"This week on the show, Cathy Albisa and Sabino Milian discuss the targeting of activists in immigration sweeps. Those ICE raids aren't that random they say."
Laura Flanders: This is a great example of you can make progress even in these times, but I'm struck by the fact that most of the stories that I'm hearing of progress and innovative organizing are coming, as Sabino said, from fairly small organizations, grassroots groups, communities in organization, not so much from big labor. What's going on?
Cathy Albisa: Oh. Big labor is definitely under attack and has been for many years and you can only imagine that it's intensifying. It certainly doesn't help grow big labor that so much of our workforce is almost impossible to organize and unionize through formal channels, so the Worker Center Movement has stepped in to fill that void, right? To work side by side with big labor and shape the landscape. What I think happens with the work center movement is you basically have a group of workers who are the most marginalized workers in this country.
I'll give you some examples. In Vermont, just a little example, in Vermont, it's not unusual for a worker not to have an eight hour break in a 24 hour period. You'll have to sleep in three hour chunks. These things are standard in the business, and so workers are willing to step up because they have, at this point, so little to lose. For example, we were speaking to workers in Chicago and workers organizing in the temp sector in different parts of the country. When the administration came into power, we said, "What are you concerned about? What additional types of oppression do you fear might come down the pipe?" The answer was devastating. They said, "You know what? We don't even know what they could throw at us next. They've thrown everything at us." This was even before Trump came into power.
We started saying, "Well, what about deportations and raids?" They said, "Well, we're already suffering this." What about retaliation? "Well, we're already suffering that." Everything from stolen wages to violence to sexual harassment. This group of workers has every reason to want to stand up and push back as hard as possible, and it is a very multicultural movement, so we're bringing organizing strategies from all over the world.
Laura Flanders: That's the last part I wanted to ask you about, and that is the global nature of this. Where do the workers that are brand worker members come from in terms of the world? Where are your members from?
Sabino Milian: From Guatemala, Salvador, Honduras...lots of countries.
Laura Flanders: This is a global shift of workers, a global phenomenon that we're all witnessing. What lessons do you draw from that? Because the lesson being drawn by the Trump administration is build walls, keep people out. A lot of people even within the labor movement are thinking that's the way to go. We need to keep our workers legal, secure, build walls around our workplaces.
Cathy Albisa: Our board chair at NESRI is a wonderful scholar. He's a labor economist, and when we were talking about this, he said, "Cathy, it's a paradox, but believe it or not, the fewer restrictions you have on workers being able to go where they need to go, the more protection all workers will have."
Laura Flanders: How is that?
Cathy Albisa: I said, "Patrick, how could that be?" He said, "Because capital can travel freely wherever it wants. Goods travel more freely than people. The only people that have restrictions are, the only ones suffering restrictions are workers. What happens is capital follows the most abusive working conditions to exploit workers. If workers had the freedom to leave those places, capital would lose that leverage." That's his perspective. Speaking to a lot of progressive economists, they actually talk about a very open immigration policy ultimately being the better, longer term strategy to bring labor standards up here and around the world. It is a global problem. We cannot solve it by being made in the USA. We need to solve it with a global solution.