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Tuesday, June 6

Gapers Block

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Mexicans wash half of all the dishes in Chicago. Despite making up only about a quarter of the population. Sounds mean-spirited or like the premise to some kind of metaphysical, high-premise comedy. But it's a fact: according to a report in the May/June 2007 issue of the Chicago Reporter, approximately half of all the dishwashing jobs in Chicago are held by Mexicans. I don't like that. It reminds me of something. When one job type is so dominated by one race... it has a whiff of the plantation, doesn't it?

That whiff becomes a stench when the conditions of low-wage workers — let's not bother with that phrase, "the poor," which has become so politicized — are looked at generally, especially in Chicago.

A capitalist economy will always require a low-wage productive class — an "unskilled" non-professional class. But the way the rich have consciously protected not only their wealth, but also their obscene profit margins, and strangled social mobility through their viral infiltration of the political and legal system, is akin to soft oligarchy, something like the slave systems of the Roman Republic.

It filters down. And you wonder — when did it happen like this, that immigrants, rather than simply starting at the bottom and working up, as they have done since the beginning of the American experiment, were illegalized, made into veritable unpersons available to be exploited by the lowest bidder?

I wouldn't consider it a coincidence that as the American Civil Rights movement that began to emancipate blacks from the Jim Crow system that kept them in quasi-slavery, the crackdown on Mexican immigration began, and human beings were slowly transformed by the entrenched classes into glorified livestock: "Operation Wetback," a program of hunting down and deporting Mexican immigrants who had streamed across a loose border, created a culture of fear of authority among low-skill Mexican workers. Although President Eisenhower's ostensible aim with "Operation Wetback" was to end the stream of cheap illegal labor on which ranchers and farmers were growing dependent, it resulted in an even better situation for them: there was now a citizenship Gestapo that made workers even more insecure and dependent on their employer.

Break it down.

When most lower and lower-middle class kids graduate from college, they can expect to face at least $20,000 in debt, just from tuition. Does our government take steps to protect the next generation from a debt that, doubtless, limits their productivity and siphons needed dollars out of communities and into massive financial institutions? No, of course not; they pass "comprehensive bankruptcy reform," and men like Joseph Biden (D-DE) take serious measures to protect the usury industry. Credit card companies are free to aggressively market to college students, saddling them with further, throttling debt (an average of $4,000) at astronomical interest rates. Even as, by the way, wages for college graduates declined by approximately 3 percent since 2000.

Blacks are incarcerated at a rate between eight and 10 times that of the general population; being an ex-offender or in the "correctional" system (like on parole) makes it much more difficult to land a job, much less one that pays decently, and actually being in prison makes it impossible. Not to mention time spent in prison is time not getting on-the-job experience or an education. And employment is often a condition of parole. The "correctional" system creates a class of millions of additional "dependent" laborers. It also helps that more than one million African-Americans don't have the right to vote because of a felony conviction.

Women, disproportionately entrusted with America's children — single parent households are rapidly overtaking dual parent households — can rarely risk losing a job. They also have a unique likelihood of falling into health care debt, due in part to the high costs of gynecological and obstetrical care.

Hey! Speaking of health care, the American system of employer-provided health care is one that puts an unfair burden on business, especially big businesses who often have to compete with other large corporations by incrementally increasing profit margins. You'd think they'd be first in line to reform this system — except, of course, they don't really mind providing health insurance, since it keeps their employees in line, and it's not that expensive, anyway, since health insurance providers rarely actually provide any health care. Most companies now have to have a "benefits coordinator" whose job it is just to explain health care benefits: what's covered (barely anything) and what's not (pretty much everything), and how even if something is covered, you're going to have to pay for most of it ("co-pays") and you only will get covered for a certain flat sum of it per year ("Oh, your cancer already cost you $15,000 this year? That's all you get.")

