The following comes from an interview with Antonio, an undocumented worker from Mexico who has resided and worked in the United States for the last six years. He works as a day laborer, mainly in construction.
It’s no secret that there are many undocumented workers living in the United States. Usually, they are referred to as “illegal immigrants,” a term which considers a human being themselves to be illegal. The presence of undocumented workers angers the right greatly, as their nationalist ideology has them shouting that it is unfair that undocumented get to live with the “benefits” of American life. American liberals often celebrate undocumented workers because they “do the work Americans do not want to do”. These statements are two sides of a single coin. Both stem from racism, nationalism, and the division of workers by the ruling capitalist class. In both cases, undocumented workers are “the other” and do not deserve to the so-called benefits of living in the United States. For the conservative right, this means access to social benefits, for the liberal right, this means the right of respect and dignity. As we will see, undocumented workers have neither under their current conditions.
Antonio: I came seis (six) year(s) ago. Mi familia came little after that.
L. Zorfass: How did you find work?
Antonio: I stand with others at the square, try to get picked up for someone who needs work.
L. Zorfass: What kind of work do you do?
Antonio: Building houses and big buildings in the city part of town.
L. Zorfass: The others that stand with you at the square, they all do similar work?
Antonio: Si, si. A lot.
From the get-go, it is clear that kind of work undocumented workers do in an urban environment; work that is necessary for the continuing and growth of modern life. It is these undocumented workers who are building the houses the average American lives in, and building the towers of finance for the ruling class. This work, construction, is the kind of work the liberals dignify as “beneath” Americans even though only 35% of construction workers in the United States are undocumented workers . It is an insult not just to those who toil in construction, but to labor as a whole. Blue collar work is what the entire infrastructure of the country is built on, yet the liberals who shed crocodile tears for the “poor immigrant” consider this “grunt work” that no one would want to do; the very work they themselves need to live daily. Construction work and construction workers must be celebrated, for the work they do is necessary for us all to live and work.
The work of the undocumented is, of course, not just limited to construction work. In terms of necessary labor for the maintenance and growth of the productive base of the United States, the agricultural sector is also filled with undocumented workers. The vast majority of workers –78%, according to the most recent National Agricultural Workers Survey – are foreign-born and crossed a border to get here (NAWS, Farmworker Justice) . Again, the work designated as “beneath Americans” is the very work that is needed to sustain Americans. As we will see further on, the anti-immigrant policies of the current Trump administration are causing problems for the agriculture capitalists and the possible food supply for the United States.
L. Zorfass: May I ask what your working conditions are like?
Antonio: This job is 12 hours every day in the sun. We get a break for lunch, 20 minutos.
L. Zorfass: Would you mind if I asked how much you’re getting paid?
Antonio: Five dollars for the hour.
We often hear from right-wing commentators that immigrants are “stealing jobs” from Americans. This is nonsense; an American boss willingly and purposefully fires documented workers to hire undocumented workers. Why? Because an undocumented worker is paid less and is not subject to standing U.S. labor laws. Any worker works part of the day for themselves, and part of the day for the boss. This is called surplus-value and it’s where the boss’ profit comes from. The average minimum wage for a documented worker working an eight-hour day in the United States is $7.25 an hour. The job that Antonio was working when this interview was given would last two weeks, 10 hours a day, at five dollars an hour. Antonio also said it’s a $13,000 job containing six undocumented workers. For two weeks, the documented worker working two weeks on a $13,000 dollar job is generating a surplus-value of 373% against their wages. For six undocumented workers working 10 hours a day, for 5 dollars a day, five days a week, that is generating a surplus-value of 433% against their wages. There is an 86% increase in profit in the two-week period for the boss (if the boss hires six undocumented workers, rather than six documented workers, for a two week period, where the cost of the job is $13,000). Undocumented workers are not stealing jobs from anyone; they are being given them for a higher profit margin for the boss as they are exploited for a higher rate. 86% higher in this particular case.
L. Zorfass: Could you tell me about your living conditions?
Antonio: Mi familia is five. We pay 950 dollars a month for a room and kitchen. A lot of violence on our streets.
L. Zorfass: Do you have to worry about ICE?
Antonio: Every day. Our neighbors are here legally and they were arrested by ICE for two weeks. I’m afraid when I get home my family will be gone.
L. Zorfass: What about medical care?
Antonio: There is a clinic. We do not go unless an emergency. The round-ups (ICE) can get us there.
So, here are the “benefits” the undocumented worker gets from living in the United States that the conservative right complains about: living in the most cramped of living quarters, worrying about their children facing violence right outside their door, having to live in fear every day that you’ll come home and your family will be rounded up by ICE, who have increased their arrests by 38-40% since the February 2017 due to the Trump Administration’s immigrant policies. The fear is so great that an entire family is afraid to go to a doctor, as they may be arrested rather than being treated. According to Antonio, ICE raids even happen against documented workers who simply “look the part.” This also, of course, affects the bosses who hire undocumented workers at highly exploitive rates. If 78% of agricultural workers are undocumented, what will happen to food production and profits if most or all are arrested? Agricultural production will come almost to a halt. The country will be short of food, profits, will fall greatly, and the remedy will be to hire documented workers who are exploited but at a lesser rate than undocumented workers. Not to mention the expenses employers will have to pay out in order to conform to labor laws. Profits and food supply would fall dramatically if the terror against undocumented agricultural workers continues.
So one may ask, why do they come here if they live under such squalled conditions, live in constant fear, and are so exploited? Antonio answers this quite simply:
Antonio: Your country owns our country. You have all of our stuff. The drug gangs that ruled at home? They did it to send their drugs here.
It’s not hard to understand that someone would want to come to the country that owns their stuff. 88% of Mexico’s GDP is from Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). 44% is owned by the United States . It is reported that Mexican drug cartels send 64 billion dollars worth of drugs into the United States, according to Mexico’s former Public Safety Secretary Genaro Garcia Luna. Mexican poverty is wealth for the United States and this is why so many Mexican citizens find themselves risking their lives to get into the country. It is not to steal jobs or social services. It is to get a piece of the pie stolen from them by American imperialists. In order to get the smallest amount of that, undocumented workers from Mexico have to risk everything, including their lives, just to live in poverty.
Workers of all the world must unite. It is only the way to stop this tyranny over the laborers of the world. American workers find themselves exploited and in poverty, and then find themselves on the streets so that the bosses can hire undocumented workers to exploit even more. Undocumented workers come to the United States because of the poverty and conditions international capital has created for them in their own country. Both documented and undocumented workers must unite for the same cause against capitalism, or each will find themselves in continued worsening conditions all for the profit of the same people: the capitalists.