Today near the middle of my 80th year, I’m off to Tijuana to work for a couple of weeks with refugees and immigrants at the border. I mention my age not because I feel old, but because 80 used to seem ancient to me. Yes, I’ve done lots of these fact-finding trips before beginning with our family’s six months in Brazil during the military dictatorship there back in 1984. Then there were all those trips to revolutionary Nicaragua beginning the next year, and many visits to Cuba. This time around, I find myself wondering if my age will be a factor in the eyes of my co-workers.
In any case, this is the first in a series of daily reports I plan to make on this blog site. I want to take readers with me on this particular expedition of first-hand observation and discovery.
So, I’m now seated on Delta Flight 2685, in seat 23B on my way from New York’s JFK Airport to San Diego CA. It’s a 5 hour and 45-minute flight. I’ll stay overnight in San Diego’s Gaslight District. Then, tomorrow I’ll cross over into Tijuana, and begin work on Monday at 9:00 a.m.
My plan is to join forces with Al Otro Lado (AOL), a Tijuana-based social justice and legal services organization whose task is to help asylum-seekers in their quest to find refuge in the United States. I’m not sure what my function with the group will be. I might end up sweeping, washing floors, making beds, working in the kitchen, and serving meals. That would be fine. But I’m hoping my Spanish will be of some use. (For the past six weeks or so, I’ve been burnishing my skills in hour-long Skype sessions with a wonderful Spanish teacher in Cuernavaca.)
My main task however is to learn. I want to build on what I’ve gathered throughout my professional life as a theologian, researcher, teacher and habitual traveler to Global South stress points.
More specifically, my past observations (during those long stays in Mexico, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Honduras, Brazil and Cuba) as well as my study with Global South thought leaders (especially in Costa Rica’s Departamento Ecumenico de Investigaciones and during my years teaching in an on-site Latin American Studies Program) have already taught me that today’s refugees are seeking escape from:
The effects of U.S. wars during the 1980s which destroyed families, church communities, businesses, towns, and entire countries. Those wars were aimed at keeping in power brutal dictators who served U.S. business interests such as Chiquita Banana. They were intended to prevent democracy from replacing the tyranny of Latin America’s wealthy classes allied with their counterparts across the U.S. border.
Gang violence inflicted on whole communities by the now decommissioned national soldiers and paramilitaries employed 40 years ago by the United States in South and Central America in the wars just referenced. [During the years of cooperation with the CIA and U.S. Army, those terrorists (that’s what they were) supported their illegal war efforts by deep involvement in drug trafficking – with CIA facilitation. Now, with the wars over, the former U.S. assets are simply continuing the work they learned all during those years of conflict – including the associated threats, bribes, kickbacks, death squads, assassinations, rapes, and torture.]
The devastating results of free trade pacts (like the North and Central American Free Trade Agreements – NAFTA and CAFTA) that have allowed the United States to e.g. dump cheap corn on the international market thus driving millions of small farmers off their land and into unemployment in big city slums.
The effects of climate change such as rising temperatures, hurricanes, floods, droughts, and forest fires, exacerbated by the entire Republican Party which insists not only on denying scientific fact, but on doubling down on the ecocide’s causes.
Domestic violence exacerbated by rampant unemployment (caused by those free trade deals) that has made mothers and their children absolutely desperate to escape the violent men in their lives.
Virtually none of those causes are explained to the American people. Instead, the multifaceted central role of the U.S. government and CIA in creating the crisis is completely overlooked as politicians and the mainstream media (MSM) ahistorically “explain” the problem in terms of freeloaders, drug dealers, rapists, gangbangers and general criminality.
Ignored as well is the undeniable moral obligation of the United States to make reparations by rebuilding the economies and infrastructures they’ve destroyed and by giving generous and easy asylum (not to mention jobs and cash payments) to the refugees manufactured in the process. WE ABSOLUTELY OWE THESE PEOPLE SHELTER, PROTECTION, AND RESTITUTION! THIS IS NOT A QUESTION OF CHARITY. WE ARE MORALLY OBLIGED!
As you can see, my project here is to help balance our MSM-cultivated ignorance by acquainting readers with actual refugees and immigrants and their full stories.
Most of us are scratching our heads over the magnitude of the Labor Party’s loss in last week’s election in the United Kingdom. The mainstream media (MSM) would have us believe that the Tory Party’s victory under Boris Johnson represents a massive rejection of left politics by the British working class.
