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Saturday, December 03, 2005

White supremacy and the class consciousness of the white working class

The New Republic has posted an interesting article on its website. "The Minutemen Are More Mainstream Than You Think," by Eve Fairbanks, raises the point that many on the left are not taking the Minutemen as seriously as they ought to. Generally, liberals have treated the Minutemen as an extreme phenomenon, rooted in the America's far Right. Fairbanks writes,
A recent Post headline explained that "ON PATROL IN VT., MINUTEMEN ARE THE OUTSIDERS," while The Nation described a Minuteman rally as a "fringe political event." In short, the Minutemen are widely regarded both as outside agitators to the areas they patrol and as politically marginalized extremists.

But most of the Herndon Minutemen I met live just minutes away from the 7-11 they watch, next door or down the street from the day-laborers who cluster opposite them across Alabama Drive. And, while their actions are obnoxious, their concerns, far from being fringe, echo decidedly mainstream anxieties about cultural questions raised by uncontrolled illegal immigration. A recent Rasmussen Reports poll found that a full 54 percent of Americans actually have a "favorable impression" of the Minutemen, while only 22 percent have an "unfavorable" view. For liberals to dismiss the Minutemen as a tiny minority of racist throwbacks, loathed by the communities in which they operate, isn't just inaccurate. It's also naïve--and politically dangerous.
She continues,
This discomfort manifests itself as concern both about crime and about broader changes in the local culture--i.e., how the local immigrant community lives and socializes.
But, these feelings, she points out, aren't confined to just the media stereotype.
These anxieties may be overblown, in some cases borderline racist; but they are not, unfortunately, outside the mainstream. In Mount Pleasant, the predominantly Hispanic, rapidly gentrifying Washington neighborhood where I live, complaints have begun to surface about the groups of men that congregate on stoops or outside of convenience stores at night. Those who have complained call it loitering, but one Hispanic resident told the Post that when the men gather outdoors, "[t]hey're having coffee; they talk about issues. ... It's part of our community." For the neighborhood's Hispanic population, this practice is a cultural tradition; for its newer batch of hip, ostensibly liberal urbanites, it is disturbing, and too closely resembles something American law designates a crime.
Though Fairbanks doesn't go far enough, dodging the centrality of white privilege and white supremacy to the immigration issue, she does have her finger on a very important point: support for the Minutemen is not an extremist phenomenon. And why would it be? White privilege and white supremacy are not extremist ideas in American society, so why should its militant defenders be considered extremist?

In what can only be more evidence of the appeal of anti-immigration sentiment amongst white Americans, Minuteman chapters have spread across the country quite rapidly, appearing now far outside the original border states of the Southwest. The LA Times carried a story recently about this growing trend of anti-immigrant direct action beyond the borders, reporting as well on the new tactic they have adopted: harassing day laborers where they gather for work.
The Minuteman Project, controversial for its border patrols, is trying something new: looking to fight illegal immigration in the nation's interior by targeting employers. The group is organizing in communities including Atlanta, Salt Lake City, Chicago, Indianapolis and Charlotte, N.C., monitoring and reporting businesses that hire suspected undocumented workers.

The self-appointed border security group is finding willing recruits. Since the Arizona-based Minuteman Project began in April, more than 20 chapters have sprung up across the country, said Chris Simcox, the group's national president. He said the organization had "well over 100 requests" from people interested in starting their own chapters.

"We're struggling to keep up with the demand," Simcox said. "It's our aim, by next November, the '06 elections, to have Minuteman interior chapters in every congressional district in the country."
The growth of the movement, even far from the border is quite extroardinary:
The Herndon [Virginia] Minuteman chapter has been growing, driven in part by the Town Council's decision to create a taxpayer-funded site for day laborers, where a community group will help workers connect with employers. The chapter has drawn teachers, retired military men and a police trainee — 120 members since George Taplin, a software engineer, founded it in late October.
Though Minuteman activists report a variety of concerns, including social issues (as Fairbanks reports), what most liberal analysts miss is the class nature of the revolt. The Minuteman movement is advancing a class analysis of American society, albeit a reactionary one, framed through race, as most white class rebellions have been in this country. Again, from the LA Times article, we have this analysis from a participant:
"George Bush is in it for the Hispanic vote, and we're on the receiving end," [Diane Bonieskie, a retired social studies teacher] said. "That's not fair. Before, everybody looked out for everybody else; no one locked doors," she said of her neighborhood. "Now we all have security systems."

