thirdly, the policy of Europe, by obstructing the free circulation of labour and stock both from employment to employment, and from place to place, occasions in some cases a very inconvenient inequality in the whole of the advantages and disadvantages of their different employments. The Statute of Apprenticeship obstructs the free circulation of labour from one employment to another, even in the same place. The exclusive privileges of corporations obstruct it from one place to another, even in the same employment. It frequently happens that while high wages are given to the workmen in one manufacture, those in another are obliged to content themselves with bare subsistence. (Italics added)

Capitalism is the problem — not immigration

The reader argues,

What good it is that the so called diversity and cultural enrichment if everyone is trying to survive and raise a family on LESS THAN current Walmart wages??!! It will be race to the bottom if you allow tens of millions of immigrants to come and compete with the US working class for the few jobs available!!!

A surfeit of labor obviously has a hand in driving wages down. However, blaming a secondary driver like immigration is overlooking the primary driver: capitalism. Why are unions in the United States being targeted? Why is Walmart so brazen in its anti-unionism? If union workers make a premium over non-union workers, then where does the premium go to in the case of non-union workplaces? Are Walmart wages mainly low because of immigrant workers?

If workers are free to work where they want, then, at least, everyone has a chance to work wherever. Why should unrestrained American firms be allowed to exploit working conditions at home and abroad?

If jobs continue to evaporate in the US, what would be the situation of American workers be then? If the reader is steadfast in conviction, then US workers should not be permitted to emigrate to lands where jobs are more readily available.

What to do?

I advocate for human rights rather than against. I urge for adherence to universal instruments already in place that set human rights standards as adopted by most nations. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) states in its preamble:

… human beings shall enjoy … freedom from fear and want …

Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law…

I agree with noted anarchist Noam Chomsky who calls corporations “a form of private tyranny.” Consequently, as per the UDHR, humans have a right to rebel against capitalism that entrenches private tyrannies.

Article 23 of the UDHR codifies the rights of workers and holds that:

(1) Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.
(2) Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.
(3) Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.
(4) Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests. (Italics added)

Moreover, Article 25 affirms that:

(1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

There is no need to scapegoat immigrants for joblessness or low wages. All that is required is for people to insist that their governments uphold the human rights conventions to which they are a signatory.

Nonetheless, it is wrongheaded for workers to target other workers as their enemy. The enemy is the capitalist class which hoard wealth unto itself and to this end attempt to deflect attention from their class war by fomenting a worker war.

Solidarity is an absolute. Workers must unite against private tyrannies and the system that upholds private tyrannies to the detriment of workers everywhere.

Kim Petersen is an independent writer and former co-editor of the Dissident Voice newsletter. He can be emailed at: kimohp at Twitter: @kimpetersen. Read other articles by Kim.