Wednesday, December 26, 2007

LABOR and immigration

Labor and Immigration: Looking Beyond the Elections

Right-wing politicians are trying to fan the flames of passion over immigration during the current election campaign. So far they have met with mixed success, but as the election nears and the Right becomes more desperate, we can expect their efforts to intensify and the flames to grow higher. How should labor respond?

The importance of immigration as a campaign issue varies from region to region and from constituency to constituency. Nationally, just 15% of those surveyed in December in a Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll list immigration as a “top priority” in the coming election, and only 27% list it as “one of the most pressing problems facing the country”, but 81% think it is an “important” issue. The two parties are running true to form. Republican candidates, trolling for votes among the nativist wing of the party, are vying to see who can promise the longest and the highest wall along the Mexican border and the most vicious law enforcement in the rest of the country. Democrats, unsure of where key parts of their base stand and unwilling to stick their necks out, are scrambling for cover with rhetoric about the need for “comprehensive” immigration reform. This duck and cover approach is reflected in replies to a question about immigration and the election posed by the New Republic in November to five prominent Democratic “strategists and consultants” likely to play a key role in the upcoming election.

The press conveniently divides the debate between those candidates who believe in “enforcement only” approaches and those who believe in “enforcement and a road to citizenship”. It is assumed that everyone believes in “border security”. Other approaches are pushed from mainstream media.

Gone are the hopeful days of two years ago when millions were in the streets demanding immigration reform and amnesty for the undocumented. Instead a Pew Research poll released last week shows that, “just over half of all Hispanic adults in the US worry that they, a family member or a close friend could be deported…..” And, “nearly two-thirds say the failure of Congress to enact an immigration reform bill has made life more difficult for all Latinos.”

The immigration issue plays itself out at all levels of government. A second Pew Research report identifies forty-six states where 194 immigrant related bills were enacted in 2007—triple the number from 2006. New laws “…. (r)estricting the rights or benefits of illegal immigrants outnumbered law benefitting them by a 2 to 1 ratio, although roughly half did not deal specifically with illegal immigration.” The most restrictive laws have been passed in states in the South and West that have not traditionally had large immigrant populations but which have seen a big spike in new immigrants during the last decade. Arizona, for instance, has passed a law that will suspend the business licenses of any firm convicted of knowingly hiring undocumented workers after a first offense and permanently revoke the license after a second offense. “January First!”—the date the law comes into effect—has become a rallying crying for the anti-immigrant groups like the Minutemen vigilantes.

Things are better in those states and regions that have long been magnets for immigrants like California, Illinois, and the Northeast. Although the strength of anti-immigrant sentiment was evident even in New York , with its rich immigrant tradition, where Governor Elliot Spitzer was forced to abandon his plans to allow undocumented residents to obtain drivers license.

For labor, immigration is a critical issue. Many unions have staked their future on organizing workers in industries with large numbers of immigrants. While the US labor movement can be rightly proud of its stand in favor of immigrant rights, it has yet to generate a genuine worker friendly approach to immigration reform. Instead, the immigration debate has been framed by others and the legislative alternatives proposed have not been worker friendly.

Now labor risks a situation in which part of its membership is demanding the deportation of another part of its membership. In the absence of proposals that address the real needs of both immigrants and non-immigrants, union members, like other Americans, are confused. Anyone who has attended union or community meetings in which immigration issues have been raised has heard the refrains: “I’m not against legal immigration; it’s the illegal immigrants that I object to. Why should people be able to break the law? We should not reward law breaking. We need to stop illegal immigration now. ” And, “It’s the big corporations that benefit from illegal workers, they use illegal immigrants to drive down wages, it’s good for corporate profits.” Indeed, union organizers tell us that in some parts of the country these attitudes—and worse—are becoming more common. Often organizers avoid talking about immigration with native workers at all costs.

Another poll released last week by New American Media, an association of ethnic media organizations, shows that it’s not just white people that worry about immigrants. Fifty-one per cent of African Americans think that Hispanic immigrants are taking jobs and political power from African Americans.

