David R. Henderson  

Cesar Chavez on Immigration

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Bryan Caplan writes:

The children of the foreign-born go far beyond this. Immigrants hurt them the most, but they oppose immigration the least. How is this possible?

The best explanation is that the children of the foreign-born, like many other groups, are group-interested voters. They're concerned about the well-being of people they identify with, people "like them." The children of immigrants know what it's like to be an immigrant from first-hand experience. They know the misery of the Old Country, and the hardships of the New. And when they ponder immigration policy, their first thought isn't their wages. Their first thought is that the law is denying someone like their parents, cousins, or neighbors a chance to work for a better life.


Good point. It's interesting, though, that Cesar Chavez was at times strongly against both legal and illegal immigration. At other times, he was sympathetic to immigrants. Here's what Wikipedia says:
The UFW during Chávez's tenure was committed to restricting immigration. Chávez and Dolores Huerta, cofounder and president of the UFW, fought the Bracero Program that existed from 1942 to 1964. Their opposition stemmed from their belief that the program undermined US workers and exploited the migrant workers. Since the Bracero program ensured a constant supply of cheap immigrant labor for growers, immigrants could not protest any infringement of their rights, lest they be fired and replaced. Their efforts contributed to Congress ending the Bracero Program in 1964. In 1973, the UFW was one of the first labor unions to oppose proposed employer sanctions that would have prohibited hiring undocumented immigrants. Later during the 1980s, while Chávez was still working alongside Huerta, he was key in getting the amnesty provisions into the 1986 federal immigration act.

On a few occasions, concerns that undocumented migrant labor would undermine UFW strike campaigns led to a number of controversial events, which the UFW describes as anti-strikebreaking events, but which have also been interpreted as being anti-immigrant. In 1969, Chávez and members of the UFW marched through the Imperial and Coachella Valleys to the border of Mexico to protest growers' use of undocumented immigrants as strikebreakers. Joining him on the march were both Reverend Ralph Abernathy and US Senator Walter Mondale. In its early years, Chávez and the UFW went so far as to report undocumented immigrants who served as strikebreaking replacement workers, as well as those who refused to unionize, to the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

In 1973, the United Farm Workers set up a "wet line" along the United States-Mexico border to prevent Mexican immigrants from entering the United States illegally and potentially undermining the UFW's unionization efforts. During one such event in which Chávez was not involved, some UFW members, under the guidance of Chávez's cousin Manuel, physically attacked the strikebreakers, after attempts to peacefully persuade them not to cross the border failed.



COMMENTS (5 to date)
Scott writes:

Good post David.

A while ago I read the Wikipedia extract you posted and ever since have been curious about the American labor movement's ambivalence towards immigrants. I just read Aviva Chomsky's "They Take Our Jobs! and 20 Other Myths About Immigration" which has an entire chapter dedicated to the contention that unions oppose immigration because it harms the native working class. According to her research, that story hasn't always been a myth.

Basically, the American labor movement under leadership of the AFL had been officially anti-immigrant until as recently as 1993. She writes:

"At the beginning of the twentieth century, the American Federation of Labor (AFL) competed with other, more radical unions. The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) promoted a social justice agenda and tried to organize the most dispossessed workers. It sought profound social and economic change. The AFL, in contrast, basically accepted the social order. It concentrated mainly on trying to organize and improve the conditions of the most skilled workers—creating what some have called an “aristocracy of labor.” By the middle of the century, with the growth of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) and its later unification with the AFL, this evolved into the creation of a “private welfare state” for union workers.

While some of its European counterparts sought a larger public agenda of improving conditions for the working class, the AFL-CIO concentrated on improving conditions for union members. Rather than fighting to raise the minimum wage or create a national health-care system, the AFL-CIO sought to improve benefits for organized workers through their contracts with their employers. The privileged position of (mostly white) union workers actually depended on the existence of the dual labor market—domestically and globally—that produced goods and services cheaply. That is, some get low wages so that others can enjoy cheap products.

The IWW rejected the way citizenship was used in the United States to deprive some workers of their rights. At its founding convention in 1905, “Big Bill” Haywood began his remarks by explaining, “I turned over in my mind how I should open the convention. I recalled that during the French Commune the workers had addressed each other as ‘fellow citizens,’ but here there were many workers who were not citizens so that would not do . . . I opened the convention with ‘fellow workers.’

Contrast this to the stance taken by Samuel Gompers, the president of the AFL, in the same year. “Caucasians,” he announced proudly, “are not going to let their standard of living be destroyed by Negroes, Chinamen, Japs, or any others.” As David Roediger explained, “They opposed entry of ‘the scum’ from ‘the least civilized countries of Europe’ and ‘the replacing of the independent and intelligent coal miners of Pennsylvania by the Huns and Slavs.’ They wrote of fearing that an ‘American’ miner in Pennsylvania could immigrants and the economy thrive only if he ‘latinizes’ his name. They explicitly asked... ‘How much more [new] immigration can this country absorb and retain its homogeneity?’"

So it should come as no surprise to us that César Chávez and the United Farm Workers who were then officially affiliated with the AFL toed the nativist anti-immigrant line of their time.

Lorenzo from Oz writes:

The Labor movement in the Antipodes was very agin immigration from other than Europe, hence the "White Australia" policy. There were "temperate" zone migration flows and "tropical" zone migration flows in the C19th and early C20th, and a major goal of the labour movement in North America and the Antipodes was to keep out "tropical" zone migration.

ziel writes:

So Scott, essentially it was the murderous communists in the labor movement who were against restrictions on immigration.

Scott writes:

No, it was mainly consistent libertarian socialists who have always been staunchly internationalist.

ziel writes:

Communists are not internationalist? Communists (by the way, there is no meaningful distinction between communists and socialists) are the most staunch internationalists - you know, The Internationale and all that. Big Bill was a commie thru-and-thru. And "libertarian socialists" - I can't even begin to imagine what that could possibly be. Is that Marx's ultimate state, where we all voluntarily contribute from our means?

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