Sunday, April 30, 2006

An American Labor Day tomorrow?

Tomorrow the US may have its first semblance of Labor Day on May Day in more than a century - that is if "The Great May 1st Boycott," or "A Day Without an Immigrant" is successful. A sort of Primero de Mayo Day actually!
The organizers have been trying to convince millions of largely Latino immigrants, documented and undocumented, to stay home from construction sites, agricultural fields, restaurants, and factories. What they are actually demanding is amnesty and the chance for the estimated 11 million to 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States to earn citizenship.
According to Business Week:
Latinos alone account for more than 40 million people in the U.S. -- including an estimated 12 million undocumented. With 17 million of them working, according to the Pew Hispanic Center, a Washington, D.C.-based research group, they represent 13% of the U.S. labor force. The nation's 7.2 million undocumented immigrant workers make up 24% of all farm workers, 17% of maintenance workers, and 9% of employees in production occupations.
That's a lot of people. As one of the organizers said: "Once they are gone, people will know the value of immigrant labor,".
Some pro-immigrant groups are afraid it could backfire (see this good Los Angeles Times op-ed) and they see it as a dilemna of scaring people off. A recent poll shows that 61% of Americans favor allowing the 11 million illegals already here to remain in the U.S. if they pay taxes and pass background checks; 35% want to deport them and Hispanic-Americans confront a mirror-image dilemma on the eve of the boycott.
The whole idea has little to do with regular workers marches and strikes. It is not unionized and not political in nature. In some areas the church has been supportive (as the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago which has been urging parishioners to participate in Monday's events) while other dioceses are against it (the Roman Catholic Diocese of Los Angeles doesn't support it). In any case, the whole thing is rather unusual and the developments will be very interesting.

Interestingly, France is dealing with the very same issues. Yesterday 5,000 people marched through Paris to protest a tough immigration bill which would allow France to choose its immigrants – those with particular skills – and would also toughen conditions under which immigrants can bring their families to France. French catholic and protestant leaders met with the Prime Ministe to ask for "a balance to be found between irresponsible laxism and a nearly xenophobic firmness".

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