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The Working Class Is Not Stupid About Immigration

By Froma Harrop

The American working class has few friends, and that sad situation is never more apparent than when the issue is immigration. The fat cats want unlimited supplies of cheap labor. It makes sense. That a giant union purportedly serving low-skilled workers would further that end does not.

The Service Employees International Union is backing a proposal to greatly expand the supply of low-cost labor pouring into the United States. The reason why is close to crazy.

Under the Senate immigration compromise, at least 400,000 two-year visas would be issued a year to unskilled foreigners. The visas could be renewed two times, but to ensure that the guest labor is truly temporary, workers would have to leave the country for a year between each stint. The SEIU apparently has a problem with the part about the workers being temporary.

First off, any self-respecting union would blow its top at the very suggestion of a massive new guest-worker program. The AFL-CIO adamantly opposes the idea. Its president, John Sweeney, complains that the program gives employers "a ready pool of labor they can exploit to drive down wages, benefits, health and safety protections, and other workplace standards."

There are temporary jobs -- for example, harvesting crops. But these new visas are designed to provide cut-rate labor to fill permanent positions in such businesses as meat processing, restaurants and motels.

The SEIU covers many of the very people who take these jobs. It seems curious that the union does not mind adding another half million workers a year to compete with its own members. Its Website contends that America has a shortage of 10 million workers and that "nearly half of all jobs created from now until 2012 will be held by workers with a high school diploma or less."

Duh -- but don't worker shortages cause wages to rise? The wages of "workers with a high school diploma or less" have been crashing through the floor. Or hasn't the SEIU noticed that its contract "victories" are not that fabulous?

It's hard to believe that the SEIU's leaders are dumb. Rather, they ignore the law of supply and demand to cover another agenda. Thus, one can't be sure whether the SEIU aspires to be a union representing workers or an arm of the National Council of La Raza, a group that claims to further the interests of Hispanics -- and does a lousy job of it.

Democrats who think they can get away with throwing blue-collar America to the wolves in return for new immigrants' votes should think again. Many Latinos who are native-born or legal immigrants -- however sympathetic to fellow Hispanics who want to come here -- do understand how the labor market has been rigged against them. The open border is why median wages are higher in Alabama than they are in Texas.

And there are other low-income groups who fancy their interests matter. T. William Fair, head of the Miami Urban League, appears in ads calling amnesty for illegal workers "a slap in the face to black Americans" and "an economic disaster." Some predict a new coalition of working-class blacks, whites and not a few Latinos questioning certain Democrats' loyalty to their cause. (Cheap-labor Republicans are already on notice.)

Controlled immigration is a good thing, and a little wage competition is an acceptable price for bringing new blood and energy into the country. But the numbers really do matter. If some unions and Democrats choose to deny the economic realities, they should at least be open about their motives. It would be highly risky to assume that everyone else is stupid.

fharrop@projo.com

COPYRIGHT 2007 THE PROVIDENCE JOURNAL CO.


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