The LA Times/Bloomberg poll reflects the confusion people feel about immigration. One-third of those polled favor barring undocumented immigrants from access to any public services from emergency rooms to public schools. But over 60% favored a route to citizenship to undocumented workers already in the country. This confused ambivalence is reflected in a follow-up interview with a respondent in Rhode Island who said, “I don’t know what the answer [to immigration reform] is, but I don’t think the candidates know what the answer is either”.

We agree. We have argued that genuine comprehensive immigration reform will not emerge out of the legislative process. Politicians are not up to the task. Reforms must be crafted on the outside by labor and civil society organizations in both the US and the sending countries and then promoted by aggressive campaigns. Why is labor movement central to this process? First, because trade unions are the socially recognized institutions to represent the economic interests of workers and immigration is at heart an economic issue. Immigrants come to the US to work. They affect labor markets and impact the economy as a whole. Yes, there are important cultural and social overtones, but in the United States these become less prominent when work is plentiful. Second, because the labor movement has millions of members from all walks of life and with all types of immigration status, giving it a unique role to play in the debate. In addition many union members maintain ties to their country of origin—an important asset in creating a genuinely comprehensive solution.

The coming elections are likely to further degrade the debate on immigration; rational voices will need to speak up to stem the tide against misinformation and reaction. But labor and civil society organizations should not simply be on the defensive: they should also begin to fashion new reform policies and the campaigns needed to get those policies enacted when the elections are over and immigration once more return as a legislative issue. As the US economy slips into recession, and jobs become even scarcer, the immigration debate could get even uglier. The time to act is now.

A debate can be reconstituted around 5 principles:

Protect the most vulnerable. Immigration reform advocates must demand an end to workplace raids and amnesty for those already in the country. Rational debate cannot take place with authorities ready to storm the plant gates. The widespread notion that undocumented immigrants are law breakers in an otherwise law abiding society and that they should be subjected to immigration raids and not be rewarded with permanent residence is dishonest at best. The US immigration system has been, for a very long time, fundamentally based on active and passive law breaking by businesses looking for cheap labor; governments at all levels that have looked the other way in their own procurement policies and often tolerated labor rights abuses against undocumented workers; ordinary middle and working class people who hire undocumented service providers to clean, paint, provide child care, or cut their grass; and, consumers who demand cheap prices and good service from restaurants and retailers. To single out the most vulnerable links in this chain of illegality—undocumented immigrants and their families—is inherently unfair. By pursuing harsh policies the government pushes undocumented workers further underground where they can be even more exploited to the detriment of all workers.

Broaden the movement. The immigrant rights movement has done a fine job of organizing within the immigrant community, but that is not where the immediate problem lies. The immigrant community lacks the social power to force change on its own. It needs help. Support for genuine reform must be built in the non-immigrant community. Attention must be paid to the concerns of non-immigrant workers worried about declining wages and job loss. Labor has the capacity to reach out to the broader public with a public education program and a reform plan that addresses the concerns of all workers.

Develop non punitive regulations. Regulating the flow of immigrants is a legitimate task of government. But regulation must rely on non-punitive measures. It’s time to stop pandering to the enforcement only crowd beginning with the myth that US borders can be sealed. Effectively sealing the border would require a massive attack on civil liberties and unacceptable economic, political, and environmental costs in the US and abroad. The border between the US and Mexico is the most militarized border between two friendly countries in the world. That has not slowed the flow of immigrants. It has made the crossing more dangerous and more expensive by pushing people into remote desert areas. The cost in human terms has been high: according to official statistics—which probably understate the death count—more than 10 times as many people have died trying to cross the US-Mexican border in the past 10 years, than in the nearly 3 decades history of the Berlin Wall. Instead of being shot, immigrants have died in the deserts of the Southwest of exposure and thirst.

