By Fidel "Butch" Montoya
El Semanario 6/23/2010
Last week, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka spoke before the City Club of Cleveland, giving a major speech calling on union members from the economically hard hit rust-belt region to embrace comprehensive immigration reform.
Trumka acknowledged the economic predicament Cleveland union workers have endured due to the poor economy and great recession.
"Cleveland embodies both the consequences of our failed economic policies of the last three decades - and our hope for a different future. The economic crisis has hit hard here -116,000 lost jobs in the last decade in Cuyahoga County. Eighty-six thousand home foreclosures last year alone."
It was not only unusual for Trumka to give this speech supporting immigration reform in Cleveland in front of union members and business leaders, it demonstrated his exceptional leadership abilities to speak out on an issue he believes must be heard.
He criticized the low wage, high consumption society that imports more and more of what we consume and that it was time to embrace a new national strategy for a global economy.
But for our economy to change means acknowledging that the economic policies of the past have not worked and that it is going to take "world class workforce skills and workforce rights and trade policies that serve the interests of the American people."
Trumka made it clear that in order to have this national narrative about changing our economic strategy, a national introspective look at our personal opinions and political beliefs is necessary.
"Today I also want to talk to you about what may seem like a strange subject--immigration--because it is patently clear that we cannot talk about our national workforce strategy unless we face head-on our own contradictions, hypocrisy and history on immigration."
Trumka spoke of the bigotry and racism his family faced when they first came to this country. "My parents fled poverty and war from different corners of Europe. We were the last hired and first fired, the people who did the hardest and most dangerous work, the people whose pay got shorted because we didn't know the language and were afraid to complain."
He made the case that undocumented immigrants are facing the same intolerance his family faced years ago. Trumka said immigrant families who came to America to find their dream, are now biased of undocumented immigrants seeking the very same dream they wanted in America.
"And yet today I hear from working people who should know better, some in my own family - that those immigrants are taking our jobs, ruining our country. Haven't we been here before?
When I hear that kind of talk, I want to say, did an immigrant move your plant overseas? Did an immigrant take away your pension? Or cut your health care? Did an immigrant destroy American workers' right to organize? Or crash the financial system? Did immigrant workers write the trade laws that have done so much harm to Ohio?"
Trumka said the American Dream brought scores of people to this country, so that "all of us will have a fair portion of the good things in life. Time to be with our families. The chances for our children to get an education and the opportunity to make their own way in the world. Laws that protect us, not oppress us."
Trumka said it was time for immigration reform because employers like cheap labor, like workers who are afraid to organize, afraid to complain when they are mistreated or robbed of their wages and benefits. Borders that are "open enough to ensure an endless supply of socially and legally powerless cheap labor."
Outlining reasons for immigration reform, Trumka made it clear that as members of the union movement, it was time for workers to unite under a banner of fair wages, right to organize, right to work without fear of retaliation, and the right for a pathway that will allow undocumented immigrants to be part of our country from day one.
Trumka spoke passionately of how our country has turned to hate and dissension because of the lack of compelling moral leadership; allowing the voices of hate to feed the public's anger, pain and desperation. "We see today a dangerous drift toward a politics of hate."
Unless our leaders become advocates of change and push for a progressive perspective on the economy that respects workers, the voices of hate will only continue to breed and drag our country in the wrong direction.
Therein lays the problem. We need more leaders like Trumka who are not afraid to speak out to audiences who have used the undocumented immigrant as the scapegoat. The activists of hate have taken advantage of this economic recession to prey upon the anger, depression, and unemployment.
President Obama has not consistently called upon the "haters and racists" to put an end to their bigotry. There is no moral leadership from the President for comprehensive immigration reform. He has not even made comprehensive immigration reform a priority for his administration, much less articulating a political strategy pushing for legislation.
In fact, Obama has prioritized immigration enforcement concentrating on families, not those with criminal backgrounds.
Other politicians are missing in action as well when it comes to advocating for immigration reform or for calling an end to the hate and racism. Thank God, faith leaders have taken forceful steps to call upon the President for immigration reform and have condemned the unjust laws and hate in our country.
Richard Trumka has taken on a significant role as a leader and it was very bold for him to take his message into the heartland of the rust belt. As a strong American, he understands what is necessary so all can achieve the American Dream.
"We as a nation must be true to our better selves -employers must not make a buck on the backs of workers who live in fear of deportation, and workers must stand together in the workplace for good jobs, safe jobs, health care for all, and retirement security we can count on. And so when we talk about making the American Dream real, the labor movement stands for making it real for all of us who do the work of our country. All of us - no matter what we look like, who we choose to love, or where we come from. Surely there we can find common ground."
Our political leaders must change the dialogue and alter the national tone and narrative on comprehensive immigration reform. The voices of hate and dissension will only prey upon people who fail to realize undocumented immigrants only want what our immigrant families wanted and worked for, the American Dream.
Fidel "Butch" Montoya is Director of H. S. Power and Light Ministries - Latino Faith Initiative. He was the Vice President/News Director of KUSA - TV Channel 9 News from 1985-1990, and worked at the news station for 24 years. Montoya also served as Deputy Mayor of City and County of Denver from 1995-1999; as the Manager of Public Safety for the City and County of Denver from 1994-2000. Montoya was Licensed to preach in 1972. He serves on the Executive Council for the Hispanic Coalition for Comprehensive Immigration Reform.