Thursday, March 2, 2017

A History of Immigration and Migration in the United States

Today President Trump is saying that he will ramp up the deportation of immigrants who are living in the United States.  We might look at this statement in a bit of context.  President Obama deported over 2.5 million people from this country.  That number amounts to over 900 for every day he was in office. 

We might also consider that President George W. Bush deported about two million people.  Between the years 1892 and 1997 the United States government deported 2.1 million people.  So, Presidents Bush and Obama more than doubled the number of deportees in this country in just sixteen years.

There are workers who are justifiably enraged by these deportations.  Many of those who were deported have children who were born in this country.  When the parents are deported, the children are sent to foster care where they might never see their parents again.

In order to place these deportations in perspective, I believe we need to look at a bit of history.  I will start with a story of the first people who lived in this part of the world.

The Indian Removal Act—1830

In the year 1800 the Cherokee nation owned 53,000 acres in the states of Tennessee, North Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama.  The Cherokee call themselves the Tsalagi, and had a highly developed culture.  They had their own written language, their own newspapers, businesses, and homes. 

Then, in the year 1830 the United States government adopted the Indian Removal Act.  This law required all Indian nations to leave their homelands and move to what is now the state of Oklahoma.

The Cherokee appealed the Indian Removal Act in the Supreme Court.  The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Cherokee and, in effect, reversed the Indian Removal Act.

President Andrew Jackson was a slave owner who wanted Native American lands to be turned into slave labor camps.  Jackson refused to defend the Supreme Court decision and allowed the state of Georgia to remove the Cherokee from their homelands.

An armed force then required the Cherokee to migrate nearly 1,000 miles to what is now the state of Oklahoma.  Of the 15,000 Cherokee who left their homeland, about 4,000 died on this forced march known as the Trail of Tears. 

The treaty that gave the Cherokee land in Oklahoma said that they could have that land “forever.”  However, after the Civil War this same land was given away to settlers moving west.

However, not all of the First Nations of this country left their homelands peacefully.  The Seminole carried out three wars in the defense of their homeland in Florida.  The Seminole included escaped slaves who found shelter from the slave owners in Florida.  About 1,500 soldiers in the United States army lost their lives in these wars.  The Seminole who refused to surrender became known as The Unconquered Ones.

The Fugitive Slave Act—1793 & 1850

The most valuable so-called commodities before the Civil War were human beings known as slaves.  These slaves produced about three-quarters of the income of this country during those years.  In fact, the enormous financial wealth of this country has its roots in the system of slave labor.  The slaves as well as their descendants never received compensation for this immensely valuable work.

Because this system of slave labor was central to the economy of this country the government passed the Fugitive Slave Act in 1793.  This act required states to apprehend escaped slaves and send them back to the owners.  Interfering with the apprehension of escaped slaves became a crime. 

This law led to the kidnapping of many free blacks who were sent into slavery.  Solomon Northup gave a personal account of his kidnapping in his book Twelve Years a Slave.

However, the Fugitive Slave Law was extremely unpopular in the northern states and few wanted to cooperate with the apprehension of slaves.  This is why another Fugitive Slave Act was passed in the year 1850.  This law increased the penalties for not cooperating with the apprehension of escaped slaves.

However, this law was also largely ineffective.  From 1850 to 1860 only 330 escaped slaves had been apprehended.

It took the Civil War to abolish the Fugitive Slave Act.  About 350,000 Union soldiers died in the war that abolished slavery.  Many of the buildings in the South were destroyed.  The clear reason for this immense destruction was to convince those who supported the slave owners that they had absolutely no chance of winning the war.

Today we might keep in mind that most immigrants in this country come from Mexico.  The Mexican people are largely of Native American descent.  Wages in Mexico range from ten dollars per day.  The drive to deport hundreds of immigrants from this country every day can be seen as similar to both the fugitive slave act, as well as the trail of tears.  

The Great Migration

In 1900 nine out of every ten Black people in this country lived in the southern states.  Three out of every four lived on farms.  By 1970 only 50% of all Blacks in this country lived in the South and only 25% lived in rural areas.  This change reflected the fact that between 1916 – 1970 six million Black people moved out of the South.  This dramatic change is known as The Great Migration.

One result of the Civil war was the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution that outlawed chattel slavery.  Reconstruction governments came into being after the Civil War.  These governments put in place numerous democratic reforms aimed at improving the standard of living.  One of these reforms was to teach Blacks and caucasians how to read.

The federal government didn’t like these reforms and made a deal that removed union soldiers from the former confederate states.  White supremacist organizations like the Ku Klux Klan took advantage of this deal and worked to militarily overthrow the reconstruction governments.

The Supreme Court supported the new segregationist governments with their Plessey v. Ferguson verdict.  This decision, in effect, reversed the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution that presumably gave all citizens full rights in this country.

As a result of these actions Black people lost citizenship rights in this country.  There were thousands of lynchings where racist mobs murdered thousands of Blacks people as well as some caucasians.  The federal government rarely, if ever, attempted to prosecute these murderers.

