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400,000 in Chicago on May Day.
The issue of leadership and program
Over 2 million marched in the US over the past four days. This is a great step forward. I try to discuss here some issues this movement faces. Especially the issues of leadership and program.
The new movement in the US. The issues of program and leadership.
The cops estimated the march here in Chicago as 400,000. This is without doubt the largest march in Chicago's history. Taken together with the other
marches country wide up to 2 million were on the streets on Mayday 2006. And with the 350,000 on the streets in New York on saturday it seems that over 2 million people have taken to the streets of the US for immigration reform and against the Iraq war in the past few days. This has been a historic May Day weekend in the US.
The atmosphere on the march here in Chicago was mainly a carnival one. The composition was overwhelmingly Latino working class, although there were small groups of Polish, Irish, Korean, Arab and others. There were families and
children everywhere. My impression was that people wanted to be there to say they existed and show there pride and demand to be treated right. The slogan "we are somebody" comes to mind, the description "out of the shadows" also. People
wanted the stress of living in poverty and in the shadows off their shoulders.
The main slogans I saw carried were: "We are workers not criminals" "We work hard for this country" "Equal labor rights for all" "Our work is worth documants" "Stop the raids now" "Keep families united" "Muslims for the American
Dream" We also have a dream. There was also a large banner of Zapata and many many T-Shirts on Che Guevara. There were a handful of individuals with plackards from one union Unite/Here. There were American flags in abundance. The slogans
were overwhelmingly aimed at becoming legal and better working conditions and wages. This was an overwhelmingly working class march in composition and demands.
As we walked over the express way a huge truck was driving under us and honked and honked and honked. Great cheers went up. But it also remined me that here in Chicago the leadership of the movement had not called for a general strike or a schools walk out.
This movement for immigration reform is a great movement which has exploded onto the streets of the US with tremendous speed. It is an inspiration for us all. The Latino working class will never be the same no matter how this movement develops.
The march here in Chicago took place across the Northern edge of the African American neighborhood of South and West Chicago.Over 1 million Black people live there. It is a huge Black city in itself. I did not see one Black person on the march. Comrades said they saw a groups of Black school students and some others but I saw none. Nor did I see any significant numbers of white
workers. The whites I saw were mostly from the left and liberal groups.
I left the march for a few moments to talk to four blue collar Black workers who were standing outside their workplace and watching it go by. I asked them their opinions. They said the immigrants have the right to be in the US but
they must be legal. If they are illegal they will always pull down wages. There should be marches in Mexico City, that is where. The government is so corrupt there they cannot get jobs with good wages.
I asked them did they see any similarity with the civil rights movement. They said no. The civil rights movement had been a movement for the right to ride a bus and civil rights not the right to work as cheap labor. These peoples problem is a Mexican problem and they should be marching there. Listening to these workers made me think more about the problems this movement will face.
The leadership of this movement wants to confine it to demands which relate to undocumented and documented immigrant workers only. And they want to confine it to issues of legalization. They consciously and deliberately want to avoid
the issue of low pay, bad conditions and poverty. They know that to raise these issues will immediately bring the movement into open confrontation with all sections of the bourgeois including the Latino bourgeois and political elite themselves who in the main are the strongest influence in the leadership of this movement.
The result of this is that the movement has no demands which can draw in the African American and White working class. If as well as demanding and fighting for the rights of immigrants the movement took up the call for a minimum
wage of $15.00 per hour, free health care for all and free education for all then this great movement on the streets which we now see could be the basis for building a mass working class movement drawing in all sections of the working class.
Since the years of the civil rights movement in the 1960's there has been the strengthening development of a Latino bourgeois and petit bourgeois class. These leaders are very conscious of their role. They want to control any movement of the Latino working class and keep it within the confines of capitalism and its position as a low paid sector in capitalism. These leaders bargain with the ruling class as a whole in the country using their ability to keep the Latino working class in control in return for which they hold some leading
positions in the system and have their own interests considered.
A similar process has taken place in the African American population. There too since the civil rights movement there has been a very serious strengthening of the black bourgeois leadership, in politics, the black churches, the economy. This leadership are trying to advance themselves as much as they can in US capitalism's racist society. They also bargain with their ability to keep the
black masses in control and to remain as a source of cheap labor. This Black leadership have so far been able to keep the African American masses away from involvement in this movement of the Latino masses.
The capitalist class and its mass media as a whole have also been able to divide and rule and keep the white working class away from supporting this movement. This does not mean there is any mass support for the racist cranks in the Minute
Men group but there is no mass white working class involvement in this movement either. And there are many doubts and criticisms of it.
This crisis of leadership and program is a serious obstacle to this movement. One that will dog it as it tries to go forward. The Latino masses do not seem to be in a mood to back down but there can be only so many mass mobilizations without some gains and without a more organized opposition within the movement to pose an alternative to the present leadership. I know there are some
serious and more conscious people in the leadership but I believe these are a small minority. I think that revolutionary socialists should seek these out and try to work with them and build a united front with them within the movement.
This great movement will confront an even greater crisis of leadership in the period ahead. The present leaders will try and do a deal with Bush and the Democrats which will have the most marginal of gains if any, that will leave the majority in second class citizenship if that, with very little rights, and to live on as cheap labor. Revolutionary socialists should where possible, and given resources, look to a united front approach to help build an alternative leadership in this movement.
Of course the real crisis of leadership is not within the Latino and Black sections of the working class. The real crisis of leadership is within the
working class as a whole. Here in Chicago there is the Chicago federation of Labor. There are approximately one million members affiliated to it. Look at what it could have done.
Over the past weeks it could have organized meetings in every local and district and regional council to discuss this issue. It could have put forward the need for a united movement on Mayday for the rights of immigrants plus the struggle for $15.00 an hour minimum wage and free health care and education for all workers. It could have drawn in the working class in a united movement to
yesterdays mobilization. It could have given an example and leadership to the entire country. On this basis it could have launched a massive organizing drive to organize the unorganized and also as part of this to link with and send resources to Mexico to help organize the unorganized and low paid there.
But what did it do? As 400,000 people were marching towards or in Grant Park the Chicago Federation of Labor were organizing a little get together at a statue for the haymarket martyrs in the west of the downtown area. It is staggering. 400,000 on the march and the CFL are not part of this, not only that but organize their own different event in a different place. They could have linked
the struggle of the Haymarket Martyrs to the present struggle if they had mobilized over the past weeks. But like the Latino politicians and bourgeois,
like the African American politicians and bourgeois the labor leaders too want to boot lick and cooperate with the bourgeois and their system. Nothing must be done to mobilize the working class to challenge this system and the drive of
the system to take back all that has been won in the past 100 years and reduce the working class to absolute poverty in every country in the world. The US labor bureaucracy are content with their position in society and terrified of the movement of the working class that could erupt if they gave serious leadership. They also can see no alternative to capitalism.
This is a great movement we are now part of. The Latino working class have opened up a new chapter in struggle in the US. Every effort must be made to link this struggle to the struggle for a decent life for all in the US and in Mexico and internationally and also the struggle to end the Iraq war. Every effort must be made to help build an alternative leadership in this movement along these lines.