However, that’s by no means the only conclusion possible. Indeed, it is entirely credible to conclude the opposite, viz. that last week’s vote was a resounding victory for the working class. That is, it represented their rejection of the very type of free trade pacts that have made lives miserable for wage earners across the planet.
It’s also possible to conclude that the British elections have issued to the world a clarion call to reform all free trade pacts while suggesting a clear direction for reform.
Let me explain.
The Elections and Brexit
To begin with, think about the elections and Brexit.
That, of course, is what the voting was about – Brexit (British withdrawal from the European Union). No other country has yet exhibited the courage needed to do so – not even Greece, despite the extreme austerity the EU has imposed upon it for years – and despite the promises of SYRIZA and the will of the people expressed in huge demonstrations and national referenda.
So, unlike the Greeks, the Brits set the stage for the actual exit of a member state from the European Union, which is the kind of free trade pact that has cursed working classes for more than 25 years.
Remember that: the EU is basically a free trade arrangement. Its central feature is its single market allowing its “four freedoms:” free movement of goods, services, capital, and people within EU borders.
The EU was formed in 1993. Its counterpart across the pond, NAFTA (The North American Free Trade Agreement) was signed a year later. Then came CAFTA (The Central American Free Trade Agreement) in 2004. As indicated, working classes have been suffering ever since not only from NAFTA and CAFTA but from EU austerity administered by unelected and therefore unaccountable bureaucrats headquartered in far-off Brussels.
With such hardship and lack of democratic control in mind, voters chose Johnson over Jeremy Corbyn. That’s because no one, including Corbyn and his Labor Party, was as clear as Johnson and his Tories about withdrawing from the EU come hell or high water.
On the other hand, Corbyn and Labor were not only relentlessly vilified by the country’s corporate media; they also remained ambivalent and split about Brexit. Together those factors proved fatal. The best the denigrated Laborites could do was to promise yet another referendum on the topic.
Clearly, that wasn’t enough. Evidently, the British were tired of the entire debate. As a result, Labor suffered the consequences. However, British laborers made the point that eluded their Greek counterparts: no more unelected decision-makers in Brussels, no more free trade agreements favoring capital over workers; no more neoliberal austerity, and no more unrestricted immigration to drive down wages.
Last week’s election results represented the Brits way of courageously joining the protests against neoliberal capitalism now taking place across the planet.
Free Trade and Immigration
Now, think about free trade agreements and that just-mentioned issue of immigration. Obviously, it has become a free trade sore point both here and in the United Kingdom. However, immigration pain has originated from opposite but intimately related sources.
Within the boundaries of the EU, the immigrant problem has stemmed from the earlier-listed “four freedoms,” while in North and Central America it comes precisely from the fact that only three of those freedoms are honored.
More specifically, the EU free trade arrangement recognizes that provision of goods and services essentially involves both capital and labor as roughly equal partners. Consequently, if a treaty allows free movement of capital across borders, justice and the logic of capitalism demands that it also permit similar liberty to labor which is as essential to the free market equation as capital. So, borders must be permeable to immigrants from one member-country to another.
This recognition has led to major relocations of population across frontiers that were closed in the pre-EU world. Movements of this sort have occurred with a vengeance in Great Britain, whose borders have long been open to immigrants from the country’s former colonies, e.g. India and Pakistan. Add to these the climate and war refugees who have also found refuge in Europe in general including Great Britain, and you’ll begin to understand why many there might blame their growing sense of lost national identity exclusively on the European Union. Boris Johnson has given effective voice to such discontent.
Similar unhappiness with the NAFTA and CAFTA has surfaced in North and Central America.
However, there the pinch of globalization is caused by closed rather than open borders.
That is, while NAFTA and CAFTA allow free movement of goods, services, and capital across the borders of the United States, Canada, Mexico, and the countries of Central America, they deny such freedom of movement to labor. Consequently, the agreements have at their disposal a captive labor force. So, while capital can go wherever it finds low wages, Mexican labor for instance cannot freely move to high wage areas in the United States or Canada. This has been a source of great frustration (and poverty) for workers under NAFTA and CAFTA.
