As the Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride travels through 81 cities across the country, the impact is sure to reverberate far and wide. Already, organizing rallies are creating new bonds among a broad cross section of those angered by the cynical use of the Sept. 11 tragedy by the Bush administration to scapegoat recent immigrants and trample on civil liberties.
“Does denying basic due process rights make us safer from terrorism?” Maria Elena Durazo, Freedom Ride leader and vice president of Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees (HERE) union asked at a rally in New Haven, Conn. “Sept. 11 does not give the Bush administration the right to take away our civil liberties.”
That packed rally was remarkable for its multi-racial, multi-national character. Low wage workers, students and scholars, peace and civil liberties activists, religious leaders, and elected officials from around the state stood united in defense of the right to organize, the right to due process, the right to family reunification and a clear path to citizenship.
At a spring conference on the USA Patriot Act, HERE President John Wilhelm emphasized the common struggle for civil liberties and immigrant rights, warning that precedents against immigrants without documents will soon be used against “legal” immigrants and then against all citizens.
Wilhelm’s leadership in the labor movement has been key to turning the tide from immigrant bashing to solidarity with recent immigrant workers. Aggressive organizing campaigns have made these workers perhaps the largest growing section of the labor movement.
The Bush administration’s all-out campaign to destroy organized labor and curtail an organized, pro-worker vote turnout has a sharp anti-immigrant edge. Immigrant workers seeking citizenship and union representation are a potentially powerful force that could help defeat the right wing in 2004.
“When we mobilize and march and vote together we win,” emphasized Durazo at the Connecticut rally. “We’re going to show the politicians and the right wing that immigrants deserve and demand the right to be citizens and have the same rights on the job as all Americans. We protect the civil liberties of all Americans when we fight for the civil liberties of immigrants in this country.”
The Freedom Ride is strengthened by its ability to connect to local struggles everywhere. In New Haven, where a quarter of the population now depends on Yale University and Yale-New Haven Hospital for employment, the Freedom Ride is drawing support from unions preparing for a possible Aug. 27 strike and their community allies.
Unidad Latina en Accion, a local grass roots immigrant rights organization, has linked the Freedom Ride to an ongoing campaign to win the right to drivers’ licenses for immigrants. Immigrant workers seeking union recognition at Chefs Solutions in North Haven and Cintas in Branford have also embraced the Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride as a key tactic to shine a light on the violations against undocumented workers’ wages, benefits and health and safety on the job.
The peace and justice community has enthusiastically responded to the outreach from the labor movement, and is linking the Freedom Ride to the campaign to repeal the USA Patriot Act, aimed at stifling opposition to policies of war and aggression.
The New Haven Board of Aldermen will hold a special public hearing on issues faced by new immigrants in September in the Fair Haven neighborhood, home to many immigrants from Latin America.
In every city, the Freedom Ride will embrace the struggles of immigrants and all working people for human rights, dignity and justice.
The Most Rev. Peter A. Rosazza endorsed the Freedom Ride because its goals are consistent with the policies of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and a recent pastoral letter between the U.S. and Mexican bishops. Rosazza quoted the letter in his endorsement: “Making legal the large number of undocumented workers from many nations who are in the United States would help to stabilize the labor here, to preserve family unity and to improve the standard of living in immigrant communities.”
Securing the human rights of immigrant workers to organize without the threat of deportation and imprisonment will enable the entire labor movement to grow. The unity being forged along this road is key to building the kind of powerful coalition that can defeat Bush and the right wing in the 2004 elections.
Joelle Fishman is chair of the Connecticut Communist Party USA. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org