Thursday, January 29, 2015


By David Bacon
Equal Times, 1/28/15

OAKLAND, CA -- In an escalating dispute with President Barack Obama, Republican members of the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill in mid-January, which would cut any funding from the Department of Homeland Security for suspending the deportation of undocumented people.  In December the President ordered the department, beginning this spring, to defer the deportation of undocumented immigrants who have children born in the U.S., who are thus U.S. citizens. 

A previous Obama order suspended the deportation of young people without documents, brought to the U.S. as children.  The Republican bill would rescind both orders.

A new, Republican-dominated Congress took office in January.  Congress must fund the department by Feb. 27 or it could shut down.  President Obama has threatened to veto this bill, and while there are enough Republican votes in the Senate to pass it, there are not enough to override a veto.

Immigrants, workers, union members and community activists demonstrated in front of the Federal Building in Oakland against the firing of undocumented workers because of their immigration status.  The Federal Building demonstration was the third day of a three day hunger strike to protest the firings.

The U.S. labor movement has supported deferral programs, and has opposed the mass deportations that now total over 2 million people during the Obama administration - around 400,000 per year.  In speaking about his own ancestors, who arrived last century after crossing the Atlantic from Europe, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said, "I think about what those boats would look like now. They'd be turned in the other direction, deporting those hopeful workers and separating our families. Because America doesn't welcome her children now-our broken patchwork of policies turns them away."

After the Republican majority was elected, Trumka warned its defunding proposal "would further exploitation and force our community members to continue to live and work in fear."  Guillermo Perez, President of the Pittsburgh Labor Council on Latin American Advancement, told Julia Kann, a writer for the magazine Labornotes, that  labor's job was to ensure implementation of Obama's deferral order.  This executive action "will help us in organizing workplaces where there are substantial numbers of undocumented people." Joe Hansen, president of United Food and Commercial Workers, agreed.  "Executive action is not all we need or deserve," he said. "But it is a step in the right direction."

Obama's latest executive action, however, caused a lot of controversy among unions and immigrant rights activists, not because of disagreement over the deferral itself, but because of the conditions attached to it.  One condition, for instance, will allow high tech employers to bring to the U.S. increased numbers of workers recruited under contract labor programs, and pay them wages substantially below those of U.S. residents.  Over 900,000 workers already arrive in the U.S. in these programs every year, which have been criticized because the recruited workers have few labor rights.

Los Angeles janitors, members of United Service Workers West SEIU, sit down in a downtown intersection to protest the firing of immigrant workers by Able Building Maintenence.  The company has fired workers whose immigration status the company questions, even though the workers have been cleaning the buildings where they work for many years.

Many organizations also criticized the administration's order because it increases immigration enforcement. U.S. law forbids people to work without legal immigration status, but about 12 million people currently live and work without it. Under Obama's order, about 4-5 million, at most, may get permission to work.  But at the same time the Department of Homeland Security will increase enforcement against those millions of others who will not get it.  They will be subject to firing at the demand of the government.  Over the last decade, tens of thousands of workers in agriculture, meatpacking, construction, building services, manufacturing and other industries have lost their jobs as a result of workplace enforcement.  Many, if not most, have been union members, and a groundswell of labor opinion has condemned these terminations. 

Hundreds of workers, for instance, were fired in the middle of an organizing drive at a California supermarket chain, Mi Pueblo.  Gerardo Dominguez, organizing director of Local 5 of the United Food and Commercial Workers, called the terminations "an economic disaster for the San Francisco Bay Area.  These workers pay taxes that support local schools and services.  Being terminated because of immigration status is a violation of their human and civil rights. Their families and our entire community will be harmed, and inequality and poverty will increase."

In addition, the President announced that even greater resources will be spent on the U.S./Mexico border, where hundreds of people die each year trying to cross in the desert.  "More enforcement here will mean even more people will die trying to cross, and greater violations of civil and human rights in our border communities," according to Isabel Garcia, director of the Coalicion de Derechos Humanos, an immigrant rights organization in Tucson, Arizona, with a long history of cooperation with unions. "We need to demilitarize the border, not to increase its militarization. The U.S. already spends more money on immigration enforcement, including the notorious Operation Streamline kangaroo courts, than all other federal law enforcement programs combined. It is inexcusable to spend even more."

Immigrants, workers, union members and community activists demonstrated in front of the Mi Pueblo market in Oakland against the firing of undocumented workers because of their immigration status. 

President Obama also announced he will expand the number of privately run prisons for immigrants, and the number of people held in them.  One such center, the South Texas Family Residential Center, has already been built in Texas to hold over 2400 children and family members from Central America.  The detention of Central American children has been strongly criticized by the AFL-CIO.  A recent delegation to Honduras led by the federation's vice-president Tefere Gebre even urged the Honduran government not to accept deportees arriving from the U.S. if they haven't been allowed their legal right to apply for asylum.

