Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Is the AFL-CIO Still about Labor?

National Journal reminds us that "business" and "labor" have supposedly agreed to some kind of guest-worker plan that would be part of the Gang of 8 immigration proposal.  The AFL-CIO, now headed by Richard Trumka, has endorsed a guest-worker programNJ also reminds us that the employment picture isn't looking very good.  At 7.8%, the unemployment rate is higher than it had been at any point in the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations.  And millions have left the work-force.  And wages are stagnating.  So a guest-worker program would be implemented under less than auspicious economic conditions.

One might be forgiven for wondering what Big Labor would exactly get out of a guest-worker program.  The AFL-CIO might want to give the White House a win on a major issue, but would such a program be in the interests of actual workers?

Let's look at what John Sweeney, the former head of the AFL-CIO, had to say about guest workers:
"Guest worker programs are a bad idea and harm all workers....They cast workers into a perennial second-class status, and unfairly put their fates into their employers' hands."

"The compromise legislation has two fatal flaws: a guest worker program that would institutionalize and expand a second-class workforce easily exploited by employers and an unjust, inhumane and unworkable three-tier system of treatment for immigrants who are in this country.
"The original guest worker operation--the post-war Bracero program--was shamed out of existence in 1964 because of egregious employer abuse, cheating, racial oppression and more."

"[A guest-worker program] will assure a steady flow of cheap labor from essentially indentured workers too afraid of being deported to protest substandard wages, chiseled benefits and unsafe working conditions. Such a system will create a disenfranchised underclass of workers. That is not only morally indefensible, it is economically nonsensical. We've had plenty of bad experiences with such shortsighted answers to a complicated problem."
 Mickey Kaus notes that labor activist Cesar Chavez was not exactly a big fan of "guest workers" or illegal labor, either.

So whose side is Big Labor actually on, here?  The workers' or the White House's?

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