Commentary: Our Movement, Rooted in Immigrant Workers, Must Stand With Immigrants

Chelsie Glaubitz Gabiou
April 16, 2017
Chelsie Glaubitz Gabiou

Chelsie Glaubitz Gabiou is president of the Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation, AFL-CIO. This commentary is reposted from the Minneapolis Labor Review.

Work. Work is what sustains us. Work is the energy and labor we provide to our community, our families and ourselves. Work transcends race, class, ideology, and culture. Work sustains our neighborhoods and work has built the labor movement.

Work shakes me awake in the morning —whether it is the 75,000 members of the MRLF or my 2-year old. Work drives a construction worker to a site at 5:30 a.m. to beat the hot sun on the pavement. Work inspires a housekeeper each day at 5:30 a.m. to fill the cart with towels. Work keeps a teacher well into the darkness of the evening to support a student.

This pride, this value of work, is greater than any executive order President Trump can deliver to our movement. Core to the labor movement are the values of solidarity, freedom, opportunity, and equality for all. As our political climate grows more divided, our own solidarity must deepen.

We must not be fooled. Many of these policies are rooted in a strategy to keep workers afraid and to weaken their power.

Donald Trump’s executive orders on immigration are an effort to criminalize working people — including people in our own unions. Working people in our community are afraid to take their children to school and to go to work themselves — let alone speak up against abuse and exploitation.

Minnesota has a rich history of immigrants building a life for themselves and making Minnesota one of the best places to live in the entire country. Immigrants come to us from many different avenues — fleeing persecution, searching for better work opportunities, participating in democracy, or seeking education. Some have even been forced to immigrate here via slavery or exploitation to provide their labor or services. Native Americans and immigrants from many generations have built our economy and will continue to carry the work forward.

Today, the world is experiencing the largest refugee crisis since World War II and humanitarian support is needed now more than ever. It is unacceptable that the we would choose to turn away the very people in greatest need of protection simply based upon where they are from or the faith they practice. The labor movement is home to many refugees.

Coupled with bans on immigration, we are seeing enforcement and deportation policies abruptly changed and broadened. Many families who have only provided good work to the fabric of our communities are suddenly being thrown into a terrorizing limbo of status and chaos threatening their very livelihoods. The workers impacted by these policies are being denied their due process and are having their voice in the workplace weakened. We must support immigration policies at the local, state and national level that protects due process for all workers, regardless of immigration status.

But, these harmful policies don’t just affect immigrants, they harm all of us. It continues to exasperate the discrimination people of color face in our communities. Enforcement-only deportation policies drive more immigrants into the underground economy — an economy that drags the wages and conditions of all industries down. Lack of trust between law enforcement and the community erodes public safety for everybody.

We must not be fooled. Many of these policies are rooted in a strategy to keep workers afraid and to weaken their power. In this moment, it is more important than ever that our labor movement provides information, support and solidarity to our immigrants, people of color and every other community directly under attack. Immigrants are welcome, safe and protected in our unions and the workers’ movement.

While corporate elites try to use policies of division to exploit our work, we will resist. We will use the collective power of our work. We will bring families together to support each other.