Jeff Talley, 45, an airplane maintenance worker who lives across the street from Bonieskie, also joined the Minuteman chapter. "When you start messing with the value of people's houses, people get really upset," he said.

As Talley sees it, illegal immigrants take jobs from Americans — whom it would cost companies more to employ — and that will have long-term effects on American society.

"There's a disappearing middle class," said Talley, a Republican. "George Bush is a huge disappointment to this country. The Republican Party used to be for ordinary people, but no more."
The white working and lower middle class innately realizes the tenuous nature of their alliance with the wealthy white elite that runs the show, even as they fight to preserve the very real advantages their whiteness provides them in this country. The fear of being sold out (i.e., losing their preferential treatment), particularly for another segment of the working class is real and, despite the dismissals of many on the left, a sign of a conscious, though reactionary, political class.

The Courier News, out of Chicago, ran a similar story recently. Illinois Minuteman founder Rosanna] Pulido said, "This insanity has got to stop. We consider (illegal aliens) burglars who have broken into this country."

And Kevin Hansel a Minuteman member put it this way:
"We have a lot of problems out here with illegal immigrants."

Among them, he cited crime — particularly gang activity — and an overload on hospitals and the social system.

"The list goes on and on," he said.
A story in USA Today reflected this political consciousness:
"We're glad [the Minuteman are] here," Meralee Byker Meralee says. "We're not against immigrants. We've lived overseas and love other cultures. But what other country can you walk in illegally and take a job and not pay taxes?"
The underlying assumption is that those jobs inherently belong to someone - white people, primarily - and those taking them away are criminals (with the blame being incorrectly placed on immigrants rather than capitalists). Concomitant with that is the notion that social services ought to obtain as a privilege rather than a right.

The leaders of the movement don't hesitate to flesh out the class nature of their revolt. Chris Simcox, now running for the legislature in California, spoke recently at a conference on illegal immigration, hosted at the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills:
What’s kept the United States together is this very strong middle class, but it seems to be shrinking now. The upper class seems to be doing OK. Why is that? Well, we have 10 million illegal aliens coming in to take 10 million middle class jobs, and the illegal aliens are working for one-third or one-fourth of what the middle class workers were being compensated. Well, that’s going to not only put the 10 million illegals into the lower class, a very economically dependent class that’s creating these tax liabilities for the rest of us, but it’s also going to add 10 million American citizens into that lower class, because now they’re either under-employed or unemployed. Now, we’ve got 20 million more needy people on welfare and food stamps, and who need uncompensated hospitalization at no charge – which puts hospitals into bankruptcy.

What I see in the future, especially over the next 10 to 20 years, is a huge expansion of the lower class, and a rapidly shrinking middle class. When that happens, we’re going to be in big trouble. I don’t know ultimately what the consequences of that would be, but I think it’s going to be some type of insurrection. Raid the few rich that have money left and take everything that they have, spread it out amongst the rest of us who have nothing? It’s not a pretty future.

So, I think by eliminating this epidemic of illegal alien immigration, we could fend-off that threat to the middle class.
But stability isn't all Simcox offers the ruling class in exchange for maintaining the cross class alliance of white supremacy with the white working class. Protect the white working class, he says, or risk a class revolution. This, of course, is precisely the eventuality that the creation of whiteness was meant to forestall in the first place (Ted Allen does a great job of exploring this history, as does Noel Ignatiev). Says Simcox:
Certainly, it’s going to result in a decrease in the tax revenues needed to support a dependent lower class and on assimilated class. And I, for one, would like to get out of the 84 percent lifetime tax bracket and get down to something like maybe a 10 percent lifetime tax bracket. But that’s my preference.
Pragmatically, he's offering to trade support for lower taxes, the eternal quest of the capitalist elite.