Create a hemispheric discussion. People leave their countries of origin in search of work. For instance, policies supported by the US—like NAFTA—have displaced millions of Mexican peasants and workers unable to compete against productive US agriculture and industrial production. The giant sucking sound that NAFTA created was not jobs going south but workers coming north. Any comprehensive reform will have to involve both the US and the sending countries. Jobs and social programs need to be created in the sending countries so that people do not have to leave their communities. There are some fresh winds of political change in Latin America and its time to work for hemispheric policies to keep people home. And a change of governments in Washington could make a new dialogue possible.

Look for mutually beneficial compromises. A comprehensive reform program to regulate the flow of immigrants will require a compromises between established and immigrant workers and employers and between politicians in the US and the sending countries. But unions and civil society organization can frame the terms of these compromises if they take action now and seek out the common interests of the constituencies involved. The alternative to taking action now will be a repeat of what happened during the immigration debate in 2007: all of the alternatives presented to the Congress will be bad.


Posted on December 20, 2007 in Global Unionism, International Labor Standards, Migration, New Global Strategies, The Global Economy | Per

Sunday, December 23, 2007

United Nations + Bolivia

U.N. declaration becomes law of the land in Bolivia
© Indian Country Today December 10, 2007. All Rights Reserved

AP Photo /Juan Karita -- Bolivia's President Evo Morales, right, greeted an indigenous leader. Surrounded by cheering Native leaders and other representatives, Morales announced the passage of National Law 3760, legislation that is an exact copy of the United Nation's recently passed Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Nov. 7 in the Government Palace.
LA PAZ, Bolivia - On Nov. 7, in the Government Palace of Bolivia and surrounded by cheering Native leaders and other representatives, President Evo Morales announced the passage of National Law 3760 or the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, legislation that is an exact copy of the United Nation's recently passed Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The original declaration contains 46 articles and allows Native peoples the right to preserve their respective political, social, economic, juridical and cultural institutions. It also assures their rights to full participation in the political, cultural, economic and social spheres of their countries, and recognizes their rights to self-determination.

Bolivia is the first country in the world to adopt the declaration as national law.

Morales noted, in his speech at the event, that only 40 years ago Quechua, Aymara and other Native people from the eastern part of the country were not allowed to enter the Government Palace, nor were they allowed to walk on the sidewalks in certain important cities.

''We have advanced, we are in the palace, and now we are in the important cities although still in some cities they do not allow us to visit the business fairs,'' Morales asserted, adding that some groups still ''treat us like animals.''

''That is the past for indigenous people in Bolivia and also for Latin America,'' he said. ''I feel we have progressed. I feel that this exploited, humiliated and offended indigenous movement has organized to move forward, and we are not only working for the indigenous movement, but for all Bolivian men and Bolivian women.''

Hundreds of Native Bolivians, including representatives of all 36 different indigenous ethnicities and Afro-Bolivian leaders, were on hand to celebrate the announcement and provide vocal support to Morales. Along with the Bolivians were other Native dignitaries such as Gloria Batzin, a Mayan Guatemalan who offered a ''cordial and fraternal greeting'' to the president on behalf of indigenous peoples from 16 Latin American countries including Aymara, Quechua, Nahuatl, Mapuche, Kuna Yala, Miskito, Arahuaco, Garifuna, Yanacona, Maya Sakapulteka (Batzin's ethnicity) and Maya Kakchikel, among others.

''I want to ask all of you to unite our forces to promote and circulate these laws so that other countries may know the legal basis that is fundamental to our existence, and that we may know the rights that help us as indigenous peoples,'' Batzin stated.

Morales also addressed the themes of rights and responsibilities.

''From the passage of this declaration,'' Morales continued, ''I feel that the indigenous movement has gone from one of resistance to one of power, but not sectarian, personal, individual or regional power, but to create a power that, at it's core, is a way of living in a community ... it is the power of resolving problems equally for all, not only in Bolivia but in the entire world.

''I feel that the United Nations is giving us a mandate, our mandate,'' he asserted, ''... to defend life and work for all; we have that responsibility. The indigenous movement is not vengeful, it's not going to take vengeance on anything; we only want our rights to be respected.''

Along with the support demonstrated by various members of the audience, Morales announced that the United Nations had sent the Bolivian Congress a letter of congratulations for passing the declaration into national law and that ''this declaration is without a doubt an advance for humanity.''