These were the conditions that motivated six million Black people to leave their homes in the southern states.  In the north and in California, Black people had the opportunity to triple their income doing the horrendous work of factory production.  While the discrimination in the North wasn’t usually as vicious as in the South, institutionalized discrimination was, and continues to be, a routine fact of life.

The working class mobilizes

Before the Second World War, working people routinely experienced poverty.  Working long hours at dangerous jobs was the norm.  Incomes were such that hunger was a normal fact of life.  Education, as well as health care, were things only the affluent could afford.  In order to make ends meet, working parents told young children to toil in factories.

The labor movement experienced sixty years of strikes and most of those strikes ended in defeats.  One of the reasons for these defeats was the fact that many of the so-called labor leaders refused to support strikes that could have resulted in victories.

Then, in the year 1934 three strikes erupted in the midst of the depression.  These strikes gained widespread support.  The owners of corporations feared these strikes.  They had seen how the Russian Revolution of 1917 put in place a workers government that confiscated corporations and placed them under workers control.  So, these three strikes won victories.  As a result, millions of workers also went on strike and won union recognition.

After the Second World War workers discovered that their sacrifices during the war only won them meager wages at grueling jobs.  Another strike wave erupted.  Hundreds of thousands of workers went on strike and entire industries shut down.  These strikes not only won union recognition, but a significant improvement in the standard of living for working people.

The Civil Rights movement and the rebellions continue the struggle

The labor movement learned from its earliest struggles that it needed to stridently oppose racial discrimination.  If the labor movement failed to take this position, corporations were prepared to use Black workers as scabs during strikes.  This would have made any meaningful organizing impossible.

A. Philip Randolph was a leader of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.  One of his most ardent supporters was E.D. Nixon who was the President of the NAACP chapter in Montgomery, Alabama.  Nixon was one of the leaders of the 381 day Montgomery Bus Boycott, and Rosa Parks was his secretary.  Nixon was the one who recruited Reverend Martin Luther King to support this boycott that began in 1955.

The civil rights movement became so powerful, the government felt the need to reverse itself and outlaw the Jim Crow legislation that effectively denied Black people citizenship rights.  However, outlawing Jim Crow segregation clearly didn’t end the institutionalized discrimination that continues to this day.

Black people who lived in the northern cities experienced this institutionalized discrimination.  The issue of routine police brutality sparked rebellions in all of the major cities in the United States in the 1960s.

The owners of capital are the people who have power in this country.  These people and their supporters viewed the civil rights movement and the rebellions and understood that they needed to make changes.  They worked to recruit many of the leaders of the civil rights movement to the Democratic Party.  Many also supported affirmative action programs that gave Black people educational and employment opportunities that hadn’t been available in the past.

The other side to the ruling class reaction

Corporations are in business to maximize profits on investments.  Because of the routine functioning of the capitalist system, the percent of profit on investments declines over time.  For this reason, capitalist managers are routinely obsessed with cutting costs and selling more and more commodities.  This seeming contradiction leads to an unavoidable crisis of capitalism.

 So, when working people began to see our standard of living improve, corporations viewed this as harmful to their bottom line.  The corporate response to these developments took several forms.

Corporations made massive investments in nations where workers were paid about two dollars per day or less.  As a result, much of the manufacturing in the world comes out of China.  Bangladesh has become a garment center where workers are paid about one dollar per day.  However, manufacturing enterprises today operate throughout Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

One result of these measures has been that many manufacturing jobs have literally left the country.  It is possible that over 300 million jobs have been eliminated in the United States since the 1970s.  Most of these jobs have been replaced with jobs that have effectively lower wages and fewer benefits.

Corporations also worked to recruit immigrants to the United States.  Entire enterprises like agriculture, meatpacking, garment, and restaurants rely on immigrant labor.  Highly skilled jobs in medicine, research and development also depend on immigrant labor.

We might also keep in mind that under the system of Jim Crow segregation Black people had no real citizenship rights in this country.  Today immigrant workers have no citizenship rights.  These measures are aimed at keeping the wages of all workers down.

The prison population in the United States has skyrocketed.  Today the United States has more prisoners than any other nation in the world.  Corporations also profit from prisoners, paying them just a few dollars per day for work that is highly profitable.  At the same time, the government is paying tens of thousands of dollars every year to maintain each prisoner.

A political movement that can transform the world

There are two conclusions that we can draw from the corporate actions that I’ve described.  One is that the capitalist system is heading for a complete disaster.  When President Trump says that he wants to invest in the infrastructure of this country, he forgets to mention a few things. 

Corporations have made massive investments, to the tune of thousands of trillions of dollars in derivatives.  They have made these investments because they don’t believe that investing in manufacturing is profitable.  Without capitalist investment, banks will close their doors and there will be another depression.

The other conclusion is that there is an enormous amount of wealth produced in the world today.  This wealth might be used to eliminate poverty, if a workers government held power.  Instead of investing in banks, insurance companies, and advertising agencies, a workers government would make the needs of working people its top priority.

In order for this to become a possibility, we need to view all working people all over the world as one international working class.  Any effort to undermine the rights of immigrants, Black people, women, or workers and farmers from other nations undermines the interests of every worker.

When working people create an international movement that advances all of our rights, those capitalists who profit off of our labor will be unable to stop the advance of history.

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