Immigrant Workers – Exploited One Day, Blamed the Next

Last week on Friday, workers and supporters from the community rallied in support of 200 workers who were fired from Pacific Steel Foundry in Berkeley. The firings started in October of last year, only a few months after Pacific Steel workers went on strike to protest concessions. Pacific Steel used the workers’ immigration status as a pretext to fire them. This is just one of many attacks on immigrant workers, especially those who don’t quietly accept their exploitation. U.S. corporations are happy to profit on the work these workers do. But if these workers step out of line, their legal status is used to attack them.

Pacific Steel employs around 600 workers at a foundry in Berkeley. The Berkeley foundry generates a revenue totaling $100 million a year for the company. The company produces parts for trucks and molds for factories. This is hard, dangerous work. Pacific Steel relies on the hiring of immigrant workers for a high proportion of its workforce .

In March of last year, workers at Pacific Steel went on strike against the concessions to their contract demanded by management. Pacific Steel was demanding a $1.86 per hour payment on health care from these workers. This amounted to a ten percent wage cut. For five days workers from Pacific Steel struck and with their families and supporters picketed the foundry. Pacific Steel agreed not to impose the health care costs and the union agreed to end the strike.

But then layoffs began in October, with 22 workers being laid off every week until January for a total of about 200 layoffs. Pacific Steel had conveniently come under investigation by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, a branch of Homeland Security. In an investigation known as a so-called “silent raid”, ICE asked the company to provide documentation for all of its workers. All of a sudden Pacific Steel discovered that some employees did not have documentation.

So why did ICE decide to conduct this raid now? According to a spokesperson for ICE, the department acts on anonymous tips.

You have to wonder who tipped off Pacific Steel. It’s hard to believe the company when they claim they would never have invited this investigation. Many of the workers had been employed by the company for decades. It’s hard to imagine the company had no idea of the workers’ legal status.

In fact this sort of investigation by ICE is part of a pattern of attacks on immigrant workers. Since October 1, more than 2,338 companies all over the country have been investigated, and laid off portions of their workforce. There have been more raids in the last five months than in the entire previous year.

These raids are one of a number of methods used to terrorize and intimidate undocumented workers. There are an estimated twelve million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. Many immigrants are driven to this country to search for jobs. Many of the countries they come from have had their economies pillaged by U.S. economic policies. Companies like Pacific Steel profit year after year off of immigrant work, and then when a recession comes, they use the legal status of these workers as a stick to beat them.

The media and politicians do their part, whipping up an anti-immigrant hysteria. In addition to ICE raids, we’ve seen a wave of anti-immigrant legislation in states like Arizona, Mississippi, and Georgia. American workers are told that immigrants are parasites, stealing jobs and wasting tax money. In fact undocumented immigrants pay an estimated $11 billion in payroll, sales and other taxes. Meanwhile a company such as GE pays nothing in corporate taxes, but has laid off 21,000 workers and received $182 billion in bail-outs. Who are the real parasites? Who are the real job-destroyers?

We shouldn’t fall for any of the lies that justify these attacks on immigrant workers. We should stand in solidarity with the workers of Pacific Steel. And we should say who is really destroying jobs and draining the wealth of this society – the corporations and banks who profit off of the work we do, then use whatever excuse they can find to throw us away when they want to. Their system is the problem, not immigrants or any other working people.