A Labor and Immigration Policy that Empowers all Workers

Part IX: A Manifesto for the United States of America

Read Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI, Part VII, and Part VIII.

Workers are the bedrock of every nation on earth. Even autocratic and fascist societies and those that repress workers depend upon them nevertheless. The nature of work may change with technology, and the dichotomy between worker and management may blur, especially in societies where the workers hold greater power, but the fundamental fact is that workers are the ones that make every society function.

In fact, societies where workers have powerful unions and are an important political force tend to be the ones rated as the most desirable places to live. These are societies where the benefit of labor and natural resources is shared equitably by all. Marxist-Leninist systems like China and Cuba are ostensibly worker-run, but worker power is arguably greater in the Nordic countries, which have socialist parties and practices but no official socialist system.

It does not matter whether we call a system socialist or not. What matters is that power is not concentrated among a minority of the population, and is instead distributed widely. That is the basis of this Manifesto, which is concerned with practical means of achieving a society that is run by the people and for the people. Labor unions and other workers organizations and political parties have shown that they have a very important role to play in the transition from a society controlled by the few to one controlled by the many.

But in order to do this, workers must be empowered in ways that are lacking at present in the U.S. Labor unions have in fact been losing ground for decades, and many undocumented workers are still not included, despite the efforts of Cesar Chavez and others. In addition, many workers are in newer, non-unionized forms of work. Exploitation of workers is currently becoming more widespread rather than less so, and this is due to both a reduction in union membership and a weakening of the power of unions. Obviously, marginalized members of society, including many Blacks, Native Americans, Hispanics and women are among the most heavily exploited.

Some of the previous installments of this Manifesto included provisions that may help. When, for example, all persons have a Universal Basic Income, there is less pressure on workers to find work just to pay the bills. In addition, Medicare for All eliminates the need to become part of an employer-bssed medical plan. Nevertheless, workers need well-known additional safeguards and resources, including the following:

1. A minimum wage must be established, with cost-of-living increases, that equates to a monthly full-time income that is at or above the poverty level, not including overtime. As I stated in the initial installment of the Manifesto, this may become superfluous with a Universal Basic Income, since a UBI will obviate wage exploitation and require employers to offer a wage that raises their income significantly above the minimum. Nevertheless, such a minimum assures that workers are not exploited, and must be applied to visiting foreign workers, as well, so that they are not at a disadvantage and that they are on a level playing field with U.S. citizen workers.
2. Unions must be permitted and encouraged to organize groups of workers not currently organized, including many considered “independent contractors” that are competing with other unionized workers. Also included are some that perform work on their computer or telephone at a location of their choosing, but who are part of a larger class of workers who perform the same or similar function.
3. OSHA must be given greater resources to inspect and levy meaningful and effective fines and penalties against violators, and its inspectors must be vetted by both industry and labor oversight bodies.
4. We must ban or place import tariffs on products produced with heavy pollution or unsafe workplace practices or worker exploitation so that U.S. workers are not subject to unfair competition and that unfair practices are not simply exported. Similarly, we must legislate and enable oversight by an independent agency or a labor union to verify that foreign workers’ rights are protected and therefore eligible for importation to the US, or reduced tariffs. In addition, U.S. investment must be limited to countries that mandate and protect labor’s right to organize, create unions and negotiate with management, and U.S. corporations that operate in other countries must to adhere to the core labor standards established by the International Labor Organization (ILO) Declaration of the Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work.

The laws governing immigration have been too long used to exploit workers who wish to come from other countries to work in the US. The dirty secret is that making it illegal for them to enter is used to exploit and take advantage of them. Many would prefer not to live in the US long term, but fear that if they go to their home countries they might not easily return to the U.S. As with Blacks, Native Americans and other groups, they are often the ones doing work that the rest of the population is unwilling to do. We should welcome these workers and treat them properly.

1. Immigration policy must be reformed so as to allow entry of non-U.S. citizens for temporary and multiple-entry work visas for those who do not wish to immigrate, as well as a path to citizenship for those who do. The work conditions, wages and protections for all must be the same as for U.S. citizens. These protections should be made available not only to newcomers but as another option for those who are undocumented but currently in the US. Let’s eliminate the need for “coyotes”.
2. We must stop forcing undocumented young people who have spent most of their lives in the US (“DREAMERS”) to be deported to countries they don’t know and possibly where they don’t even speak the language. Give them citizenship.
3. Stop forced separation of families. Let them stay in the US as residents or citizens.
4. Stop incarcerating undocumented persons under cruel and inhuman conditions, waiting for deportation, and above all do not separate families at such facilities, which must be comfortable and humane if needed at all.

If you have read the other installments of this manifesto, it has probably occurred to you that all of the proposals interact and reinforce each other, and that some provisions become less needed as others are implemented. I have mentioned previously that the last of the proposals will deal with policing, and by the time we get to it, a lot of the techniques of policing that currently seem essential, such as the use of pain holds and weapons, may seem almost superfluous in an equitable society. Hopefully this is also a society where class divisions and racism can be more easily and successfully addressed and dissolved.

Paul Larudee is a retired academic and current administrator of a nonprofit human rights and humanitarian aid organization. Read other articles by Paul.