As a result, Latinix workers have taken matters into their own hands. In what some have called a modern reconquista (a reconquering or reclaiming) of lands confiscated from Mexico in the middle of the 19th century, thousands of immigrants from Mexico and Central America have ignored one-sided laws prohibiting labor’s mobility. Regardless of the consciousness behind them, their actions implicitly insist that if capital is allowed to move freely across borders, so should labor be permitted cross-border transit.
Such economic rebels added to victims of climate change and of U.S. wars in Central America during the 1980s comprise the immigrant multitudes that President Trump has blamed for U.S. economic problems. In reality, they represent the collateral damage of free trade pacts as much as do their counterparts in the European Union.
(In other words, despite Trump’s assertions, it is right wing capitalists not liberals or progressives who insist on absolutely open southern borders – however, for themselves, but not for workers.)
Reforming Free Trade
So, what’s the answer to the EU, NAFTA, and CAFTA conundrums? Is it abandonment of free trade agreements altogether? Not necessarily. (And this brings us to the implications of reform involved in last week’s vote.)
In a word, the answer is DEMOCRACY.
That is, the defects of free trade agreements can only be remedied satisfactorily by democratizing them to protect jobs, cultures, and local social values.
To begin with, democracy demands that all stakeholders (not merely corporate representatives, lawyers, bureaucrats, and politicians) be present at the renegotiating conference table. This includes trade unionists, environmentalists, and groups representing the specific rights of indigenous peoples, women and children. All those affected must have equal voice and vote. Nothing else will work. Nothing else is just.
Yet, if all stakeholders have voice and vote, they will predictably complicate matters. (Democracy, remember, is messy.) Predictably, they’ll make demands that will radically restrain the freedoms of the corporations involved – even to the point of rendering unworkable the type of trade pacts we’ve come to know.
For instance, (and perhaps most crucially) workers in places not only like Greece and Italy, but in Mexico and Central America will require the same freedom their employers enjoy to move to where the money is. Developed world workers will demand compensation for their lost jobs. Everyone will vote for the unrestricted right to unionize. They’ll want seats on corporate boards of directors. At the same time, environmentalists will demand industrial technology that is clean and non-polluting. They’ll want waste and chemical dumps along with polluted rivers and aqua firs repaired.
Once again, meeting such demands requires profound democratic changes in common understandings of international trade arrangements. We can thank UK voters for suggesting that requirement in the clearest of terms.
Following Labor’s defeat in the UK, the corporate media and mainstream politicians have rushed in to announce the end of progressive programs like those advocated by Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders. For instance, Joe Biden argued that British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s resounding victory should “warn Democrats against veering too far left in their fight to defeat President Donald Trump.”
Instead, thoughtful analysts should see the results of Great Britain’s electoral process as yet another instance of a world-wide rebellion against neoliberal capitalism. Bernie and Elizabeth Warren are essential elements of that insurgency.
True, voters have elected a Trump-like figure in Boris Johnson. And he will predictably immiserate the lives of wage earners even further. However, voters’ overriding intention was to reject EU membership once and for all. For them, one-sided free trade agreements that prioritize capital over labor are no longer acceptable.
Such unambiguous rejection of capitalism-as-we-know it, is now evident throughout the world – including at our border, where immigrants and refugees implicitly declare the system’s absolute failure in their own lives.
Our Y’s Men of Westport/Westin (CT) and its Current Affairs Discussion Group has decided that the focus of its next meeting will be Brexit (British exit from the European Union) and the future of NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization).
The Y’s Men umbrellas a group of 400 or so retired men who meet weekly for fellowship and informative programs on community and national concerns. Its clever name comes from some association with the YMCA that has never been clearly explained to me.
In any case, one of the Y’s Men’s many subgroups meets bi-weekly to discuss world issues precisely like Brexit and NATO. That topic was chosen because at the time of its selection, NATO was holding its 70th anniversary meeting in London. Meanwhile, Great Britain was looking forward to a General Election on December 12th, which would once again centralize the Brexit issue.
In preparation for the meeting, the leader of the Current Affairs Group shared numerous articles with us. One was entitled “12 Questions about Brexit You Were Too Embarrassed to Ask.” Others were drawn mainly from the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and The Economist. They detailed further information about Great Britain’s attempt to withdraw from the international trade agreement known as the European Union. Other articles asked the question whether or not NATO should or should not be dissolved.
