Monday, January 27, 2003

A few months ago I sent a letter to Nathan Newman arguing with him about a post of his on unions and immigration. He's back on that subject again and I still think he's missing the point. He understands why I disagree. Here is an edited and much improved copy of what I sent him in September.

"I'm a non-union carpenter in New York. I work mostly in Manhattan, from mid-range to high end. I've worked with men from The Caribbean, South America, Ireland, Poland, and China, both mainland and Taiwan. The Americans have been mostly college graduates with degrees in useless fields. My first foreman was a Yalie. I’ve worked with 60 year old men and alongside crews of 16 year old Ecuadorian laborers. The kids I met were here without their families.

I would say the unions are changing their tune because they need to increase their base; to play the game they have to ante up. Immigration is what drives this country. As one generation climbs the ladder or burns out they're replaced by the next. Immigrants are impressive, if only because they are so full of what makes this country interesting without having fully succumbed to its stupidity. They bring with them un-American ideas it takes generations to forget. Over a beer I can say, "Your American grandchildren will suck," and they'll laugh.

Not all immigrants come here to stay. There are many who come to make money and leave when they want to start a family, and this refers not only to men who want wives willing to stay at home, but also to women who would never want to raise a child here. An electrician I know, from Taiwan, fell in love with a Korean hooker in Queens. In six months she made enough money to open a shop back home, and none of her family would know how she made it. She told him this when she called to say goodbye on her way to the airport.

The operative term, to go back a bit and finish up, is 'burn-out'.
The answer is to find a reason to be in this country other than to make money. But America is money. From the culture of the rich to the culture of the angry poor. Money is why people fight to get here. The unions accommodate immigration because they have no choice. But as their new base rises on the economic ladder, it will leave them and will have to be replaced. And those who have not risen will despair. We need a movement for the working class that is not about climbing but respect, and that means stability. As long as there's gold at the end of the rainbow, that movement will not exist."

To argue that a constantly expanding labor pool is a good thing is absurd.

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