According to many labor and immigrant rights groups, however, migrants from Central America, Mexico and elsewhere have been driven into migration by free trade agreements and other economic policies pursued by the U.S. government. Yet the Obama administration is currently asking Congress to give it a "fast track" process for approving the Trans Pacific Partnership, a free trade agreement involving 12 countries around the Pacific Rim.

The Dignity Campaign, a network of a number of local unions, labor councils and immigrant rights organizations, warned, "Two decades of experience with NAFTA tells us that these deals drive people into poverty, leading to more displacement and global migration, while US jobs are eliminated. We need to end these trade arrangements as part of a sensible immigration policy. We must change U.S. immigration law and trade policy to deal with the basic causes of migration, and to guarantee the human, civil and labor rights of migrants and all working people."

Los Angeles janitors marched through downtown Los Angeles at lunch hour to protest the firing of immigrant workers by Able Building Maintenence because of their immigration status.

The Obama executive order will not change U.S. law -- only the Congress can pass laws.  It can only change the way existing law is enforced.  The possibility exists, therefore, that an incoming administration elected in 2016 could reverse the order, deporting those who have come forward to claim a deferred status.  That prospect has already frightened some potential applicants.  "The challenge is getting those folks to apply, get them legal status, and make sure that they never lose it," Perez told Labornotes.  "If we don't get enough people into the program, it's more likely that it could be taken away. I'd love to see union halls all over the country opening up and serving as places where people can come to get good information to apply. That would be beautiful."

Wednesday, January 21, 2015


Photos by David Bacon

OAKLAND, CA  (1/19/15) --  Over a thousand people marched through East Oakland's African American and Latino neighborhoods, making the connection between the radical politics of Dr. King and the blacklivesmatter movement in solidarity with the people of Ferguson and all those fighting for social justice.  The following pieces are taken from three speeches made by Dr. King in the last two years of his life.  The radical transformation of U.S. society, and the end of U.S. military intervention in other countries, is as much on the agenda today as it was when he spoke these words.

Beyond Vietnam - 1967

I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic, destructive suction tube.

We must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life's highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.

A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa, and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say, "This is not just." It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of South America and say, "This is not just." The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just.

A true revolution of values will lay hand on the world order and say of war, "This way of settling differences is not just." This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation's homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.

There is nothing except a tragic death wish to prevent us from reordering our priorities so that the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war. There is nothing to keep us from molding a recalcitrant status quo with bruised hands until we have fashioned it into a brotherhood.

These are revolutionary times. All over the globe men are revolting against old systems of exploitation and oppression, and out of the wounds of a frail world, new systems of justice and equality are being born. The shirtless and barefoot people of the land are rising up as never before. The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light. We in the West must support these revolutions.

I've Been to the Mountaintop - 1968

The masses of people are rising up. And wherever they are assembled today, whether they are in Johannesburg, South Africa; Nairobi, Kenya; Accra, Ghana; New York City; Atlanta, Georgia; Jackson, Mississippi; or Memphis, Tennessee, the cry is always the same: "We want to be free."

If something isn't done and done in a hurry to bring the colored peoples of the world out of their long years of poverty; their long years of hurt and neglect, the whole world is doomed.

We mean business now and we are determined to gain our rightful place in God's world. And that's all this whole thing is about. We aren't engaged in any negative protest and in any negative arguments with anybody. We are saying that we are determined to be men. We are determined to be people. We are saying that we are God's children. And if we are God's children, we don't have to live like we are forced to live.

When the slaves get together, that's the beginning of getting out of slavery.

The issue is injustice. The issue is the refusal of Memphis to be fair and honest in its dealings with its public servants, who happen to be sanitation workers.

Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution - 1968

This day we are spending five hundred thousand dollars to kill every Vietcong soldier. Every time we kill one we spend about five hundred thousand dollars while we spend only fifty-three dollars a year for every person characterized as poverty-stricken in the so-called poverty program, which is not even a good skirmish against poverty.

Not only that, it has put us in a position of appearing to the world as an arrogant nation. And here we are ten thousand miles away from home fighting for the so-called freedom of the Vietnamese people when we have not even put our own house in order. And we force young black men and young white men to fight and kill in brutal solidarity. Yet when they come back home that can't hardly live on the same block together.

There comes a time when one must take the position that is neither safe nor politic nor popular, but he must do it because conscience tells him it is right. I believe today that there is a need for all people of goodwill to come with a massive act of conscience and say in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "We ain't goin' study war no more." This is the challenge facing modern man.

I say to you that our goal is freedom, and I believe we are going to get there because however much she strays away from it, the goal of America is freedom. Abused and scorned though we may be as a people, our destiny is tied up in the destiny of America.

