Under The Radar

Immigrant Rights Activism, Beyond the Mass Marches

While there has been much focus on the Arizona law SB1070 and the mass marches for immigrant rights, there has been no shortage of activism for immigrant rights on a more local level.

Last January, a collection of students began a fifteen-hundred-mile Trail of Dreams march to demand passage of the DREAM Act. The DREAM Act would grant residency to undocumented youth who graduated from U.S. high schools and have completed two years of work toward a bachelor’s degree or served in the U.S. military. Approximately sixty-five thousand undocumented immigrants will graduate from U.S. high schools in 2009. Immigrant youth initiated a hunger strike in front of Senator Chuck Schumer’s (D-NY) Midtown Manhattan office, demanding that he make the DREAM Act a priority.

In March, undocumented youth in several cities responded to a call to “come out of the shadows,” by marching for immigration reform and publicly declaring their immigration status in front of the press. In the Chicago rally, they did so in the presence of nearby Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents. The organizers gave credit to the LGBT movement for this tactic.

In New Haven, Connecticut, a collection of community groups led a boycott of a bookstore that had forbidden employees from speaking any foreign language within earshot of customers. Circulating a petition among community members, and pointing out that the manager frequently spoke French in the store, the store reversed its policy.

Campaign Launched to “Seize BP”

While the oil giant BP and the U.S. government work to mitigate the Gulf Coast oil spill, the largest environmental disaster in U.S. history, a collection of community activists and left-wing organizations has proposed a more enduring solution.

They launched a “Seize BP” campaign, with coordinated protests in more than a dozen cities. Once it was announced that the spill would likely last into August, there were actions in fifty cities. The campaign’s objective: the seizure of BP’s assets (to hold in trust) and the provision of “immediate relief to the working people throughout the Gulf states whose jobs, communities, homes, and businesses are being harmed or destroyed by the criminally negligent actions of the CEO, Board of Directors, and senior management of BP.”

“Seize BP” explained that the trust controlling BP’s assets should include “representatives of the fishers, shrimpers, crabbers, unions, small business people and workers in the tourism and recreation industry, local elected officials, clergy, independent scientists, and environmentalists.” The campaign also distinguished itself from a boycott, which it said “provides no relief,” only helps competing Big Oil companies, and primarily hurts small business people who have received franchises to run gas stations.

Pro-Labor Democracy Movements Continue to Grow in Egypt

The April 6 Movement, a reform group focused on direct action and built around a dissident blog, has continued to grow. Focusing its ire on the renewal of the state’s “emergency law” that has banned opposition parties and sharply curtailed civil liberties, the democracy activists rallied and clashed with police this past April. The number of detainees held under the emergency law is widely estimated to be between twelve thousand and fourteen thousand.

The April 6 Movement’s Facebook group has around seventy-seven thousand predominantly young members, and is well-known for its dynamic debates. The co-founders of the group have been repeatedly arrested. The April 6 Movement itself was formed in 2008, in solidarity with the Egyptian cotton workers in the Delta area.

Egypt, the most populous Arab nation, has also seen a sharp increase in labor struggles in the past few years, despite the extreme risks associated with such activity. Since 2004, two million Egyptians have participated in strikes, walk-outs, and rallies organized around workplace conditions and wages. Sectors as diverse as postal, tax collection, steel, and agriculture have seen significant labor disruptions. Workers protested the minimum wage, which has been stagnant since 1984, via a sit-in at the Council of Ministers in Cairo. By necessity, all of these labor activities lead to tension with, if not open denunciation from, the Egyptian Trade Union Federation, which has close ties to the ruling National Democratic Party.

Facing Budget Shortfall, Utah Experiments with “Accelerated Graduation”

Facing a $700 million shortfall, Utah state senator Chris Buttars has proposed eliminating the twelfth grade, explaining that seniors do not usually work hard during that final year. A backlash from teachers and parents led to a modification of the proposal—an “accelerated graduation” that allows students to optionally graduate one year early. The measure, which would save $60 million, has already won some ardent support.

Nationwide, approximately three hundred thousand teachers are expected to be laid off in 2010, due to state budget crises.

On Oakland Docks, Labor Community Alliance Prevents Unloading of Israeli Ship

In the early morning hours of June 20, 2010 more than eight hundred labor and community activists blocked the gates of Oakland, California’s docks to prevent the unloading of an Israeli ship. The longshore workers, members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, refused to cross the picket lines, citing health and safety provisions in their contract. An on-the-spot arbitrator ruled that it was, indeed, unsafe for the workers to enter the docks.

This action—organized to oppose the blockade of Gaza—may be the first such job action in the United States in support of Palestine.

Both the San Francisco Labor Council and Alameda Labor Council passed resolutions denouncing Israel’s blockade of Gaza, and sent out public notices of the dock action.

New Labor Forum 19(3): 6-8, Fall 2010
Copyright © Joseph S. Murphy Institute, CUNY
ISSN: 1095-7960/10 print, DOI: 10.4179/NLF.193.0000002