The picture in the ad immediately caught my attention. The
photo was of a very dignified older African American man looking
into the camera, very determined and equally pensive. Underneath
his photo was a caption giving his name—T. Willard Fair—and
the fact that he was the veteran of 40 years of struggle in
the Civil Rights Movement.
was certainly enough to pique my interest.
Beneath the caption was a statement declaring that the alleged
threat to African Americans comes from documented and undocumented
immigrants. He went on to suggest that any notion of legalizing
undocumented workers was a slap in the face of African Americans.
The ad is associated with a group called the “Coalition
for the Future American Worker.”
Fair’s attack is not surprising, although the virulence and
historical nature of it is very unsettling, particularly because
it is bound to strike a chord among many African Americans.
Black America has been taking a prolonged economic hit since
the mid 1970s. The economic reorganization which many people
call de-industrialization has had a devastating impact
on the Black worker, disproportionately so. The elimination
and/or shrinkage of manufacturing jobs in urban centers has
had the effect of hollowing out entire communities, destabilizing
Black America economically, socially and politically. Rather
than the flight of the so-called middle class, Black America
has witnessed the disintegration of segments of its working
class and professional/managerial class.
This crisis began well before there was a significant influx
of immigrants, and it is this crisis that has been haunting
us. This crisis has been compounded by the right-wing political
assault on the public sector, largely through anti-tax revolts
and privatization, which has resulted in both a decline in services
and a decline in employment (with the latter also having a disproportionate
impact on the Black worker).
Fair and his coalition mention nothing about this, which in
and of itself is quite significant. Instead they focus on the
competition from the immigrant worker. While competition exists,
particularly in very low wage work, the problem does not lie
with the immigrants but with the desire on the part of employers
to find workers who will accept the lowest possible wages.
This has been demonstrated in any number of industries, not
the least of which was the janitorial industry during the 1980s
that went from very African American to very Latino after the
industry was reorganized.
Fair makes it appear that immigrants are the ones closing steel
mills and auto plants. They are not. Fair acts as if the immigrant
workers are carrying out ethnic cleansing against African Americans.
They are not. We are, however, being cleansed from entire industries
because of the greed of employers who are always looking at
the bottom line and who seek the cheapest possible workforce,
and eventually, if possible, no human workforce at all, but
just a line of robots.
Instead of Fair and his grouping focusing on the policies that
have been destroying African American employment, they instead
pick the easy - and wrong - target of the immigrant. And, it
is easy to pick the immigrant. For instance, in the construction
industry, an industry that African Americans, along with non-immigrant
Latinos (particularly Puerto Ricans and Chicanos) and Asians
fought for years to get into, immigrant workers are increasing
dramatically as a significant proportion of the workforce.
What is noteworthy is that this is happening largely in the
lower-paid, non-union construction workforce where, once again,
the ‘logic’ of capitalism prevails in the search for a low-wage
workforce. While the Black worker wants a construction job,
s/he is not looking for low-wage construction work with no benefits.
Consider the conditions into which Latino immigrant construction
workers were placed when many were brought to New Orleans for
the reconstruction of the city. Under non-union conditions,
they were often housed in a prison-like environment, and frequently
cheated out of pay.
No, Mr. Fair and your cohorts, the problem is not the immigrant
worker. The problem is the system. And, just as African American
workers were used in certain industries as low-wage
workers in the late 19th and early-to-mid 20th centuries, in
order to undercut higher paid workers, this changed dramatically
through a combination of unionization and the Black Freedom
What lessons can we draw from this?
Without disrespecting the life and history of
Mr. Fair, who I am sure made contributions to our struggle for
justice, somewhere along the line he fell prey to the emotional
and hallucinatory appeal of attacking immigrants as a means
of saving the Black worker. Not only is this morally bankrupt,
but it is also politically bankrupt. If we do not have an accurate
analysis of the problem, we cannot possibly develop a good strategy
to resolve it. Or, perhaps it was better and more succinctly
put by the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland when he
said, "if you don’t know where you want to go, any road
will get you there."
BC Editorial Board member, Bill Fletcher,
Jr. is a long-time labor and international activist and writer.
here to contact Mr. Fletcher.