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HomeIllinois NewsBeckman: Recalling past labor leaders' illegal immigration concerns could change Labor Day

Beckman: Recalling past labor leaders’ illegal immigration concerns could change Labor Day



Labor leader Samuel Gompers and his wife

By Hank Beckman - 

Another Labor Day come and gone and another chance to cook burgers, drink adult beverages, and celebrate the end of Summer—while many remain essentially clueless about the reason for the holiday.

It’s probably asking too much, but wouldn’t it be nice if there were a little more attention paid to the actual labor movement of the last century and the legitimate role it had in creating the middle class in the most prosperous nation in history?

One FaceBook friend noted that even though we had national holiday celebrating labor, few were familiar with people like Samuel Gompers, the founder of the American Federation of Labor who played a such crucial role in the labor movement in the latter part of the nineteenth century and remained a titan of the movement until his death in 1926.

But today you would be hard-pressed to find a young person—or members of any generation—who have even heard the name Samuel Gompers, much less have a grasp of his historical significance.

The historical illiteracy of our citizenry is one reason for this sorry state of affairs; that sorry fact demands another whole column. But the cynic in me thinks there may be another reason Gompers' name fails to be recognized by the modern citizen.

Gompers, an English-Jewish immigrant who came to the labor movement though the family business of cigar-making, had views on immigration that were, shall we say, out of touch with the current view held by so many in our chattering classes.

He consistently criticized immigration as a threat to the American working man and the AFL supported both the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and the Immigration Reform Act of 1924 that all but stopped the flow of immigrants and cheap labor that characterized the early years of the Twentieth Century.

He supported literacy tests to help suppress immigration and in a 1921 communication he called for a two-year moratorium on all immigration—and a complete ban when there were any Americans unemployed.

In another letter he left no doubt that he felt immigration suppressed wages, writing, “Foreign standards of wages do not permit American standards of life.”

That’s not exactly the story modern-day Democrats and open-borders advocates want to shout from the rooftops about one of the most important labor leaders in the country’s history.

If by some chance a factual history of Gompers' position on immigration leaks out, our younger generation might get a little curious about other heroes of the labor movement.

Cesar_chavezThey might stumble upon the information that Cesar Chavez, hero to many a college student and die-hard liberal in the sixties and seventies, had views on immigration that don’t quite fit the accepted narrative to which many (most?) of our elite political/media class adhere.

The United Farm Workers, which Chavez founded, was during his tenure as leader decidedly anti-immigrant, particularly illegal immigrants.

Chavez’s record on immigration was a complicated one that included sympathy for illegals at times, but he was also realistic about illegal labor driving down the wages of American citizens and being used as strike-breakers during protracted labor battles with farmers in the Southwest.

As documented by historian Miriam Pawel in The Crusades of Cezar Chavez, the UFW financed “wet lines” along the Southern border to prevent illegals from crossing the Rio Grande and cooperated with the now defunct Immigration and Naturalization Service by reporting illegals.

Who knows, after being exposed to factual history about two of the most prominent labor leaders of the last century, the modern voter might get a little curious about the subject of illegal immigration, or what the modern sophisticate insists on calling “undocumented” immigrants. (Is it just me, or does anyone else wonder why they don’t have documents? Did they lose them? Can’t they just go down to the local county office and get copies?)

The modern truth-seeker might somehow stumble upon the 1995 State of the Union Speech in which President Bill Clinton said that Americans “are rightly concerned about the large numbers of illegal aliens entering our country.”

Clinton goes on to employ rhetoric that echoes the most vigilant immigration hawks of the modern era, saying “They hold jobs that otherwise might be held by citizens or legal immigrants…the public services they use impose burdens on our taxpayers.”

That little nugget of information might spark enough interest  to discover a 2005 speech by none other than then-Senator Barack Obama who said, “We simply cannot allow people to pour into the United States undetected, undocumented, unchecked and circumventing the line of people who are waiting patiently, diligently, and lawfully to become immigrants in this country.”

All this newfound knowledge might lead people, especially younger voters, to wonder about all the rhetoric they’ve heard from the open-borders crowd over the last several years, especially since Donald Trump became president.

They might wonder why, if these leaders of the Democratic Party were—at least rhetorically—so tough on illegal immigration in the recent past, is it so important to treat the Southern border as a mere suggestion and make no effort to police immigrants overstaying their visas in 2019.

Listening to the Bill Clinton of 1995, young voters might wonder if modern-day immigration hawks have a legitimate point when they talk about illegals crowding legal citizens out of jobs.

If they learn about some of the racist language both Gompers and Chavez used to describe immigrants, they might think about the claims by Democrats that immigration restrictionists are haters, xenophobes, and nativists. They might get curious about how Clinton and Obama got over their fear of immigrants.

People might start to ask what could have happened in recent years to prompt this change of heart. They might look at voting patterns and suspect that Democrats are counting on eventually legalizing illegals and securing a lock on elected offices throughout the United States. They might start looking at crime statistics and find there are studies challenging the prevailing notion that illegal immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than the native born.

After learning a little factual history about the labor movement, they might start asking Democrats some rather pointed questions, for which they have no good answer.


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