As it turns out, both issues are intimately connected with questions of borders and immigration. After all, the European Union has virtually erased borders across the continent to facilitate what it terms its “four freedoms.” These include free movement of goods, services, capital, and people. Meanwhile NATO is also and obviously a multinational body. In fact, it treats member states as one. According to its central policy, an attack on any single member is considered an attack on all.
So, with those two issues in mind (borders and immigration) let me pose three questions related to Brexit and NATO. They are intended not only for Westport’s Y’s Men, but for thoughtful people in general.
Here are the questions:
Are you in favor of absolutely open borders for people?
Are you in favor of absolutely open borders for multinational corporations (MNCs) and/or military operations?
What’s the connection between Brexit and borders on the one hand and NATO on the other?
Open Borders for People
So, what about immigration and open borders? Should foreign workers be allowed to cross unrestrictedly from one country to another as they currently are under the European Union rubric?
To this question, I’m quite confident that most people’s initial answer would probably be “no.”
At least that’s what 52% of Great Britain’s voting population said last March when asked whether or not their country should remain within the European Union. By most accounts, disapproval of the Union’s policy of unrestricted immigration lay behind the votes of those approving exit from the EU.
That’s because open borders in Europe have led to massive relocations of population across frontiers that were closed in the pre-EU world. Such migrations especially intensified “foreign” presence in Great Britain whose borders had already long been open to immigrants from the country’s former colonies, e.g. India and Pakistan. Add to these the climate and war victims who have also found refuge in Europe in general including Great Britain, and you’ll begin to understand why many there might rashly blame their growing sense of lost national identity exclusively on the European Union. Boris Johnson has given voice to such discontent.
And all of that stands to reason, doesn’t it? That’s true even for those of us who (unlike the British) have not actually experienced free movement of people from one country to another. We can hardly imagine a world without passports, visas, or government control of entry or exit. It all sounds like a recipe for anarchy and chaos.
In our context, it would mean, for instance, that low wage workers could enter the United States and take our jobs. Our way of life would be completely upended. Our culture would be profoundly and unacceptably altered as well.
No, I’d venture to say that open borders are completely unacceptable to most of us. That’s why conservatives can get away with constantly ridiculing opponents of Mr. Trump’s border wall as advocating “open borders.” Life without borders simply doesn’t make sense. It’s clearly threatening to most Americans. And it’s largely the lived experience of open borders that has driven Great Britain out of the European Union.
Open Borders for MNCs
Yet despite our objections to free movement of people, most of us take for granted open borders for transnational corporations. We do and so does Mr. Trump! So, I’m quite confident in predicting that the answer of most Y’s Men to my second question would be “yes” — at least implicitly. “Yes, I approve of free movement of capital from one country to another. And yes, (in the case of NATO) I approve of attacks on other countries even though those forays pay no attention to borders.” Or (perhaps more accurately) the “wise” response might be: “Well, I’ve never thought about that.”
The latter response comes from the fact that on the face of it and for most of us, the movement of capital and of armies seems somehow harmlessly abstract and less devastating than the unrestricted movement of people. Moreover, we’re taught that treaties like the EU, NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement), CAFTA (Central American Free Trade Agreement) and the proposed TAFTA (Transatlantic Free Trade Area) are good for us because they create jobs. So, why not allow transnational companies like Exxon, Wal-Mart, Monsanto, Ford Motor, Kennecott Mining, Weyerhaeuser Lumber, Ralston Purina, and Del Monte to cross borders freely?
The answer to that query comes loud and clear especially from the Global South – from indigenous tribes, Mexicans, Hondurans, Guatemalans, or Salvadorans. They shout: “Free movement of capital is far more devastating to us than you’ve experienced in the European Union or imagine in North America. Free movement of capital destroys more jobs than it creates. It’s the main reason behind what you describe as your ‘immigration crisis.’”
Their evidence? Mom and Pop stores are driven out of business by Wal-Mart. Millions of campesino farmers are forced off their land when, for instance, Ralston Purina lobbyists persuade the U.S. government to dump subsidized corn on the Mexican market. The displaced farmers are forced off the land and driven into urban slums. Food consumption patterns are altered by McDonalds. Indigenous tribes have burial sites dug up and defiled by Exxon’s oil pipelines. Rain forests are cut down indiscriminately by Weyerhaeuser regardless of the impact on ecosystems and climate. Entire ways of living and interacting with nature and community are disrupted and thrown into chaos.
