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The Ties that Divide: How Bipartisan Identitarianism Works for the Boss and Against Citizen and Non-Citizen Workers

The Ties that Divide: How Bipartisan Identitarianism Works for the Boss and Against Citizen and Non-Citizen Workers

Touré Reed
Bipartisan acceptance of skewed and dishonest terms of debate over immigration, trade, and labor dynamics lends itself to unbridgeable divides like we are now witnessing with the government shutdown

This is one of the more extended straw-man articles - based of stereotypes and unproven assertions, that I’ve ever read. I don’t even know where to start with it.

Just a few things:

The low wages in meatpacking poultry and other industries was due to the successful use of savage attacks which busted the unions in an industry that ones was almost entirely unionized - the depression of wages that followed way predated the hiring of immigrant replacement workers.

But meanwhile, who is largely in the fight to reorganize unions such as UNITE-HERE, SEIU, and other organized labor activism like the CIW? Just like the old days, its almost all immigrants and African Americans. Only the names have changed - from Irish, Slavic, and Italian to Latino. White people are largely AWOL from the union fight right now.

Dr. Reed does not even mention the word “union” in the entire article.

Then he goes on with the stereotyped meme of Trumps base consisting of poor white people and the Democrats are all supported by rich urban snobs. Data has disproved this. Trumps base was largely the comfortable white middle class suburban petty bourgeoisie. The Democrats base remains the poor - who continue to be concentrated in urban areas.

I agree that the whole immigration debate behind the shutdown is a huge red herring because this idea that immigrants are even a factor in the lack of living wage jobs is wrong. There is a paucity of living wage manufacturing or service jobs because US manufacturers, unlike manufacturers in other countries, have savagely busted unions and shipped the jobs overseas in numbers far greater than immigrants coming in - along with a minimum wage that is far too low.

The shutdown is more than anything, a result of the dysfunctional form of government the constitution has saddled us with. Why do we never see “shutdowns” in Canada, Australia, the UK, Germany, etc…

And it seems that it is Dr. Reed who is not getting out into Trump country and talking to the locals. I live in Trump country and frequently travel to the deepest parts of it. Trying to win them over without deeply compromising our principles (Sorry, but the US left does not do xenophobia or racism) is a fools errand - and one that we don’t need to do because we already have a large majority on our side - its just that most of them are not organized, and don’t even bother to vote. We only need to organize, organize, organize.

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" Indeed, progressives should not lose sight of the fact that the current partisan showdown reflects the tensions between a GOP leadership that actually wants porous borders for much the same reason it wants America to be “right to work” (for less), and a base that—as far as this issue is concerned— is comprised of some racist, xenophobic ideologues as well as some people who understand that they are, in fact, losing ground but who have little more than racialist and xenophobic frameworks through which to make sense of the world. "

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I think this article has a lot of honesty and objectivity. Reed teaches at Illinois State University which is in downstate Illinois which was strong Trump country. The main thing that seems to be going on is that many of the Trump supporters have positioned their wrath at the wrong targets and selected the absolutely worst to lead their cause. I’m not referring to the Trump supporters who are absolute racists and fascists but people who have seen the jobs, cultures and livelihood of their communities destroyed over the last 30 years. Their anger should be squarely on Wall Street and Washington - not immigrants. Washington has worked hand in hand to destroy main street USA. They helped carve out the economic vitality of much of the Midwest. This was by politicians and their rich supporters. Offshoring, NAFTA, Tax breaks, Gutting union rights, monopolizing the media, etc, etc - all care of this economic elite in DC and NYC. They never wanted to make America Great for anyone but themselves and they have pretty much succeeded. I don’t think these economic and political elites want immigrants to get their rights because they may be the target of the immigrant’s wrath as well. Immigrants know better than most the game that is being played.


