The AFL-CIO in May 2001 reissued its endorsement of an amnesty for 6 to 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States. This is the second year in the row that the AFL-CIO has astonishingly rejected one of organized labor's most honored traditions: protecting U.S. labor markets from being flooded by foreign workers.
In February of 2000, the executive council of the national union federation voted to urge Congress to begin granting amnesty to the 6 million illegal aliens currently avoiding arrest in this country. The union bosses would reward their lawbreaking with U.S. citizenship.
The council also voted to seek a repeal of a law that makes it illegal for companies to hire illegal aliens. The AFL-CIO had been one of the major supporters of passing the law in 1986.
As a result of the new action, the AFL-CIO has placed itself on the same side as sweat shop operators and the most egregious of cheap-labor industrialists in their desire to globalize the U.S. labor market. If foreign workers are free to take jobs in the U.S. whether or not they have a legal right to be here, then one can expect the surge of illegal immigration to become even larger. And American workers will be forced to compete on a global level. Since global wage averages are a small fraction of current U.S. wages, the AFL-CIO has adopted a policy that condemns American workers to a race to the bottom in wages and working conditions.
Why would the AFL-CIO do such an anti-worker thing? Good bottom-line business.
That is, the AFL-CIO ceased acting like a champion of American workers and made a good business decision.
As a business, the AFL-CIO makes its money off dues. Immigrants -- and especially illegal aliens -- have proven to be much easier to organize and to make into new union members. The AFL-CIO sees illegal aliens as a lucrative market for dues to keep the bureaucracy of organized labor humming.
So the AFL-CIO as a business is willing to sell out the American worker for the same reason that other businesses pay huge contributions to Congress to keep the supply of cheap foreign labor coming.
The leaders of the AFL-CIO knew that their actions are likely to anger the rank and file American laborers. But they took a calculated risk for the sake of the two groups which represent the future of the labor movement: foreign workers and government workers who see the business of government growing to meet the needs for social services in cities of high immigration.
Bad policy, even for the current round of aliens
Adding to the callousness of the AFL-CIO's strange move is the story behind the illegal aliens they are now championing. Those aliens are in low-wage non-union occupations, many of which were unionized and much higher paying 20 years ago. But the presence of so many illegal aliens, as well as the highest surge of legal immigrants in the nation's history, resulted in busted unions and the driving out of American workers. Now, the AFL-CIO is working for the illegal aliens. But the gains will be very short-term. If the amnestied illegal aliens join the unions and manage to raise their wages, they are likely to lose their gains to the next swarm of illegal aliens. Nothing draws illegal aliens like an amnesty. The 6 million present illegal aliens mostly rushed to this country after the nation's first amnesty in 1986. Another amnesty is sure to draw even more new ones, especially if the AFL-CIO succeeds in offering the new illegal aliens the chance to work legally without companies being threatened with sanctions.
All of us with personal connections to the labor movement (I grew up in a union household and earlier was a member of the AFL-CIO and a local officer) have reason to feel disappointment. The greatest moral high ground of union leadership was always the claim that it cared not just about members of the unions but about the plight of all workers. With its decision to emphasize adding membership among illegal aliens above protecting the wages and working conditions of American workers in general, the AFL-CIO has given a great deal of rhetorical ammunition to critics who have always assumed the worst about organized labor. The hope for the American labor movement is that American workers will rise up and shout down this ill-informed amnesty policy when it is trotted out in union locals across the country this year. We'll hope the American workers who built the unions -- and pay the salaries of the union chieftans -- will bring their leaders back around to living up to their core responsibilities.