A Call to Action
An Analysis of our Struggles
And alternatives to Carter’s
By Estevan T. Flores
the Research Task Force
Of the I.C.I.P.P
October 28-30, 1977
AN IMMEDIATE PROBLEM
The massive attack on immigrant labor, especially undocumented workers, which
has gone on over the last two years and which is about to be formalized in
Carter's new Immigration Policy is one of the most pressing political issues
in the Chicano community today. We must be clear about the origins of this
policy and how we are going to deal with it. We, the authors of this pamphlet,
see this attack as a response by business and government to the growing strength
of the Chicano movement and believe that our strategic reply must be based on
an understanding of what this means.
OUR GAINS . . .
The growing strength of the Chicano movement must be measured by concrete
gains we have achieved through struggle during the last ten years against
We gained increased wages for farm workers
We gained all of these things because we overcame divisions in our community,
especially the division between local and immigrant labor. It has been the
growing strength of our weakest sector – undocumented workers which has
undermined the usefulness of immigration to business. The increasing access
of undocumented workers to social services and legal aid together with new
links to local worker organizations (e.g., UFW, TFW) has also strengthened
them and hence all of us.
– despite mechanization, runaway agribusiness and the Teamsters.
We gained increased money for welfare, health clinics, legal aid and recreation.
– despite the attempt to use "poverty programs" to control our barrios and "buy
We gained scholarship money for our own purposes and struggles
– despite attempts to assimilate and control us.
have created THEIR PROBLEM
The repeated failure to contain us by poverty programs, technological change,
runaway shops, and the manipulation of immigrant labor has undercut the
business ability to make us work for low income and thus their ability to make
profits. When Secretary of Labor Ray Marshall voices fears of a "new [Chicano]
civil rights struggle of the 1980s" we can see that we are their problem.
Our strength is their crisis.
THEIR SOLUTION . . .
Faced with our growing strength – especially the declining usefulness of
immigrant labor to weaken us, business and government have tried to undermine
our unity through inflation (esp. food and energy prices), the imposition of
austerity (fiscal belt-tightening and reduced social services), and
above all a massive attempt to terrorize us through political repression under
the rubric of a campaign against "illegal aliens" . . .
THE CARTER PLAN
Because the basic source of growing Chicano/Mexicano power has been the
increasing unity of a borderless people, the fundamental thrust of Carter's Plan
has been to try to destroy that unity by splitting the community.
First, the whole campaign attacks only one part of the community,
promising the others that if they don't intervene they will remain untouched.
The plan hopes to isolate undocumented workers from community support.
Second, limited Amnesty aims to further weaken undocumented workers
by splitting them in three parts: those granted total amnesty, those
only given temporary resident permits and those to be deported at once.
Third, the expansion of the INS Border Patrol and the intensification
of its raids and roundups are designed to terrorize the whole community,
undermining any remaining tendency to support the undocumented workers.
Fourth, the proposal for worker identification cards, rationalized as
necessary to prosecute employers hiring undocumented workers, are more likely
to serve as a racist method to harrass and monitor Chicano workers
along the lines of the internal passports of the Soviet Union or the "pass
system" of South Africa.
creates A PROBLEM FOR US
Each aspect of their solution creates a new problem for us. We must find ways
to defeat these new uses of inflation, austerity and repression against
immigrant labor. We must prevent our isolation from Anglo workers; we must
defeat attempts to split our own people. We must deal with terrorist methods
of harassment. We must stop the plan for identification cards. In short we
must strengthen our unity to defeat this divide-and-conquer strategy.
To solve the problem of the new attacks on undocumented workers in the U.S. we
must decide how to strengthen those strategies and programs on which our
gains have been based. Besides organizing peaceful pressure campaigns for
human rights, unconditional amnesty, and other legal changes to benefit
undocumented workers, we need to consider the possibilities of:
–expanding the efforts to unite local and undocumented workers through
pressure on labor organizations like the United Farm workers, the
Texas Farm workers, ILGWU, and the AFL-CIO.