Rick Kearns is a freelance writer, poet and teacher of Boricua heritage who focuses on indigenous issues in Latin America.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Fighting the anti immigrant movement

Executive Summary: Fighting the Anti-Immigrant Movement in the States

Purpose of this Strategy Memo: With the rise of anti-immigrant rhetoric and attacks, immigration will inevitably be a major issue in state legislatures in the 2008 session. The goal of this strategy document is to provide an outline of strategies and resources that state legislative leaders and advocates can use to challenge the anti-immigrant movements in their states.

Changing the Narrative on Immigration Politics: Even as anti-immigrant policies have been enacted in a number of states, other states have also been enacting smart, humane policies that raises living standards for all workers, undocumented and native worker alike, while encouraging maximum integration of new immigrants into our communities. State leaders and advocates can use smart policy campaigns to change the public debate on immigration both at the state level and nationally.

Launching the State Immigration Project: Working with allied labor, civil rights, religious, and community organizations, the Progressive States Network is launching the State Immigration Project, which will support state legislative leaders and advocates in challenging the rising anti-immigrant movement at the state level. The goal will be to defeat bad legislation and pass humane immigration legislation where possible, but also to create opportunities to highlight the positive contributions of immigrants to our states. These policy campaigns will emphasize those issues that evoke the many positive feelings the public has about immigrants, a counterbalance to the negative "wedge" messaging of the anti-immigrant rightwing. The campaign overall will have a five-part strategy:

Emphasize the political costs of anti-immigrant political positions and the long-term political gains from humane, inclusive immigration politics
Stress the facts that counter anti-immigrant lies
Promote policies that overcome anti-immigrant "wedge" politics and helps to unite progressive constituencies.
Emphasize the issues that divide even many conservative voters from anti-immigrant advocates
Generate national messaging on the positive steps being taken by states on the immigration issue
Making Immigration a Winning Issue- The Political Case Against Anti-Immigrant Politics: The reality is that globalization is driving economic changes, including immigration, that cause fear and uncertainty for many voters. If progressives promote economic policies that address the broader economic needs of working families, all polling shows that there is no majority for punitive measures against undocumented immigrants. And given the rapid expansion of legal immigrants voting in US elections, including the doubling of the Latino electorate from 7.5 million voters in 2000 to an estimated 14 million voters in 2008, there is no political leadership future for politicians who promote punitive policies against new immigrants and alienate this growing bloc of voters.

Smart State Policy to Deflect Anti-Immigrant Attacks: Progressive leaders need to promote policies that will highlight that those leading the anti-immigrant charge are actually against the interests of working families of all races and immigrant status. Key progressive immigration strategies include:

Wage Enforcement as Immigration Policy: Much of the anger at immigrants derives from fears that sweatshops and sub-minimum wage labor will undermine wage standards. Punishing employers who violate wage laws will politically unite all workers, immigrant and native alike, and actually strengthen the progressive political base. If wage enforcement bills end up being attached to anti-immigrant bills, many in the business lobby will break their current alliances with anti-immigrant politicians.
Encouraging Immigrant Integration and Naturalization: Progressives need to emphasize that all available evidence shows that most are eager to become full members of our communities if given a chance. highlight policies that help all immigrants better integrate, which will unite the interests of legal and undocumented immigrants along with the members of their communities who are already voting citizens.
Immigrants and Public Benefits: While state leaders and advocates need to highlight the studies that show that undocumented immigrants actually pay more in taxes than they use in public benefits, they also need to demand studies of the lost benefits to citizens and the costs to taxpayers from onerous anti-immigrant enforcement rules. Progressive leaders should also demand that the federal government, which receives billions in taxes paid by undocumented workers, share those revenues with states to expand services for communities with heavy immigrant populations.
Voting Reform versus "Voter ID" Attacks: Despite the complete lack of evidence that non-citizens have illegally voted in US elections, progressives need to challenge the voter ID requirements that are disenfranchising many legal voters. While voter ID laws need to be defeated, the other part of progressive mobilization should be demanding that voting be made easier, through reforms like same day registration and voting by mail, for people who do overcome these new barriers to proving their legal right to vote.
Immigrant Outreach as Public Safety and Anti-Terror Policy: Most law enforcement groups recognize that it is harder to protect victims of crime when millions of people living in our communities are fearful of talking to the police when they see a crime or are a victim of one. Progressive leaders can highlight this reality by promoting policies that protect undocumented immigrant victims and witnesses of crime when they contact the police and encourage community policing efforts involving undocumented immigrant communities.
Strengthening Progressive Alliances and Finding New Conservative Allies on the Immigration Issue: Beyond individual policy options, advocates and elected leaders need to emphasize that the coalition in support of humane policies involving new immigrants is diverse and cuts into even many seemingly conservative communities. Elected leaders can build on traditional support from many African-American leaders to labor unions to forge alliances with forward-looking business leaders and religious leaders, including many evangelicals, who recognize that smart, humane immigration policies for our communities is a source of both moral and social strength.