But that’s not the end of the devastation wreaked by the open borders most of us take for granted. NATO and its de facto leader, the U.S. military, demonstrate little to no respect for borders either. Think about it. Despite international laws to the contrary, those military entities claim the right to indiscriminately cross national frontiers to bomb and drone wherever they see fit — and without the required approval of the United Nations. In the recent past they’ve done so on a large scale in the former Yugoslavia, as well as in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Ethiopia. We don’t even know where they’re bombing; borders make no difference to them.
And the chaos produced by such disregard of borders is unbelievable. As its result, homes, schools, hospitals, churches, synagogues, mosques, stores, warehouses, factories, water, sewage, and communication systems lay in ruins across the planet.
The NATO Connection
But what’s the connection between all of this and NATO? The short answer is that a disbanded NATO represents a source of funding for remedying the just noted deficiencies of free trade agreements like the EU, NAFTA, CAFTA, and TAFTA.
To begin with, those defects can only be remedied satisfactorily by democratizing them to protect jobs, cultures, and local social values. And that will cost a lot of money. That’s because true reform demands that all stakeholders (not merely corporate representatives, lawyers, bureaucrats, and politicians) be present at the renegotiating conference table. This includes trade unionists, environmentalists, and groups representing the specific rights of indigenous peoples, women and children. All those affected must have equal voice and vote. Nothing else will work. Nothing else is just.
Yet, if all stakeholders have voice and vote, they will predictably complicate matters. (Democracy, remember, is messy.) Predictably, they’ll make demands that will radically restrain the freedoms of the corporations involved – even to the point of rendering unworkable the type of trade pacts we’ve come to know.
For instance, (and perhaps most crucially) workers in places not only like Greece and Italy, but in Mexico and Central America will require the same freedom their employers enjoy to move to where the money is. Developed world workers will demand compensation for their lost jobs. Everyone will vote for the unrestricted right to unionize. They’ll want seats on corporate boards of directors. At the same time, environmentalists will demand industrial technology that is clean and non-polluting. They’ll want waste and chemical dumps along with polluted rivers and aqua firs repaired. Those whose towns, homes, churches, schools, and hospitals have been destroyed by NATO wars will want them rebuilt. They’ll demand compensation for the needless deaths caused by the bombs, drones, planes, tanks, and military personnel employed in the service of corporate-friendly trade pacts.
Again, all of that will take money – lots of it!
And the source of the money should be NATO. It must be dissolved. And its annual funding must be diverted to meet the working class demands just listed.
After all, the organization has outlived its usefulness. Its enemies have disappeared. The Soviet Union (the very raison d’etre for NATO) vanished 30 years ago. Moreover, announcements that the Russians are coming once again and that a new Yellow Peril is on the horizon are nearly laughable.
In fact, when those threats are examined, they turn out to be only pale reflections of standard practices the United States has engaged in since the conclusion of the Second Inter-capitalist War.
Take Russia first. Its “crimes” include:
Interference in the 2016 U.S. elections
Dissemination of “fake news”
Aggression against the Ukraine
Annexation of Crimea
China’s alleged threat is represented by:
Its repression of democracy in Hong Kong
Its attempts to take over the world through its Belt and Road Initiative
“Stealing” intellectual property of U.S. corporations
Its jailing of Uighurs and other Muslim minorities
To repeat: “crimes” like those have been central (and on much larger scales) to United States policy for the past 75 years and more.
For instance, since 1823 under the Monroe Doctrine, the United States has routinely claimed the right to intervene militarily in its “backyard” (all of Latin America) whenever it perceives any undue foreign influence in the region. All during the 1980s, the U.S. invoked Monroe to counter Russian influence in Central America.
Yet, the U.S. insists that Russian military action in the Ukraine and Crimea (which arguably remain parts of Russia) is a threat to world peace. And this even though the new leadership in Ukraine promises to seek membership in NATO in clear violation of a 1990 agreement that the alliance would not expand eastward. In fact, NATO bases currently surround Russia. If the U.S. claims Monroe Doctrine protection for itself, logic demands honoring parallel claims by Russia.
Similarly, immediately following the fall of the Soviet Union, the United States interfered in the Russian electoral process to ensure that Boris Yeltsin would be elected president there. And U.S. interference in electoral processes world-wide is beyond dispute.
