Friday, April 07, 2006

Closing Our Borders in the Name of Labor

It was okay when Reagan fired the air traffic controllers and replaced them with cheaper workers, because after all those public-employee unions had gotten too big for their britches.

It was okay when corporations hired union-busting consultants, bent the NLRB rules to block union certifications, and moved their operations from states where unions are strong to states where they are weak, because after all those companies had to reduce their costs somehow.

It was okay when companies shipped jobs by the hundreds of thousands overseas, starting with manufacturing jobs and gradually expanding to include more and more service jobs and even white-collar professional jobs, because after all the world is globalizing and US firms have to be competitive.

It was okay when Congress refused to raise the minimum wage or mandate health coverage or protect worker pensions, because after all the money to pay for those multi-million-dollar executive packages has to come from somewhere.

And it was okay when Bush pushed through tax cuts that massively benefited unearned wealth while giving pennies to salaried middle-class workers, because after all the Republicans won the election and owed some big favors to their base.

But we have to draw the line somewhere. And if brown-skinned people are sneaking across the border to take jobs as maids and gardeners and dishwashers--why, that's an outrage! American workers, unite!

* * *

The immigration issue is a real one. The wage-depressing effect of 12 million relatively powerless, easy-to-exploit undocumented workers is a serious concern, and some reasonable compromise that includes both serious border controls and a program to integrate the undocumented immigrants as citizens is probably the right solution. But the disproportionate emotion being mobilized around the problem (see Lou Dobbs, the Minutemen, Republicans in the House) suggests the degree to which good old-fashioned racism and xenophobia, rather than economic concerns, are driving the controversy.

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