Big Labor likes Big Immigration

Big Labor's idea of a Photo: AP Photo, Richard Trumka

WASHINGTON, DC, January 30, 2013 — The AFL-CIO’s Richard Trumka has been sending around some junk mail praising the benefits of a “path to citizenship” in proposed immigration reform legislation. Just as Big Labor likes Big Government, they also like Big Immigration.

Trumka’s position at first seems illogical: He wants to want to turn illegal workers into citizens who might compete for jobs with union members. But they like immigrants becoming citizens because they fear the alternative: a robust guest worker program. 

A guest worker program brings in more workers into the country at a relatively low market wage and does it quickly. That’s great for business, but not for unions, which don’t want more wage competition. Guest workers could work temporary jobs at wages too low to support union dues, and they would have no need for a long-term union relationship. They might even travel back and forth across the border seasonally, making them very hard to unionize. Cesar Chavez is given a lot of credit for trying, but unionizing migrant farm workers has never really been practical.

Channeling illegal immigrants into a citizenship program delays their entry into the labor market, makes them go through a lengthy bureaucratic process to qualify for citizenship. It also assures that by the time they are integrated into the population, they are older, more established, and more likely to be prime recruits for union jobs. The “path to citizenship” supported by the unions is a long and winding road designed more to limit immigrant labor than to embrace it.

Making citizenship the main route to working in the United States may also limit the number of lower wage immigrants from countries like Mexico. Studies show that more than three quarters of the Mexican workers currently here illegally do not have an interest in becoming citizens. They would prefer to work here for a few years and then return to Mexico with enough money to start a business and raise a family.

One reason why many workers come here from Mexico is the oppressive character of the extremely corrupt Mexican union system which is part of the corrupt power structure which runs the country. It concentrates wealth in the hands of a small elite while disempowering workers and entrepreneurs. They can’t make a fair wage or save enough to start a business in Mexico, so they come here to work and get a leg up. 

The class of workers who make up most of our illegal immigrant population today hate unions and want nothing to do with them. To them Richard Trumka looks a lot like the corrupt labor bosses in Mexico. The unions don’t like them much better and would rather deny them opportunities and send them home, or force them to work on their terms as US citizens.

The proposal in the Senate already includes massive red tape to make it harder for businesses to actually hire guest workers. By the time the big government deal-makers are done there will probably be wage controls and skills-based quotas, and if the Obama administration gets a say there might even be some form of forced unionization.

There’s a lot more to this situation. What the unions really fear is the possibility that a free market in labor will catch on. If workers can go where they want and work for a fair market wage and businesses can hire whomever they want, it will help companies which do not want to unionize and further erode the power of Big Labor in the states and industries which it still dominates.

For most of us, what’s good for the unions is probably not good for our pocketbooks.

A freer labor market may keep wages down at the bottom of the economy, but that ultimately lowers the cost of living for everyone, increases upward mobility, stimulates the economy and generates job growth. More low wage workers here means fewer companies going overseas to find them. It also creates more managerial and oversight jobs for native workers, especially those with the right language skills and background, making second generation immigrants highly upwardly mobile.

So when Richard Trumka comes on your Television and tells you that he supports a “path to citizenship,” take a look at the legislation he is actually talking about. That path is a one way path and it is going to be long and rocky and too narrow for many to travel on.

Big Labor’s idea of immigration reform is Big Immigration, bloated with bureaucracy and as far from the simple free market principles which would benefit everyone as we can possibly get.


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Dave Nalle

Dave Nalle has been writing political analysis since the 1980s for newspapers, magazines and now online journals. He is currently Execitive Director of the Center for Foreign Policy Priorities, is on the board of the Coalition to Reduce Spending, and served four years as National Chairman of the Republican Liberty Caucus.

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