Conclusion- Moral Immigration Politics is Smart Politics: As this strategy memo outlines, moral immigration politics are also smart politics in the long-term, since the present coalition for humane immigration policy is rapidly being joined by new citizens who are unlikely to forgive politicians who vote wrong in the coming legislative session. Ultimately, there is no political future for the politicians leading the drive to enact anti-immigrant laws, while those elected leaders who step up with intelligent, humane policies will be the long-term political winners of the current debate.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Hunter Bear; guide to activism


We have been doing a little reorganization of our massive and very heavily visited Lair of Hunterbear website -- during which the Site itself remains completely open and functional. We launched it at the beginning of 2000 and, since we had for several months [latter 1999] a "freebee" predecessor -- "Red Wobbly." we can say that our website world is now well into its ninth year. Initially, its primary purpose was to deal with the harassment and collateral dimensions levied, usually very surreptitiously, by a range of folks -- sometimes reaching back into many years indeed -- who, for whatever reason or reasons, threw poisonous darts and tried to implant knives in our back. [There is an old Native saying, "When you fish for trout, expect to be bitten by mosquitoes." To that I would add, certain kinds of snakes.]

For a trenchant discussion of some of that, see our consistently updated webpage, Duel In The Shadows:

But almost immediately after its hatch, we began adding all sorts of advocacy and informational feathers -- and we have gone far, far beyond our original purposes.

I should also add that both Eldri and myself and our entire family count our wealth in the truly vast number of fine friends we have accumulated over many, many decades.

Basically what we've done in our somewhat website reorganization -- still on-going -- is to list the titles of slightly over 100 selected pages in the upper part of our Directory/Index

Those pages -- as with virtually all of our several hundred website pages -- involve almost completely my own personal experience, observation, and analysis.

And these are the primary subject areas: Organizing approaches and techniques and strategies, Native Americans and Native rights, militant labor, civil rights and civil liberties, American West. There is some personal background and just a little on Systemic Lupus. Practically all of this -- as is the case with the entire website -- comes from my half century of involvement in social justice activism. [I have made no effort at this point to group these 100 plus pages into subject categories -- but the respective titles are clear and explicit,

After those pages, you will encounter this Notice:


And there is a great deal more indeed in just the same genre down below!

Our website is powered by a major server and contains full Norton protection as of 2008.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Lou Dobbs and immigration

The Lou Dobbs Phenomenon

By José LaLuz

José LaLuz is currently employed by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. He is a Vice Chair of DSA. This is a transcription of a presentation given at the Young Democratic Socialists Winter Conference on February 18, 2007.

I wanted to put a number of things on the table for the purposes of our conversation.

This being a nation of immigrants—in fact all of us our ancestors came from different shores—what explains that in a nation of immigrants we are witnessing one of the fiercest anti-immigrant xenophobic offensives in the history of this nation. What explains that?

