Immigration, Labor Power, and Working Class Solidarity


Recently, a Washington DC-based astroturf group, with the dubious name “Progressives for Immigration Reform,” plastered posters around the Bay Area concerning foreign workers receiving H-1B visas. Their message addressed tech workers and mimicked the xenophobic, anti-immigrant policies of the Trump administration, calling for a nationalist response. The implication being that rather than themselves, U.S. tech workers should make foreign workers “undeserving and expendable.”

Viewed historically, these racist ideas predate even the creation of the U.S. Working class historian Ted Allen dated them to Bacon’s Rebellion in 1676-1677; the backlash to that multi-racial class-based uprising resulted in the “invention” of the white race and creation of chattel slavery. Ever since this racist ideology has been codified in state laws and is often expressed in xenophobic limitations and outright bans on immigrants. The first immigrant ban had its origins in the sandlot rallies of racist white labor leaders, like Denis Kearney, here in San Francisco in 1877, resulting in the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. Trump’s attempted Muslim Ban was only the latest in this ugly legacy.

This session of the Learning Club will survey the history of these state-level anti-immigrant policies of exclusion, up to the present and the falsehoods around labor markets and H-1B visas. But more importantly, we will look at examples of working class solidarity, when in the process of struggle workers were able to transcend these divisions. An inspiring one was the 5.1 million — mostly Latinx — workers who went on one-day general strike on May Day 2006, forcing congress to back down on the virulently anti-immigrant H.R. 4437 (a.k.a. Sensenbrenner Act). Others were the airport protests against Trump’s Muslim Ban in January 2017. We will pose the question of how tech workers can embody the internationalism best expressed by the Industrial Workers of the World’s adage, “An Injury to One is an Injury to All!”


Discussion Questions

  1. What did the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act have in common with Brown vs Board of Education, vis-à-vis African Americans benefiting (albeit only slightly) at the expense of Asian Americans during Reconstruction and the Cold War.
  2. How is there the same hypocrisy with the treatment with the Japanese, with Executive Order 9066, and with Trump’s immigrant ban on Muslims?
  3. How do tech firms manipulate the H-1B visa workers to control labor markets, reduce wages, and force migrant workers into “indentured servitude”?
  4. Why are workers with Green Cards at an advantage compared to the holders of H-1B visas and why would a Green Card applicant be reluctant to ask for a raise, let along go on strike
  5. What is presidential “plenary power” concerning immigration and what might be done to challenge it?
  6. What organizing methods did the immigrant workers use to mobilize for the 2006 May 1st “Day Without Immigrants” general strike, and are any of them applicable today? What can be learned about the airport protests against Trump’s attempted Muslim Ban?

Additional Resources

  1. Class Struggle and the Origin of Racial Slavery: The Invention of the White Race, Ted Allen, Insane Dialectical Editions, (2006)
  2. History of Racism and Immigration Time Line: Key Events in the Struggle for Racial Equality in the United States, (2005)
  3. The War on Immigrants: Racist Policies in the Trump Era, Alvaro Huerta, American Political Science Association (APSA) Migration and Citizenship Newsletter, (2017)
  4. Don’t Trust the Courts: The legal fight against Trump’s attack on Muslims will only succeed if it’s backed up by mass politics, Rob Hunter, Jacobin, (2017)
  5. Anti-Immigrant Ads Aimed At Tech Workers Are Running On Public Transit (Buzzfeed)
  6. Bay Area tech workers stand with all immigrants: A statement against anti-immigrant BART ads (