Challenging Kim Moody

Against the Current, No. 130, September/October 2007

Michael Friedman

TWO REPORTS challenge Kim Moody’s assertion (“Immigrant Workers in the United States,”Part 1, ATC 127) that “[t]he claim is raised by some that the rapid growth of immigrant Latinos in the workforce has had a negative impact on wages. In any overall sense, the answer has to be no…”

First, FAIR (Federation for American Immigration Reform, not the media watchdog group), reports that:

* One well-documented case of displacement happened in the tomato industry in the 1980s. A group of unionized legal border crossers picked the tomato crop for many years in San Diego County and were making $4.00 an hour in 1980. In the 1980s, growers switched to a crew of illegal aliens and lowered the wage to $3.35.

* In the last 20 years, the meatpacking industry has completely reorganized around the use of immigrant rather than native labor. IBP, the nation’s leading meatpacking company, now recruits workers from Mexico and directly along the border. The proportion of the labor force protected by union contracts and the share of natives in meat processing has dropped dramatically.

* Unions fall before the weight of imported labor. In the Mission Foods tortilla factory strike, management lowered wages by 40 percent, and when the native labor went on strike, the Mexican managers intentionally brought in newly immigrated strikebreakers to replace them. Some of the natives returned to work at the reduced wages but most left.

* Similar phenomena have swept over the hotel industry as well, with immigrant workers displacing native black workers en masse. In Los Angeles, unionized Back janitors had been earning $12 an hour, with benefits. But with the advent of subcontractors who compose roaming crews of Mexican and El Salvadoran laborers, the pay dropped to the then minimum wage of $3.35 an hour. Within two years, the unionized crews had all been displaced by the foreign ones. (Source at

Second, a report “Immigration and African-American Employment Opportunities” (Working Paper 12518), from the National Bureau of Economic Research ( states that:

“Using census data from 1960-2000, the authors trace the evolution of wages, employment, and incarceration rates for particular skill groups in the black and white populations. . . . Their analysis finds that a 10 percent rise in immigrants in a particular skill group significantly trimmed the wages of black and white men alike.

“For African-Americans, the decline was 3.6 percent. For whites, it was actually slightly higher: 3.8 percent. . . .[But] from 1960 to 2000, black high school dropouts saw their employment rates drop 33 percentage points — from 88.6 percent to 55.7 percent. . . . . The decrease for white high school dropouts was only roughly half that — from 94.1 percent to 76.0 percent.”

I don’t think, from a socialist point of view, that it is necessary to argue whether or not immigration conjuncturally depresses wages. Capital has ALWAYS used immigration policy as a way of putting pressure on domestic wages (among many other methods): this is nothing new. Even if there were no immigration, imperialism would (and does) find ways to super-exploit workers in Third World countries AND use this low wage labor as a battering ram against domestic workers.

Therefore, our best response isn’t to deny this pressure, just as we don’t deny the pressure due to any other form of racism or sexism, but rather to hammer away at the need for the left, labor and all oppressed people to support immigrants rights and full legalization, unconditionally.

—Doctoral Candidate in Ecology, Evolutionary Biology and Behavior, City University of New York

from ATC 130 (September/October 2007)