The other thing is, if in fact the economy of this country is integrating with the economy of other nations in the hemisphere, particularly our neighbor to the south (Mexico), and our neighbor to the north (Canada), making possible the acceleration of the movement of capital, of goods and labor and other resources, how come the question of the movement of people has not been a part of that process? What explains that? This North American Free Trade Agreement or the hemispheric agreement that we know this administration and previous administrations wanted to negotiate. What explains that?

And finally, what explains the vacillations of organized labor and the Democratic Party with regards to the question of immigration, which I dare suggest, next to the question of war and peace, is the single most important issue of justice facing progressive men and women in this country? What explains the vacillation of well-known progressives in the Democratic Party and in the trade union movement with regards to this question? So I wanted to put that on the table and suggest some action.

One has to do with what I call the Lou Dobbs phenomenon. How many of you occasionally watch this man on CNN? I find it repugnant, but I have to watch it, because to me it signals something extremely dangerous. And let me explain what I mean. I decided to go first hand and witness first hand the work of these people that are referred to as “the Minutemen”—you know, you’ve heard of them, right? At the time I was working as a deputy director of organizing for the AFL-CIO, and one of my tasks was in fact to help shape an immigrant organizing strategy. So I figured, you know, why are most unions shy—and I’m being generous actually—when it comes to the question of organizing immigrant men and women. So I figured maybe this had something to do with the climate, the political climate of the nation. So I went to the state of Arizona. I got to Phoenix and drove all the way to the border, and as I was getting closer to the border I began to detect a lot of movement of people that were wearing this military garb, you know, similar to the one you wear in Iraq or Afghanistan. But in addition to wearing the military garb and the camouflage, some of them were actually packing guns. And they were parading back and forth, you know, this thing called the border. Which, if you look at it, it’s hard to figure where the hell is the border. Right? What is in fact the border? So I asked some questions of the folks that were with me, and they said “José, you look like you’re getting a little excited, and we didn’t come here to get into any trouble.” I mean, so I am actually witnessing some of these so-called Minutemen chasing some people, who later turn out to be undocumented immigrants. And things were getting out of hand. Because I was told that all these people were there to do was to monitor things, just to witness things, but they were getting into the action. And so much to my surprise, not far from where this was actually happening, there was a group of cameramen from CNN, and they happened to be from this program called The Lou Dobbs—whatever the hell the name is—Hour, right? And so I said, I have got to see what the hell is going on—what is this? And there was somebody, a young woman actually, interviewing one of the Minutemen that had just been involved in the altercation, in the capturing of some of the undocumented immigrants. And the woman was saying, well, what just happened? “Well, we are defending our nation’s integrity from the threat of terrorism and you know our national security is at risk…” And the interview progressed. I couldn’t help but to feel that this man was made to feel like a hero. And in fact a major network was rewarding the behavior of a vigilante. A vigilante that had decided that he of all people was more patriotic than anybody else and was going to enforce the laws that could not be enforced by the people who are commissioned to enforce them, meaning the Border Patrol.

Had that been an isolated incident, I would have dismissed it. But not far from here in Long Island there were things happening—in fact all over this state, which is nothing but the inheritor of immigrants! I mean, somebody came from Italy, from Poland, from Ireland, right, from Europe, from Southeast Asia, from Africa…I mean, some people came here in chains. They had no option. They were enslaved; they were brought here in chains. And others came here because of wars, because of this phenomenon called colonialism. Because of the phenomenon of empire, which is the other serious challenge that we’re facing in this nation today. The impulse to restore empire. So, then, I’m saying, Oh, my goodness! No wonder Democrats and organized labor are shy about this. The images of the people who are doing the so-called right thing are none other than those of the Minutemen. They are the heroes of this story. The people who are persecuting the immigrants are the heroes. I saw the same thing in Long Island. The TV went there to interview some people, and goodness, what’s going on?

