The Awakening of California Immigrant Labor

- by Javier Armas

The Democrats and Republicans have been using California immigrants a pawn in their political game. Democrats Gray Davis and Cruz Bustamante both voted down a bill to give immigrants their California driver's license. But, feeling the pressure from the Republicans in the recall, they did a 180-degree turn and voted for the bill, which passed. While the myth is that the Republicans are protecting the poor whites against these parasitic immigrants whom the Democrats are allied with, this is just a classic case of good cop, bad cop.

And it is starting to change. The Latino immigrant community is beginning to become politically oppositional. Peter Camejo, who ran for governor with the Green party, had a strong backing from the Latino immigrant working class community. Many different immigrant institutions and non-profits actively campaigned for Camejo during the recall election, which is a big step from campaigning with the Democratic Bustamante. Camejo, in turn, received 5% of the vote for governor and 3% of the recall vote elections. This shows that there is an increasing interest in building an alternative to the Democrats and Republicans, and that the Green party is the embryonic manifestation of this. This emerging political alternative has integrated a section of the immigrant working class into its ranks, strengthening its force. Camejo understands this important constituency of political support, which is why he put fighting against the super-exploitation of immigrants on the top of his program. During the debates with other politicians he denounced the "apartheid system" California has with immigrants.

Now California's Governer-elect, Arnold Schwarzenegger, is threatening to take away the driver's license bill. About 150 members of Hermandad Mexicana Latinoamericana, a Santa Ana-based immigrants' advocacy group, held a national conference to develop strategies for the fight to maintain this law. The main tactic of the group, however, was not getting Latino politicians inside state congress, but the usage of work stoppages to show the strength of immigrant labor. This has been the first step of an immigrant or Latino group to fight through a channel of workers struggle.

The dependency of the California economy on immigrants is enormous, with their cheap labor produces billions in profit. Immigrants have been pacified by the reaction that followed September 11 and have been a quite element in California's politics. But now we are witnessing the first stage of a development of militancy inside immigrant ranks. Reactionary laws like Proposition 187 and the Proposition 226 (which eliminated of bilingual education) have not been aimed to kick out immigrants, but merely to proletarianize them into deeper submission and higher levels of exploitation. The immigrants do not have any political avenue open to them besides developing a practice of militant struggle in the workplace for their rights and for control over their labor.

Critics also state that the new driver's license law only aids terrorist. It's likely that the bill will be overturned, but it is unlikely that immigrant labor will stay docile when it realizes the real strength it has through fighting inside of their workplaces in California.

Javier Armas, 22, is a student at Santa Monica College in Los Angeles. He is a member of the SMC Progressive Alliance. You can send him some feedback at

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