A Betrayal of the American Working Classby Dan Morgan | April 9, 2006
With interest groups allied with the Democrats making competing demands, many Democrats in Congress must sometimes feel confused. Nowhere is this more evident than in the immigration debate. On one hand, the gut response of most Democrats is to welcome Hispanic illegal workers, as Hispanic advocacy groups demand, and resist substantial new measures to stem the flow of illegal people crossing the southern border. But this directly conflicts with the interests of the core group whom Democrats have historically tried to loyally represent: The American working class. On the immigration issue, Democrats have turned their backs on their core constituency. This is the ultimate triumph of politically correct thinking, where the group declared the bigger victim always wins out in policy disputes.
For years now, Democrats should have been vociferously demanding a shutdown of illegal immigration over the southern border, but they have simply been silent on this. Similarly, when employers easily hire illegal workers at bargain wages with little worries of being arrested - to the detriment of American workers - again the Democrats have been silent.
Since the New Deal, Democrats had steadfastly put helping working class Americans at the top of their policy agenda. Whether their supported policies actually helped or hurt them is a matter of debate. But that they intended to help them is clear. They supported labor unions, unemployment insurance, minimum wage laws, stricter labor laws, a progressive income tax, Social Security, Medicare and so on. All of these were targeted to help those doing the demanding, daily labor of the working class. The interests of the working class were looked out for during their working years, during periods of unemployment, if they were injured on the job, and during retirement.
Factory workers, construction workers, service sector workers, and manual laborers in general - these were the core constituents that Democrats strived to protect.
In the 1960s the Democratic Party began paying attention, not just to the broad working class that was gaining moderate affluence, but also to the working poor. And as the Civil Rights movement reached its peak, the plight of black Americans became a large concern for Democrats. Black Americans were largely members of the working class too, just poorer, so this only strengthened the Democrat’s core constituency. There were no policy conflicts here.
After the 1960s however, a new perspective became more and more central in the minds of most Democrats. Many groups in society became designated as permanent victims, blacks being a main group. With a legacy of slavery and Jim Crow, there were plenty of grounds for this outlook. Policies to help the working class were still of key importance - but never if they were declared to undercut blacks as a group.
This idea of separateness of some groups, as victim classes, took on a strong ideological cast and the thinking spread deeper. Blacks were victims, women were victims, native Americans were victims, and other minority groups were gaining victim status too.
Permanent victim status meant a group’s members were abused historically and are still mistreated daily. All proposed policies were first analyzed on how they helped these victims. The term discrimination became the term to describe how the victim groups were mistreated. Any hint of discrimination in new policies meant that racism or sexism was at work - and these policies were rejected and denounced.
The fight against perceived discrimination, whether it was due to institutional racism or racism of individuals, trumped other concerns when taking positions on social policy issues. In fact, this became so pronounced that a new phrase was coined: Political Correctness. Every Democratic politician wanted to be seen as being politically correct, even if they didn‘t use this term to describe themselves.
Looking at the immigration reform issue from the politically correct point of view, regarding low-income illegal Hispanic immigrants, the position to take is clear: These illegal immigrants, especially since the great bulk of them are brown-skinned Hispanics, must be supported because of the racists who don’t want them here and because they are mistreated by American institutions.
The fact that the illegal immigrants are taking jobs away from working class Americans somehow gets overlooked. Where these immigrants don’t directly take jobs, they drive down wages. Never have Democrats so blatantly turned their backs on working class Americans. In fact, it would be hard to devise policies any more anti-working class than allowing impoverished foreigners, living in Third World conditions, to come by the millions to the U.S. to seek jobs.
The Democrats have inadvertently agreed to the worst form of Corporate Welfare. This welfare is the wink and nod system of allowing a whole new sector of the working class - a replacement class - to move to America. Really cheap labor, super-flexible workers that employers can dump anytime, and no benefits required - the perfect new labor force for some business owners striving to maximize their profits.
Disturbing also is that illegal immigrants are making poor black men obsolete. The welfare state has already arguably stolen their women - no family lives for them. Now the illegal immigrants are taking their jobs. Many black American men have historically done dirty, manual labor jobs and often worked for low wages - but they have their limits. They are Americans too - with expectations of reasonably decent wages. But when it comes to a bidding war for who will work for the lowest wages, illegal immigrants used to making $1 an hour in their native countries will win every time.
Over 50% of black men in their 20’s are jobless, and 72% of black men in their 20’s who are high school drop-outs are jobless. No greater shame should hang over the Democratic Party than this.
Democrats still have time to get it right on immigration. They should make three issues paramount: securing the southern border to prevent more replacement workers from coming in, get very strict with employers who hire illegal immigrants, and denounce every guest worker program for low-skill labor.
Democrats should be passionate, very vocal, and out front on this - not being dragged along by Republicans and opinion polls.
Demand that American businesses make do with the American working class, including the American working poor. Will some businesses have to pay more? Yes. Too damn bad.
If the Democratic Party is going salvage any integrity regarding immigration reform - or even any credibility as a party - they had better very quickly get back on the side of working class Americans.