Before the Pilgrim fathers landed at Plymouth, we were here. Before Jefferson etched across the pages of history the majestic words of the Declaration of Independence, we were here. Before the beautiful words of the "Star Spangled Banner" were written, we were here.

For more than two centuries our forebearers labored here without wages. They made cotton king, and they built the homes of their masters in the midst of the most humiliating and oppressive conditions. And yet out of a bottomless vitality they continued to grow and develop. If the inexpressible cruelties of slavery couldn't stop us, the opposition that we now face will surely fail.

Monday, January 5, 2015


Photoessay by David Bacon
Oakland, CA  (12/18/14)

For the nine days before Christmas people in Latin America celebrate Las Posadas.  They recall the journey of Mary and Joseph from Nazareth to Bethlehem before the birth of Jesus, where they looked for a place to stay.  The ritual of the pilgrimage from place to place, looking for shelter, has roots in many religious traditions, as does the tradition of welcoming the stranger.  Over the years immigrants and immigrant rights groups in U.S. Latino communities have adopted the posada's symbols as a way to talk about the experience of people in migration, and their search for a new place to live.

One of the days that falls in the period of Las Posadas is December 18.  This day was chosen in 2000 by the United Nations as International Migrants Day.  It celebrates migrant families, and comes on the anniversary of the day the UN adopted the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families in 1990 (still not ratified by the United States).  International observances on this day acknowledge the contributions made by migrants to the economies of their host and home countries, and call for respecting their human rights.

As night fell in Oakland, California, on December 18, immigrants and supporters gathered at the Hispanic Presbyterian Church in the Latino Fruitvale district to celebrate Las Posadas.  A small crowd moved from place to place, or station to station, through the yard outside, recreating the journey of a family from Honduras to the U.S.  The first station symbolized the home community from which the family fled.  The second was a detention center on the U.S. border, where in hunger and desperation they turned themselves in to the Border Patrol.  The third station was the church itself, where the community of Oakland welcomed the family, giving them sanctuary as they were about to be deported.

At each station people sang as Francisco Herrera, the movement's local troubadour, played the guitar.  Adults and children held candles in a vigil for all those still imprisoned in detention centers throughout the U.S.  They spoke especially about those from Central America who will not qualify for the recent deferral of deportation for undocumented parents of U.S. citizens.  Many commented bitterly that at the same time that some families will get temporary legal status, others will not.  In fact, the Department of Homeland Security has just opened a new detention center in Dilley, Texas.  It will hold up to 2400 women and children, most from Central America, housing them until their eventual deportation.  Speaking to the people of Central America at the opening of the prison, Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson warned, "It will now be more likely that you will be detained and sent back.  Frankly, we want to send a message that our border is not open to illegal migration, and if you come here, you should not expect to simply be released."

While Pope Francis has declared these children must be "welcomed and protected," the Obama administration has been fast tracking deportations.  "Obama's administrative relief has left out the most vulnerable group of people: the children, and others who face danger and death if they are deported.  Faith communities and people of conscience are calling on the President to safeguard the lives of migrant children and families who have been left out of his action," said Rev. Jeff Johnson of University Lutheran Chapel in Berkeley.

The participants in the Oakland Posada spoke about the widespread street actions that have taken place throughout the city for weeks, protesting the failure to indict police for murdering Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner in New York City.  Art Cribbs, the African American director of Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice, urged people to connect these protests to those against deportations.  "Events of the past few weeks have once again painfully reminded us that in our nation, all people, and black people in particular, do not have equal opportunity to breathe, live and thrive," he said.  "We extend our support and solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and encourage you to engage in local activities promoting the message that black lives, indeed, do matter and deserve dignity, respect and justice.   We are also reminded, that this deep social inequality and expression of racism and violence extends to many parts of the immigrant community as well.  Immigrants, especially those who are black or brown, are also told that their lives do not matter."

After going inside the church, immigrants were invited to relate their own experiences of migration.  One young man faced the people assembled in the pews and described the beatings he suffered as a gay activist in Uganda, after the government there declared homosexuality illegal.  He then related his efforts to gain asylum and come to the U.S. as a refugee.  Rev. Deborah Lee, director of the Interfaith Coalition for Immigrant Rights-CLUE-CA, embraced him.  The growing migration of African people to the U.S., she said, is helping people in the Black Lives Matter protests and immigrant rights activists fighting deportations see the commonality of their efforts.

"Christians remember that after Jesus was born, the holy family had to flee to Egypt for safety and protection of the newborn child," Lee reminded participants.  "Today, families from Central America cannot get to safety.  Baby Jesus and his parents, are getting turned away at the border.  Baby Jesus is getting detained.  Baby Jesus is having to appear before the judge without an attorney, and is at risk of expedited deportation and death."