That class analysis is echoed by a new organization, the eerily named Coalition for the Future American Worker (CFAW). In it's position paper, "Guests who never leave," the organization (a frightening alliance of rightwing and racist organizations, like FAIR) offers this analysis:
Today, there is no evidence of any endemic shortages of labor in any sector of our economy, and given all the incentives being offered for people to remain here permanently, there is even less reason than before to expect that guest workers will ever go home.

The labor shortages that exist in America, in almost all cases, are self-induced. When employers have trouble finding workers, it is almost always because the wages and working conditions are unattractive, not because there are insufficient people to do the jobs. Guest worker programs have become a mechanism for employers to avoid making jobs more attractive to American workers.
This is a fair representation of the analysis of CFAW's constituent organizations' positions, as well.

And it's not like white workers' economic fears are unfounded. While the last ten or fifteen years have shown astounding growth for the rich, including some parts of the middle class, the bulk of middle class folks in this country have seen stagnation or declines in their incomes at the same time. The decline in historically higher white wages, a key feature of white privilege, has caused a two-fold reaction amongst whites. First, whites have begun a racist rearguard action to preserve their wages, at the expense of people of color, including immigrants. Second, this decline in wages has placed an increasing value on the non-wage-related elements of white privilege. Primarily this has manifested in white support for a massive strengthening of the state's policing power, against immigrants (manifested through demands for expansion of Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement), but also against people of color in general through the prison system.

But in the age of globalization, the old deal between white workers and bosses appears to be undergoing a transformation. The US maintains white supremacy as the core of the elite's strategy for holding onto power, as proven by the constant and ever-growing power and wealth of the white elite, as well as its incarceration and policing strategies towards people of color. But, at the same time, the elites seem to be betting that, in the emerging world of truly global capital, local alliances may not require the same sheer numbers of American middle class white people to stand as a bulwark between them and the poor here at home. It is likely that coercive and surveillance technology will fill the hole absented by the downsizing of the American middle class, while a statistically smaller global middle class will form the basis for the new global order abroad.

The implications of this remain to be seen, but some hint of it is playing out in the Republican Party right now, over the issue of immigration reform. According to an article on Bloomberg.com,
The Republican split on immigration pits business interests such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which want a guest-worker program to fill jobs in restaurants, hotels or farm fields against Republicans in Congress such as Colorado Representative Tom Tancredo, chairman of the Immigration Reform Caucus, who opposes any program to increase immigration and says the U.S. isn't enforcing laws on the books.
Along the same lines, the Washington Times reported:
"It [immigration reform] would cause a break in the party that would be extremely unhealthy for the party," said Rep. Tom Tancredo, Colorado Republican and chairman of the Congressional Immigration Reform Caucus. "I can tell you right now, the feelings are deep. This is not a superficial argument with the president.
Those liberals and leftists who have always written off the Republican Party as the party of the rich have failed to recognize the white class alliance that makes that party possible. To a fair extent, the argument also serves to obscure the pro-capitalist policies of the Democratic Party, which itself functions as a weapon of last resort against the poor of all colors (though people of color suffer most), often using its somewhat better credibility with labor, the poor and people of color to push reactionary programs for the capitalists that the Right dares not attempt.

But the longer white working class revolutionaries fail to recognize the white supremacist political consciousness of the white working class as a class consciousness in a white supremacist society rather than mere reactionism (or inconsistency), the more likely that it will pursue reactionary class politics. When anti-racist white anarchists fail to engage the rest of the white working class politically, we leave the door open not only to reactionary manipulations by elites and white supremacists, but also the inherent racism of white working class politics.

White anarchists have an obligation to provide solidarity to people of color and their struggles, but we also have an obligation to explain the reasons for that solidarity to the white working class as a whole. It is incumbent upon us to explain the centrality of white supremacy in American society and the fundamental necessity of challenging it as a project of class revolution in the United States. When the elites can no longer count on white supremacy to pervert the class consciousness of the white working class, revolution will finally be in the air.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

this is a hell of an article. Bravo.

Sun Dec 04, 09:16:00 AM 2005  

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