What makes Lou Dobbs so dangerous? Well, Lou Dobbs is particularly dangerous because his discourse, his speech happens to appeal to whom? To the so-called displaced workers and the middle class. It’s right-wing populism. You don’t have to go far in history to discover where this flourished—in a country called Italy, in a country called Germany. Who were the people in the Nazi movement? Who were the people in the Fascist movement? Working men and women. The so-called “trapped middle class.” And so Lou Dobbs has a phenomenal appeal. And even the trade union leaders do not dare take him on. Democrats go to his program, and they don’t dare take this man on. And I think that explains that even politicians that have been ardent advocates of freedom and justice and equality are so afraid of speaking out on this issue. But that’s the explanation. I mean, something is brewing and something is happening in the underground. Right? That is moving people in a very serious and frightening direction.

Remember, it was only two and a half years ago that we could not say a fucking thing against the war. Remember the Dixie Chicks? When they spoke out? I mean it seemed like the whole goddamn world was coming down on them. I mean anybody on the street against the war—Oh my God! A crime has been committed! Frightening, in the country that is supposed to be the most democratic country on the face of the earth, people could not speak their mind on the question of war and peace.

Now things have changed. Dramatically. We have a so-called new majority in Congress, which in fact was elected to do what? To get us out of the god-damned war! And they’re still struggling with that one. So you wonder if they will be able to tackle this question of immigration. I dare suggest that there is a long, hard struggle ahead of us. But you know the most promising thing that happened? That thousands upon thousands upon thousands of the so-called invisible people mobilized themselves, and they said, I am not a criminal. I am a human being. And they showed it with their presence, by taking the streets. And that was one of the most powerful developments in the recent history of this nation, to witness the so-called invisible people coming out from restaurants, off the construction sites, everywhere. You know, in Los Angeles it was almost a million men and women, afraid that they could be rounded up and deported, but they were there with their families. That was so powerful. I’ve not witnessed anything like that. And you know, the response has been a most incredible backlash. Because of all this legislation, Gael García Bernal, the Mexican actor who played Che Guevara, said recently that the wall that was built at the border is a monument to stupidity. He was absolutely right. It does not solve anything. A wall is going to put a stop to immigration? My goodness. Has anybody learned anything from years of history? I mean, the question is: how do we develop trade and development policies that allow people south of the border and in other parts of the world to develop their own economies? And that cannot be done at gunpoint, by pretending that we are going to impose democracy in a country called Iraq.

Democracy at gunpoint? Can you imagine? And the cost. The cost is thousands upon thousands of men and women from working families and poor families in this country. Not to mention the thousands of men and women who are dying in Iraq, and the question is: is the world safer today? I dare suggest absolutely not. I mean, if there is an army of occupation in my country, this country, I will be one of the first people fighting against the occupation army. And that is what’s happening in Iraq. People are fighting against an occupation army. And so I saw Lou Dobbs saying “Oh my god! the Mexicans that are crossing the borders could perhaps be terrorists!” and so they are connected to those people in the Middle East. And those are the connections that are made sometimes in an open way, sometimes in a more sublime sophisticated way. But those are very serious threats that we face, and I do not see anything more important for a young socialist, for an old socialist, and for a middle-aged socialist than fighting against the war and fighting for the rights of men and women who happen to be crossing borders. Thank you.

jason schulman is

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Chavez and Venezuela

Venezuela's Constitutional Reform Fails (For Now)

By Justin Podur
ZNet Commentary

ZNet - December 04, 2007

The Constitutional Reform referendum in Venezuela has
failed, and Chavez, unlike the Venezuelan opposition,
gracefully accepted the defeat. The best outcome would
have been a slim victory for the "Si" side, and the
loss will have negative regional and global
consequences. Colombia's President Uribe, backed by the
US, had days before destroyed a humanitarian accord
that Chavez had been trying to broker between
Colombia's government and the FARC guerrillas. The US
is in the process of negotiating a free trade deal with
Peru. Canada, serving US foreign policy as it often
does, is trying to get the US a free trade deal with
Colombia through the back door, by negotiating one for
itself. In all this, progressive forces and politicians
in place in countries like Ecuador, Bolivia, and
Brazil, have looked to Venezuela for political
direction and support. The referendum outcome will help
the US to isolate these forces.

But, as Chavez himself said, the battle is not over and
there are some good things that can come out of this.

