Union Solidarity with Immigrant Workers

By LAURIE STALNAKER

The AFL-CIO is training union leaders and officials how to help protect undocumented immigrants. This is needed because the workers our unions represent are threatened daily by the possibility of raids and deportations under President Trump’s agenda.

Union leaders and members will be trained to learn their rights and organize coalitions with elected officials and community leaders.

That may come as a surprise to some people. People saw unions as being hostile to undocumented immigrants. These immigrants would, in past times, be seen as a way to drive wages down and be used by employers as strike-breakers.

Does the recent organized labor support of immigrants contradict history? It depends upon which history you are talking about.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, early labor movements consisted of skilled trade unions. These crafts were the original basis of organized labor, but they were not what unions became as early as the post-World War I era.

Organizing campaigns at auto factories showed an expansion of factory workers being represented and being paid sustainable wages and fringe benefits such as health care, paid vacations and paid time off for sick leave.

The Ku Klux Klan and nativist groups were the leaders in anti-immigrant campaigns of the 1920s, which sought to exclude immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe, as well as Asia. Proponents of junk science sought to stereotype African-Americans, Mexicans, Jews, Italians and Greeks. This coincided with the rise of Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini and other political movements based on bigoted ideas.

Organized labor was often in the forefront of progressive ideals. Union activists were clearly present during the 1963 March on Washington where Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream,” speech.

Today’s effort against forcible removals of working people who are seeking to feed their families and a better life, as our immigrant ancestors did, are part of the AFL-CIO’s efforts supporting decent working conditions for all Americans.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said in February that union efforts to support workers follow labor’s continued traditions.

“Working people deserve to go to work every day without fear for their safety or being harassed,” Trumka said. “They deserve to go out the door and make a living without worrying about their lives being upended. These are sacred tenets people and their union value.”

Some union members fear possible actions by government to take away their guns used for hunting and self-protection. Others may vote on issues relating to abortion or birth control. Some may believe that immigrants threaten their jobs.

If I could speak to each member individually, I would mention one word which represents an important principle. That word is “solidarity.”

Solidarity means organizing for our common prosperity. Solidarity means earning deserved respect for our skills. Solidarity means supporting efforts developing good jobs for wages which sustain our families.

Laurie Stalnaker is the executive secretary-treasurer of the Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO, San Bernardino and Riverside counties.  A longer version of the article appeared in the Press-Enterprise on May 20.

The DC 37 Blog is an online publication of DC 37, AFSCME, which represents 125,000 municipal workers in New York City.

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