The dependence on the boss, the constant, paralyzing fear of the economic death sentence, serves that wealthiest 1 percent, the ownership class that weep for themselves and their estate taxes. We have to work ever harder to make sure we please the bosses; because we're illegal immigrants, or because we've been shepherded into jail cells, or because we've been dragged down into debt, or because we're women.

No man owns any other. We're all created equal, we say. We invade foreign nations to teach them that everybody is free. What a neat trick our local oligarchs have pulled, enslaving the American worker without calling it slavery.

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Wow / June 27, 2007 9:18 AM

Now that is some serious victimization drivel.

Appleby / June 27, 2007 9:45 AM

I'm not sure what this is. It isn't an argument, it's just self-important rhetoric. There are actually workers who are in the position of indentured servants -- they have to work to pay off a debt they acquired in order to come to the U.S., for instance. And there are people who are imprisoned by their employers. The situation of legally employed dishwashers is quiet different.
The author's belief that it isn't necessary to make an argument or present any facts actually undermines the political position he thinks he is advocating.
He's telling the reader to get involved in politics out of a vague sense of solidarity or perhaps in order to air their own rage at the world in general. He advocates no specific political or legal action, and no particular change in policy, apparently in the belief that it is enough to be ideologically pure. You don't actually have to know anything and you sure as hell don't have to get involved in anything that would compromise your purity.

cru / June 27, 2007 10:29 AM

Awesome, awesome, awesome, awesome article.

Also, talking about brown people's rights in a white patriarchal society generally will generally make the whites angry - regardless of political affiliation.

They tend to overstate the need to be rational when sometimes, the need is a revolution.

But I guess it makes them comfortable.

Appleby / June 27, 2007 11:04 AM

cru, I'm guessing you're a (white) undergrad at Northwestern? Anyway, save some of that morally superior rage for your senior essay. The Man will never give you the A+ you deserve, though.
But come the Revolution, you'll be getting all As.

cru / June 27, 2007 12:19 PM

No, Im a (brown) graduate of UIC.

Outrage at what is happening to human beings around you doesn't = morally superior rage. But its nice when its labeled as "morally superior". :)

jerry / June 27, 2007 1:01 PM

Indentured servitude is going to be officially enshrined in the law soon enough. The "guest worker" program is just that. No legal protection for the worker. The company is insulated. If a worker gets out of line, ship 'em back home and find someone new.

That and the ever-growing debt class keeps the rich rich and the rest of us working our asses off just to get by.

C-Note / June 28, 2007 7:43 PM

Yeah, yeah, whatever. Don't compare Mexicans to Africans; it doesn't work. Contrast them; then you'll have a story.

Every country on this planet has laws against illegal immigration. It's not just us.

Everybody wants to make more money, and they point to the guy with money and says he's the bad guy for being what he himself wants to be.

Anyway, this is America. If you don't make money you're a douchebag. Yeah, yeah. You get tired of working for the man, go work for yourself.

Clint / July 2, 2007 9:53 AM

Without rational thought, then any passionate argument carries as much weight as any other passionate argument. If you base an argument solely on passion, then the white suprecist and the neo-conservative Christian Republican and the pro-labor fighter for freedom all are equal. The only way to evaluate one over the other is by presenting rational, logical arguments.

And you can see through rational thought that the problem with this guy's passionate argument is that illegal immigrants have allowed themselves to be exploited. That's their whole purpose for someing to this country the way they do. They climb a fence and swim a river so they can get the jobs "no American wants." American business interests let them because this means they don't have to pay minimum wage, they don't have to worry about insurance, they don't have to worry about overtime or any of the other protections legals have. This is why they fight any effort to curtail illegal immigration, because limits mean they have to pay.

What I don't understand is why those who claim to support immigrants fight limits on illegal immigration. They're only perpetuating the exploitation. They're only making exploitation possible.


About the Author(s)

Ramsin Canon studies and works in politics in Chicago. If you have a tip, a borderline illegal leak, or a story that needs to be told, contact him at

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