The referendum results: "No" got 50.7% (4 504 351),
"Yes" got 49.2% (4 159 392) votes. Abstention was very
high, at 44.11%. These are from El Tiempo, the
Colombian newspaper, and they come from when there were
97% of the votes counted.

Note how very close things were. The normal split in
previous years, including the 2004 referendum, has been
about 5 million voting with Chavez and about 3.5
million voting against. In this referendum, about 500
000 voters switched and voted against Chavez. Last
year's presidential election, which Chavez won with 63%
of voters, had only 30% abstention. Many who had voted
with Chavez voted abstained, and some voted against.

The usual fear tactics and dirty tactics were used by
the opposition and the Americans. The spread of
disinformation, from the notion that Chavez was going
to ban miniskirts to Chavez was going to take your
firstborn, was pervasive. There were small-scale
capital strikes, threats of a new coup, and other
abuses. But the Bolivarians had defeated those tactics
in the past and many of them had already been exposed
by a much stronger Bolivarian media strategy than ever

What good can come of it? One of the best things that
could happen in Venezuela, as unlikely as it is, is
that it could make socialism, popular participation,
and democracy seem like normal things, normal options
for a society to choose - if not for elites or for the
US, for Venezuelan and Latin American peoples. Instead,
every time there is an electoral process, there is
polarization, a sense that the whole revolutionary
project is in the balance, the whole future is in the
balance and imperialist violence is hanging overhead,
and that voting against Chavez is to side with these
reactionary imperialist forces. If, instead, this vote
could be seen the way Chavez is presenting it, as a
defeat of a specific proposal "for now" (one of his
famous phrases), in the context of an ongoing process,
that would be a very good thing.

There are two related weaknesses in Venezuela's
revolution. The first is the absence of highly visible
leaders with a national television profile and ideas of
their own, that are in Chavez's league, that are a part
of the revolutionary process, but that might have
slightly different proposals or strategic ideas. This
is something that revolutions have always had a hard
time producing - it always seems to focus on a single

The second problem is the difficulty, again largely
created by the US and imperialism, in having a space
for dissent within the revolutionary process. Oh, it is
true that the Bolivarians are incredibly tolerant of
the opposition, allowing speech and acts against the
government that would not be tolerated in the US or
Canada. Much harder though, and unclear how to
accomplish, is for there to be debate within the
movement about specific proposals without one side or
the other having to go over to the opposition. In a
context where the opposition has some 3.5 million
voters, plus tremendous media power, foreign financing,
and ultimately military backing, that is very hard to
do. But this referendum outcome could help. It could
actually split the opposition voters, by showing that
Chavez isn't a dictator and is willing to accept a
democratic result, something the opposition has been
unwilling to do.

The other reason not to despair over this defeat is
because of the weaknesses of the referendum itself. The
most important flaw was that it was an "omnibus"
referendum, in which voters had to accept or reject the
whole package. Some parts of this package were exciting
- other parts were less so.

There were three issues in the referendum that
concerned me, and if they had been presented by
themselves I would have voted against them. These were
the removal of term limits, (which are a relatively
minor issue, given the many jurisdictions in the world
that don't have them), the increased presidential
powers to appoint and remove officials, and the 7-year
terms (both which I would vote against as much because
they could be used against the Bolivarians in future -
who wants to be stuck with an empowered reactionary
regime for 7 years?). From increased social welfare to
the creation of popular power, there was much that was
very good and exciting in the constitutional reforms,
but how can we know that the 500,000 or so that
switched didn't switch on these three issues? Support
for the Bolivarian process could well be deeper than
support for this referendum, and potential support for
it is even greater (given the high abstention rates and
the outcome of the last presidential election). We've
always known that the Bolivarians were the more
democratic of Venezuela's two sides. Accepting this
defeat and carrying on with the process is bound to
demonstrate this to many.

[Justin Podur covered the 2004 recall referendum for
ZNet from Venezuela and writes on Colombia-Venezuela
issues. He is based in Toronto and can be reached at]