Tom Burke (*) from Chicago answers the questions of Solidaire 14-04-2006
What are the exact reasons of the immigrants’ movement in the USA?
Tom Burke: Millions of Mexican immigrants, joined by many other nationalities, are marching through the streets of every major U.S. city to protest the Sensenbrenner bill. This bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives makes being an “illegal” immigrant a felony crime with a prison term. Anyone aiding an “illegal” immigrant also faces jail time. A spontaneous movement of millions of workers in direct opposition to criminalization is shaking the whole U.S., even the White House. For decades, Mexican workers have faced racist abuse and super low wages.
What is the degree of mobilizations in different parts of the USA?
Tom Burke: Anywhere there is Mexican or Latino immigrants there are large marches. It started on March 10th, 2006, when 300,000 or more filled the Chicago Loop, stopping buses, subways, and even trains. Factories and restaurants shut down, students walked out of schools, babies in strollers and grandmas in wheelchairs clogged the streets. In Los Angeles over 500,000 filled the streets two weeks later and 30,000 marched in Milwaukee, Wisconsin the home state of Republican Congressman Sensenbrenner.
What are the political, trade-unionist, social forces behind it?
Tom Burke: The political activists and trade unions are running to keep up with the movement of the people. For example, in Chicago, a Mexican immigrant school custodian and trade unionist, Artemio Arreola was one of the leaders of a small coalition that was surprised by the hundreds of thousands who thundered through the streets. He and others like him are organizing people from their villages, cities, and states in Mexico for over a decade now. The huge numbers of protesters is spontaneous, but working class and professional organizers provided the leadership and put out the message to oppose criminalization. Latino radio announcers broadcast the message far and wide. May Day will see a unified national day of action for immigrants rights across the U.S. and more unions are planning to take part in this. The grassroots activists are aware that their leadership will be challenged every step of the way by the forces tied to the rich and powerful, especially from the Democratic Party.
What are the demands of the movement?
Tom Burke: The demands are: to stop the criminalization of immigrants; to create an amnesty that leads to legalization of immigrants without papers; for equal rights for immigrants; for equality and justice for all.
What is the role of communists in the movement?
Tom Burke: The role of communists in the immigrants’ rights movement is small, but important. Many of the leaders were revolutionaries in their youth and some are influenced by Marxism today. There is a pressing need for unity in action, while maintaining principled political positions that advance the cause of the working class. Victories for immigrant workers are victories for Black and white workers. Bosses keep wages low, not immigrant workers. Capitalism is the problem. The profit system is the enemy.
What are the contradictions in the bourgeoisie, in the trade-union organizations?
Tom Burke: There are sections of the capitalist class that oppose immigration and want to deport everyone. There are other capitalists that pay low wages and few or no benefits to immigrants. Lower wages means higher profits. The Republican Party is now split on the issue and a tremendous backtracking is happening. The Democratic Party has done little because it is easier to look the other way while immigrant workers are abused.
Tom Burke is Organizational Secretary, Freedom Road Socialist Organization.