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2006-04-28

Immigrant Rights Groups Call for Massive Nationwide General Work Strike and Economic Boycott

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Hundreds of thousands–if not millions–of immigrants are expected to stage a work strike and take part in a one-day economic boycott on Monday to protest anti-immigrant legislation being considered by Congress. We speak with Nativo Lopez, one of the organizers and president of the Mexican American Political Association. [includes rush transcript]

On Monday, immigrant rights groups have called for a nationwide general immigrant strike. Hundreds of thousands–if not millions–of immigrants are expected to stage a work strike and take part in a one-day economic boycott to protest anti-immigrant legislation being considered by Congress.

We speak with one of the organizers of the boycott:

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We are going now to Los Angeles to speak with Nativo Lopez, the National President of the Mexican American Political Association, National Director of Hermandad Mexicana Latinoamericana. He joins us in the studio in Irvine. Welcome to Democracy Now!

NATIVO LOPEZ: Good morning.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. Can you talk about the plans for Monday?

NATIVO LOPEZ: Sure. Monday is the day without immigrants. We’re going to rescue May Day for immigrant workers, for all workers in America. Cities throughout the country will be demonstrating against H.R. 4437, the Sensenbrenner bill, the nastiest legislation that we’ve seen in Congress since the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, which actually made it a crime to aid and abet a fugitive slave seeking his freedom. The Sensenbrenner bill is the modern version of the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act.

We’re also asking for full and unconditional amnesty for all the undocumented currently in the United States. We’re opposed to any guest worker programs or also employer sanctions that seek to punish and sanction with a crime employers that hire individuals that don’t have immigration status. This is a continuing mass mobilization that we’ve seen in March and April, and now culminating in May, to impose the voice of the immigrant on the national immigrant debate or immigration debate and assure that the options that the immigrants are putting forth are the predominant options and not those being proposed by the hierarchies, the Democratic Party or other hierarchies that would seek a compromise, not in the interest of the immigrant communities.

AMY GOODMAN: Why don’t we talk about that, the parties, what the Republicans have proposed and what the Democrats, you feel, are settling for?

NATIVO LOPEZ: Well, the Democrats are settling for, embodied in legislation called the McCain-Kennedy Act, which would codify guest worker programs in our country on a national level, essentially creating a second-tier working class of immigrant workers, holding out the prospect that they would eventually be legalized, at least under that plan. And we don’t think that that is appropriate, unless these workers are absolutely protected by federal labor law, state wage and hour standards, and are secured the right to organize into the union. In addition to that, we believe that the stratified legalization program proposed under the McCain-Kennedy is something that’s not in the interest of the immigrant community. It would essentially take a person who already has an average of five years in the United States, working in undocumented status, an additional five to ten years to obtain legal status. And lastly, the proposal includes employer sanctions more onerous than current law, supposedly as a disincentive for employers to hire individuals that don’t have documents. But the historical practice with employer sanctions has been patterns of discrimination against individuals that are foreign-appearing or using a language other than English. The onus is really on the worker under employer sanctions, so we believe that it’s not something that’s in the interest of the immigrant community.

AMY GOODMAN: How do you feel about what the Minority Leader, Harry Reid, has done? He did not join in the McCain-Kennedy compromise.

NATIVO LOPEZ: Well, in addition to that, he hasn’t really put forward a program broader than the McCain-Kennedy. We almost saw a compromise close prior to the Easter recess, a Senate version that had many aspects of the Sensenbrenner bill on the Senate side. We’re of the position that better no bill this year than a bad bill. The compromise that they can reach in the Senate, we don’t believe, would stand favorable to immigrants in a conference committee, going against exclusively enforcement measures proposed by the Sensenbrenner bill. So we don’t really see much good coming out of a compromise in the Senate and the House.

AMY GOODMAN: Nativo Lopez is National President of the Mexican American Political Association. What about the question about boycott or not? The issue protest, yes, but there is some controversy over whether boycott is the most effective approach. Your stand on that?

NATIVO LOPEZ: We have nothing on the table. We haven’t won anything. The mega-marches that have occurred in March and April — an estimated five and six million people have marched throughout the country — we stalled the train that was already leaving the station to approve the Sensenbrenner bill. Some compromise version in the Senate, but there’s nothing on the table for immigrants currently. The last specter of compromise that occurred in the Senate, called the Hagel-Martinez bill, for example, created a caste legalization system that was repudiated by the immigrant community throughout the country. So there’s really nothing on the table for immigrants.

We want to make sure that the voice of the immigrant is the paramount voice in the current debate in Congress. And we believe that we need to kick it up a notch, boycotts, civil disobedience of a nonviolent nature. Essentially what we’re talking about, people applying a Gandhian principle of non-cooperation. The immigrant friends and family will essentially say, "I will not cooperate with a system that abuses me today, by offering my labor. I will withhold my labor today. I will with hold my consumption today. And I will participate in marches again, demanding the burial of H.R. 4437 and any similar type of legislation and a demand for full immediate, unconditional amnesty for all immigrant workers.

AMY GOODMAN: Where do you expect these protests to take place on Monday?

NATIVO LOPEZ: We will see the restoration of May Day in Chicago, for example. It’s estimated that a million people will march in Chicago. Chicago will shut down on May Day. Throughout California, there will be 20 marches in major cities. Again, millions of people will participate in that action. In the states of Oregon, Washington state, Texas, Arizona, Utah, New York City, Washington, D.C. itself, notwithstanding counsel from existing national immigration organizations or Hispanic organizations, the people on the ground, the working people, this movement has been built from the ground. The worker on the ground has internalized this message of withholding his labor on May Day. This is what we’re going to observe on May Day. The weight of the contribution of the immigrant and his presence and her presence in the economy will be felt on May Day, by observing their absence.

AMY GOODMAN: Nativo Lopez, I want to thank you for being with us from Irvine, California, National President of the Mexican American Political Association.

NATIVO LOPEZ: Thank you very much, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: Thank you for joining us.

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