–expanding and coordinating the informal network of family and social
contacts which help and protect undocumented workers as they move back and
forth across the border.
–militant action to demand an expansion of social expenditures (e.g.
public health, scholarships) and income for undocumented workers
(especially for women workers who do double work as housewives) on the model
of the early welfare rights struggles.
–strengthening the organizational linkages between groups of workers on
both sides of the border. For example, by organizing support for workers
in Mexico through attacks on U.S. subsidiaries of the firms against which they
are struggling (eg. Del Monte).
–expanding the programs of legal aid counseling to undocumented
workers and militantly challenging the legitimacy of laws and of a legal
system set up to attack workers.
At the same time, and on the basis of these efforts, we must decide how to
directly attack Carter's new programs. We must consider the
–organizing the physical resistance to immigration raids in factories,
fields and community.
In general our only solution to this multisided problem is to find ways to
counteract each aspect and organizationally coordinate all these different
struggles so that they reinforce and support each other.
–organizing the disruption of INS operations, especially deportations, the way
we once disrupted the functioning of the draft and the war effort.
–organizing the collective public melting of the proposed worker
identification cards if and when they are deployed.
Civil Rights fight of 1980s?
LOS ANGELES – In his Los Angeles Times interview, Secretary of Labor Marshall
offered once candid reason why the Carter Administration wants to draw an iron
curtain across the Mexican border.
“I believe we are now building a new civil rights struggle of the 1980s by
having an underclass of people come into this country,” he said, “unable to
protect themselves, easily exploited, dissatisfied with their status and yet
fearful of being deported.
“Their children will be even more dissatisfied and likely to revolt against
such conditions, in the end they will demand their civil rights in the fashion
of the civil rights struggles which began in the 1960s.
Marshall compared the situation with “that of the blacks who moved out of the
South into the urban North. At first, the people who went out of the South
tended to be relatively satisfied with the jobs which were not very good by
local standards but which seemed to be good compared to those available in the
“But – their children do not make that kind of comparison, and they joined in
the revolt against their conditions. The children of the illegal aliens will
be doing the same thing in time.
A FURTHER ELABORATION
To clarify the forgoing discussion we would like to amplify on a number of
crucial points of analysis.
We begin from the reality of Aztlan — which we understand as a
borderless community of workers with a common language and cultural
background whose unity has been established by intertwined struggles despite
its division by an artificial national border which separates Chicanos to the
North from Mexicanos to the South. Aztlan thus constitutes a sector of the
North American working class which consists of both waged workers and
peasants whose struggles are linked and opposed to the capitalist class on
both sides of the border.
THE AUTONOMY OF WORKERS STRUGGLES
It is true that from the point of view of the capitalist system the division
of La Raza by a border has facilitated the hierarchical division of
our community with higher (usually waged) income paid in the North and lower
(usually unwaged) income paid in the South. Furthermore it is generally
recognized that this division has been used against us by the employment
of workers from the South as union and strike breakers against workers in
Yet at the same time we see this labor mobility as not always being one-sidedly
in the interests of business. We must see how Mexican immigration northward
is an autonomous working class demand for higher income and less backbreaking
work in the fields. The difficulties government has had in controlling this
flow in periods of crisis has demonstrated the degree to which migration has
represented the autonomous demands of Mexicano workers.
We must also see that it is exactly this immigration (part rotational, part
permanent) which has made the borderless community a reality over several
generations by creating complex networks of family, social and political
linkages. It is these social networks that have made it possible for
Mexicano workers to continue to move during the deportations of the 1930s, the
round-ups of Operation Wetback in the 1950s, and during the anti-documented
worker campaigns of the last three years.
OUR STRUGGLES CAUSE THEIR CRISIS
This increasing ability to escape formal governmental and informal (e.g. labor
contractor smuggling) controls constitutes one element of the "immigration
crisis" for capitalism. Unplanable immigration is an immediate threat.