The bottom line here is that Russia is only doing in its backyard what the United States has long practiced in its own backyard and across the world.
The case is similar with the alleged Chinese threat. Remember, Hong Kong is not in China’s backyard; it is indisputably part of China itself. Moreover, if the U.S. and its NATO allies were implementing their own Belt and Road Initiative, they would be trumpeting it as an example of their generosity and openhanded foreign aid.
As for China’s alleged stealing of intellectual property . . . As Vijay Prashad has noted, such ownership is a fiction concocted by industrially developed countries to guarantee that their former colonies will remain in situations of extreme dependence and relative poverty. The concept of intellectual property ignores the essentially communal nature of human knowledge. For instance, concepts foundational to modern science (such as the links between the Vedic zero in the east and imaginary numbers in the west) are part of the world’s intellectual commons. To pretend otherwise itself constitutes an act of intellectual larceny.
In fact, reverse engineering has long been the backbone of industrial development everywhere in the world including the United States as it strove during the 19th century to catch up with its European competitors. It is inevitable that workers and states will attempt to understand and replicate rather than purchase the technology they are asked to operate.
With all of the foregoing said about trade agreements, military spending and the artificially manufactured threats posed by Russia and China, it now becomes possible to recognize that the Global North has no enemies. And in turn, that realization frees up huge caches of money already there, allocated, and set for diversion towards correcting the defects of so-called free trade agreements – even like the European Union.
The money’s to be found in the NATO budget; it’s also there in Pentagon allocations. (In fact, just last week, the U.S. Congress set aside more than $2 billion each day for military purposes, even though the prime reason for doing so has completely disappeared from the world stage.)
So, the answers to my original questions might well be these:
No: Immigrants should not be allowed to move unrestrictedly from one country to another
Unless that freedom is extended to MNCs. Or to reverse the assertion: MNCs should not be allowed to move unrestrictedly from one country to another unless labor is accorded the same freedom.
A disbanded and now pointless NATO can provide any funds necessary for democratizing otherwise one-sided trade pacts like the European Union, NAFTA, CAFTA, and TAFTA.
On June 24th Great Britain shocked the world by voting to exit the European Union (Brexit). Some celebrated the succession as a left wing “Peasant Revolt” against so-called “free trade agreements.” They were right. Europe (and the world) needs an economic revolution from below. And Brexit was a shot across the bow of corporate globalization.
Others however ascribed the Brexit to narrow right wing anti-immigrant nationalism. They were also correct. However right wing focus on immigrants as if they were the root and sum of Europe’s problems obscures potential connections of interest between the right and its revolutionary counterpart seeking lasting solutions to the problems Brexit lays bare. Those solutions must go far beyond building walls and otherwise restricting immigration. They have to address globalism’s inherent contradictions and the various causes of the largest movement of peoples in world history.
For starters, think of those unprecedented migrations in the light of globalism’s contradictions as reflected in free trade pacts in our hemisphere as compared with the European Union.
Over here, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and its Central American analogue (CAFTA) grant owners of capital the right to cross borders with abandon regardless of the destruction they wreak on local economies in Mexico, Central America, and elsewhere in the Global South. For instance, the dumping low-priced U.S. corn on Mexican markets has converted innumerable peasant farmers into urban workers seeking employment illegally in the United States.
The illegality results from NAFTA’s refusal to recognize that labor is just as essential as capital in the free market paradigm. If so (and capitalist theory tells us it is), then logic dictates that the freedom of movement accorded one element, must also be granted the other.
However if labor were to enjoy the mobility of capital, the detrimental effects of globalism’s so-called “free trade” would become apparent to all. Workers from Mexico would be free to go where the money is – to the U.S. and Canada. In turn, workers in those countries would see their jobs threatened. They would rebel and reject corporate globalization by demanding the repeal of NAFTA and CAFTA.
Multi-national employers in the U.S. and Canada protect themselves from such reaction by formally pretending to stand with U.S. and Canadian workers against unrestricted immigration. Politically and with great bluster they support building walls. Actually, however, they find immigration essential because Global South workers are required, for example, to harvest tomatoes and lettuce in the United States. Immigrants also exert downward pressure on U.S. wages generally and in construction and service industries in particular. All of that is good for business. The wall-talk is just window dressing.
