Dispatches from Georgia: Teaming Up with Labor

Guest Blogger • Aug 12, 2011

A delegation of students and activists were in Atlanta for a week to document efforts to resist anti-immigrant law H.B. 87. The delegation members will be sharing first-hand accounts of their experiences with dispatches. Visit Imagine 2050 regularly for more Dispatches from Georgia.

By: Carla Nicol Argueta

“How can I help?” is the question Ben Speight, of the Teamsters Local 728 , asks organizers and organizations working for immigrant rights in Atlanta. Apart from spreading awareness and building support for immigrants in Atlanta, Speight has offered his vehicle after work hours to help organizers in whatever way possible. With the recent enactment of the anti-immigrant legislation HB 87 in Atlanta, new coalitions have been forming in order to organize and fight the law. Different labor unions have actively been a part of the struggle to repeal the bill.

Though labor has not always been friendly to immigrants, more and more unions are joining forces with immigrant rights organizations in order to demand reform. In 2000, the AFL-CIO openly supported immigration reform and in April 2011, Richard Trumka, president of AFL-CIO, stated in The Hill’s Congress Blog:

“For years, immigrant families have been unfairly targeted and scape-goated. We should never forget that today’s immigrants are tomorrow’s new Americans. The policies and attitudes that divide working people only set us further back.”

Immigrant status is just another facet of a worker’s identity. Be it because of their gender, race, disability or religion, workers are targeted and being confronted with obstacles on a daily basis. Workers’ Rights are rights for everyone, including immigrants. It is their commonality as workers that will drive progress.

With that being said, there are groups that have tried to hinder collaborations. Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), an anti-immigrant organization that is part of the John Tanton Network, has criticized labor for supporting immigrant rights, and has questioned its motives. The claims made by organizations like FAIR are a strategic attempt to divide workers because they understand the power of an organized people.

On July 9, members of the labor community gathered at Georgia’s state capitol to protest HB 87. AFSCME, Teamsters Local 728, the Atlanta/North Georgia Labor Council, Jobs with Justice and other immigrant organizations were present. Al Sharpton joined the demonstration and spoke on the threat the bill poses to society as a whole due to its violation of human rights. Sharpton said:

“We cannot have a nation where based on your language or your race, determines your rights. Your rights must be determined by the fact that we are all equal … and whatever your surname is, whatever your nationality is, America’s got to work for everybody or it doesn’t work for anybody.”

He highlighted how this bill is only one step towards denying people their rights and would continue to affect more and more people.

Looking ahead, Speight emphasizes the importance in having the labor community support immigrant workers and predicts that labor will regret it in the future if they sit out on this movement. Though support is growing in Georgia, Speight urges more unions and their members to come forward and become active in the movement. All he asks is that others step up and also ask, “How can I help?”

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