Furthermore, if the mobility of workers has been one cause of Carter's
attempt to reestablish control, another equally important aspect of the struggles
of undocumented workers has been their increasingly successful efforts to
breakout of their isolation. This we can see in the growing links with other,
more organized workers, such as the United Farm Workers, one of the
strongest Chicano organizations. On August 27th 1977, the UFW unanimously
rejected Carter's plan and stepped up its organization of undocumented workers.
The Texas Farmworkers Union has also been organizing undocumented workers in
Texas since 1975. There have been reports of similar efforts in several northern
cities. Such growing Chicano-Mexicano unity spells crisis for a system based on
pitting the Chicano worker against Mexicano.
We must also point out that the undocumented workers have been making gains in
other ways as well. They have been making increasingly successful demands
for a variety of social services legal assistance and income supports. As
they have been able to secure welfare, unemployment benefits, health services,
etc. they have undermined their character of low cost labor and have, like
Chicanos and others in the late 1960s, begun to demand incomes which are
increasingly independent of labor.
Although these gains of undocumented workers have been smaller and come later
in the development of Chicano and Mexican struggles, we see them as particularly
important because increasing the power of the weakest part of the class
means decreasing the ability of capitalists to use these workers as a weapon
against stronger workers. This is also true for the struggles of Mexicanos south
of the border. The recent rapid growth of wage gains by agricultural workers in
Mexico and their land seizures in the Northwest undercut the North/South
hierarchy — strengthening both undocumented workers and Chicanos.
THE DANGER OF ISOLATION
If the growth in the power of workers in Aztlan has been based
primarily on the way we have been able to overcome many of the divisions used
against us, the limits to that power still lies in divisions which have
not been overcome, both within the community and between the community
and the non-Aztlan working class. The serious dangers of isolation
are amply demonstrated by the chronic malnutrition and starvation of peasants
in rural areas of Mexico who are unable to link up with workers in
other areas to fight for a better life.
In the Chicano community we have seen many efforts to islote and destroy
particular groups — as with the Teamster attack on the UFW. That attack
was only defeated because the UFW had been able to establish ties with some 17
million other workers — mainly housewives — who supported them
through the boycott.
The current attack on undocumented workers is another attempt to
isolate and destroy a sector of a borderless community. It too will only be
defeated if we prevent that isolation and strenghthen our unity — first
within our own community on both sides of the border and then with other parts
of the North American working class.
THE INTERNATIONAL CHARACTER OF THE CRISIS
It is important for us to see that the growth of our power, as well as the
current attacks against us, is part of a wider pattern. Our struggles
formed part of an international cycle of struggles. That our efforts
have been linked with those of workers in Mexico through the immigration of
workers is obvious. We also must remember that the recent Chicano movement
struggles of the 1960s occurred during the Vietnam War, when Blacks,
students and women rose up at home and abroad demanding justice in Southeast
Asia and in their own communities. The struggles of undocumented workers in
the U.S. was paralleled by those of immigrant workers, in Northern Europe
where they had moved in the hundreds of thousands demanding increased income
and a better life.
With this background it is not surprising that the new attacks on undocumented
workers in the U.S. are being duplicated right now in Europe. Turks are
being expelled from Germany, Algerians from France, etc. all in attempts to
overcome linkages which they had established with local workers.
If we are successful in building that new round of Chicano struggles
which the Secretary of Labor fears and Carter's plan is designed to prevent,
if we succeed in defeating these attempts to undermine our unity and
income, then we will have preserved our power and helped to plunge the
capitalist system even deeper into crisis. If workers in other parts of the
world, e.g. immigrant workers in Europe, also succeed, (and to a degree our
success depends on theirs) then we will draw closer to a decisive rupture
which must come with a generalized confrontation between workers and the State.
Their problem is that we may find the organizational forms necessary to
win that confrontation and destroy them.
For more information on this paper's content contact Estevan T. Flores, Dept. of
Sociology, University of Texas, Austin, Texas, 78722.
[Editor’s Note: outdated address]