That’s what’s happening on this side of the pond.
By way of contrast, the granddaddy of all free trade agreements, the European Union (EU) has been less illogical than NAFTA and CAFTA. It has granted labor the same mobility as capital. So workers in the European Union are free to cross borders from economically depressed member states such as Bulgaria and Greece to where the money is in Germany and Great Britain. The results are predictable. In the context of a tight labor market induced by the Great Recession, a huge backlash has resulted against immigrants for reasons described above. Brexit was the outcome.
But the immigrant problem is far more complicated than meets the eye. Ignoring that complexity blocks necessarily nuanced responses. It also blocks union of those right and left wing concerns earlier referenced.
The fact is: not all immigrants are economic. Instead, there are really three types of immigrants taking part in today’s mass migrations. True: some contemporary refugees are economically driven. Many others however are war refugees; a third group seeks refuge from the effects of climate chaos. The legitimate interests of each of these groups dictate separate policy changes that are generally ignored in xenophobic rhetoric about building walls, and protecting national identity.
Economic immigrants are those earlier-mentioned working people who demand the same rights as big capital. Within the European Union, and as already indicated, they have been moving legally from low wage countries to higher wage venues. In our hemisphere, workers from Mexico and Central America have intuitively followed free-trade logic. They have voted with their feet against the labor restrictions of NAFTA and CAFTA despite the trade agreements’ legal prohibitions.
For their part, war refugees are flooding the world as a result of United States’ and U.S.-supported bombing campaigns (including drones) in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Somalia, Palestine, Yemen, and elsewhere. Such campaigns have demolished the refugees’ homes, and destroyed their communities and jobs. It’s no wonder then that they reluctantly seek refuge in Europe and the United States. Under international law, they have the legal right to do so. Morally speaking, those responsible for the bombings are most obliged to receive them. The culprit United States should lead the way.
Finally, refugees from climate chaos form a separate category. Many migrants from Syria, for instance, are fleeing not only U.S.-sponsored bombing raids; they are farmers whose fields have been devastated by a years-long drought. Other refugees from island nations and coastal regions find their homes swallowed by rising sea-levels caused by melting polar icecaps. As global temperatures and sea levels continue to rise, this category of refugees will soon dwarf the other two.
In light of such distinctions about free trade, the logic of globalized capitalism, and the three classes of refugees, clear remedies suggest themselves – all inspired by Brexit. In a word, the basic remedy is democracy. More specifically, required policy changes include: (1) Exiting all free trade agreements responsible for economic refugees; (2) Stopping the bombing and wars that create homeless refugees, and (3) Leaving fossil fuels in the ground while adopting mandatory regulations to prevent further warming of the planet.
Though unlikely, all of this is possible. As the Brexit vote demonstrates, there is nothing mandatory or inevitable about free trade agreements. In developing countries, they all can be replaced by what in the past was called “import substitution.” That meant industrialization by Global South economies and instituting protectionist policies to keep imports out and economic emigrants at home.
Such substitution is based three realizations: (1) that no country has ever achieved “developed” status by reliance on supplying raw materials and agricultural products to industrialized nations, (2) that such policy of protectionism and import substitution was itself responsible for the economic advancement of the United States, and (3) after World War II, it worked in Global South countries such as Costa Rica with the result of separating it from its unindustrialized neighbors as economically successful.
[Please note that if free trade agreements remain under consideration, democracy demands that their discussion involve all affected parties with equal representation and vote. Such negotiations would include environmentalists and their concerns for air, water plants and animals. They would involve workers whose jobs might be lost, and community members whose neighborhoods and cities might be devastated by mass emigration, increased pollution or by waves of immigrants. Here absolute transparency is required. There can be no secret negotiations, top-secret documents, or one-sided elite authorship of policies that end up affecting millions of disenfranchised workers including women and children.]
If Brexit was the start of a peasant revolution, it’s time for all of us to join our brothers and sisters at the barricades across the pond, pitchforks in hand. Our enemies in this struggle are not immigrant workers victims of our wars, or those whom one-percenters call environmental extremists. They are instead the extremist negotiators of secret trade pacts, belligerent prosecutors of wars and obtuse deniers of humanly-induced climate change.
Those are the exploiters whom the Brexit vote indicates we must unite to overthrow and replace.