I don’t normally comment on articles, but I have to say that this guy gets it. I wish I could take one of his classes. I try to talk to my union brothers whenever I can about how we need to look out for eachother as workers because nobody else is, its about more than just being a member of the union. Not every worker has that privilige of a collective bargaining agreement so we have to stick up for the rights of non-union workers too. ITs so easy for some people to blame the “other” when work is slow or when things don’t go our way, but what we all need to realize is that we’re in this together no matter what our status is or the color of our skin, we’re all exploitable (and in some cases deportable) labor without legally protected workplace rights, including the right to organize. We can’t wait for our International unions to have this conversation on the national level for us, because its not going to happen for a lot of reasons including they don’t make entertaining talking heads on cable news. They have their own political motivations to negotiate in DC which can be tricky - but its not an excuse. SO just like Reed said we have to talk to our neighbors and our friends who we know vote Republican about the real issues of labor exploitation and how workers are pitted against workers by the ruling class - Y’all know about 43% of union members voted for Trump and we know who they are. It is a complicated discussion and the talking heads have a simple wrongheaded argument on both sides that are much easier to digest, so its gonna take work. My sleeves are rolled up how about yours?


Good article. A reasonable solution would be:

  1. A $15 an hour federal minimum wage
  2. Prevailing wage/salary laws for higher paid jobs (e.g. H1B visa workers).
  3. A 20% payroll tax, paid by employers, on all non-citizen employees.

This would incentivize employers to first look to citizens to hire but not preclude them from hiring non-citizens if they couldn’t find enough citizens to fill positions.

If the level of non-citizen employment stays the same, that would be a good indication that non-citizens are not taking jobs that Americans would otherwise take. If non-citizen employment falls (accompanied by a rise in citizen employment), that would be a good indication of the extent to which non-citizens were being hired over citizens.

If non-citizen employment fell by 25% (just a guess) the payroll tax would raise about $150 billion ($1.5 trillion over 10 years). If earmarked for jobs, and not enough citizens could be found to fill those jobs, then more non-citizens would be hired and the tax revenue from the payroll tax would be even higher.


Exactly the"right" to work for less.

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Excellent thinking!

@Yunzer: your point about unions and the role of union-busting in depressing wages is well taken, but I dare say Dr. Reed would agree with it. The way I read it, this article was focusing on the misconceptions that fuel both sides of the debate and make for the “high theatre” that he discusses, in particular the glossing over of the depressing effect on wages that illegal immigration has precisely because illegal immigrants don’t get the same protections as citizens. I would say that the arguments that Dr. Reed makes fit in perfectly with what I imagine your stance would be: that we should extend legal protections to as many workers as possible, including legal protections that make it easier for them to organize and unionize. I would love to see Dr. Reed himself address your point specifically; maybe he already has elsewhere?


“If Socialism, international, revolutionary Socialism, does not stand staunchly, unflinchingly, and uncompromisingly for the working class and for the exploited and oppressed masses of all lands, then it stands for none and its claim is a false pretense and its profession a delusion and a snare.
Let those desert us who will because we refuse to shut the international door in the faces of their own brethren; we will be none the weaker but all the stronger for their going, for they evidently have no clear conception of the international solidarity, are wholly lacking in the revolutionary spirit, and have no proper place in the Socialist movement while they entertain such aristocratic notions of their own assumed superiority. Let us stand squarely on our revolutionary, working class principles and make our fight openly and uncompromisingly against all our enemies, adopting no cowardly tactics and holding out no false hopes, and our movement will then inspire the faith, arouse the spirit, and develop the fiber that will prevail against the world.” Eugene Debs, 1910

The capitalist system is based upon competition and dog-eat-dog rivalry. One time it was the skilled V the unskilled reflected in the AFL V. IWW, then CIO, it is men against women, now it is generational, young “without hope” against the elderly “privileged.” It is black against white, It is native born against foreign-born. Undocumented is merely code for any outsider. Californians against the Dustbowl migrants…need i go on? Solidarity and unity is what Marx meant by workers of the world unite, you only got your chains to lose.


Thanks Common Dreams for posting outside the partisan box. We need more writing about the deep economic motivations at work in society and the economy that drive the building of a vast class of undocumented and exploitable workers, and not accept the limitations of “the immigration discourse crafted by our two major parties”.