Wednesday, August 20, 2008

"The Salt of the Earth"

"Salt of the Earth" was produced, written and directed by victims of the Hollywood blacklist. Unable to make films in Hollywood, they looked for worthy social issues to put on screen independently. This film never would have been made in Hollywood at the time, so it is ironic that it was the anti-communist backlash that brought about the conditions for it to be made. In many ways it was a film ahead of its time. Mainstream culture did not pick up on its civil rights and feminist themes for at least a decade."Salt of the Earth" tells the tale of a real life strike by Mexican-American miners. The story is set in a remote New Mexico town where the workers live in a company town, in company-owned shacks without basic plumbing. Put at risk by cost cutting bosses, the miners strike for safe working conditions. As the strike progresses, the issues at stake grow, driven by the workers' wives. At first the wives are patronized by the traditional patriarchal culture. However, they assert themselves as equals and an integral part of the struggle, calling for improved sanitation and dignified treatment. Ultimately, when the bosses win a court order against the workers preventing them from demonstrating, gender roles reverse with the wives taking over the picket line and preventing scab workers from being brought in while the husbands stay at home and take care of house and children. This film was selected for the National Film Registry in 1992 by the Library of Congress. It became public domain after its copyright was not renewed in 1982.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Salvador Allende, Presente!

In memory of Salvador Allende, assassinated by a the CIA-back coup-d'etat.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Regional Forum in Opposition to the Border Wall

Confused about the Border Wall? A community forum on this contentious issue will take place this Thursday evening, June 26, at 7 p.m. in the Auditorium, Building G, at South Texas College in Weslaco. The Department of Homeland Security has announced that it intends to begin construction on the Wall in Hidalgo County in just 30 days

Among the speakers will be Scott Nicol of the No Border Wall Coalition, who will review the legal challenges to the Wall and address the government’s latest plan to link the wall to the improvement of the levee system. A number of objections to this plan have been raised. One important objection, according to Nicol, is that linking the Wall to levee construction will be very dangerous to the Valley in case of a hurricane.

Martin Hagne, an environmental advocate and Executive director of Weslaco ’s Valley Nature Center will also speak. Hagne also will be available afterward to answer questions on how the proposed Wall will affect wildlife, water resources, etc. There has been work carried out over decades to protect the natural environment in South Texas, work many environmentalists believe will be set back by the Border Wall..

Rogelio Nunez, director of Projecto Libertad in Harlingen , who has tentatively agreed to speak, and Meredith Linskey, an immigration rights attorney in Harlingen , will address human rights issues and the cultural context of the wall. The Wall reflects a mean spiritedness to Mexico and to immigrants and is perceived by many human rights activists as another step toward militarization of the border region.

The forum is free and open to the public. “A year ago at this time, momentum against the Wall seemed sufficient to stop it, l thought,” said Bob Fowler of Weslaco, a philosophy instructor and peace and justice activist who supports the idea of a public forum. “The Mayor of McAllen, the McAllen Chamber of Commerce, the President of U.T. Brownsville and all the environmental groups seemed so opposed to it that I thought the government would back off.

“Because there seemed to be so many rallies against the Wall from Del Rio to Brownsville ,” said Fowler, “it has come as a shock that now the government has announced that it is going right ahead with it in July. We need to organize a series of events right away.”
The No Border Wall Coalition, which is sponsoring the event at STC, has reached out to many Valley groupings within the last few years and has developed links nationally in opposition to the wall. The forum is intended as a wake-up call to the community. Despite the opposition from many Valley organizations and despite legal suits, the Department of Homeland Security has announced it will begin construction of the Border Wall in Hidalgo County on July 25th.

For More Information: Nick Braune 246-8193 or

Friday, June 13, 2008

Mulling over a popular slogan

It’s so exciting that the Socialist Forum now has a blog! (I wish I could take credit, but unfortunately I can’t. At least I'll be able to take credit for the first post, though! :)) At a time of increasing militarization of the border region, it seems more important than ever to build the socialist presence in the Rio Grande Valley and to present to the public the “big picture” of capitalism and imperialism that lurks behind the current crackdown on immigrant workers.

Well, it is the wee hours of the morning, and I am trying to think of something “bloggish” to say. Mostly I write stodgy academic papers and e-mails urging people to do something (e.g. show up for some event). But I should write something bloggish here…thoughtful, but not stodgy, and timely without being a mere call to action…The pressure is on!

The only thing that comes to mind is a certain slogan of the immigrant rights movement that I’ve been mulling over lately: “Undocumented immigrants only take the jobs that nobody else wants.” I have heard dozens of well-meaning activists say this, and I wouldn’t be surprised if I’ve said it a few times myself. Although there is some truth to that slogan, it also strikes me as problematic, and it has been gnawing at me lately. And I can’t think of a better place than a Valley socialist blog to mull this over (and hopefully get some illuminating comments from others).

I read an interesting piece on Counterpunch recently, written by an old slaughterhouse worker and union member, who made an interesting point. Commenting on the history of the slaughterhouse industry and the recent raid of the slaughterhouse in Postville, Iowa, he said that we should stop claiming that undocumented immigrants are only taking jobs that no one else wants, since it simply isn’t true. He pointed to the long history of working class people of all different backgrounds working in slaughterhouses, and he gave a lovely history of unionization efforts in the slaughterhouses. (Patrick Irelan, “Raiding the Packing House,”

Reflecting upon this further, I considered that there are workers of all kinds in the United States working all kinds of rotten, horrific jobs. There are all kinds of desperate workers in the U.S. who will work in sweatshops, slaughterhouses, mines, farms, canneries, and so on. (Oh, and we should also include the lousy job of being a soldier in the U.S. military, which is also one of the worst jobs imaginable and another one of those jobs into which immigrants and potential immigrants--seeking citizenship--are recruited.) Of course, no one really “wants” such horrible jobs, but plenty of people will *settle for* them, if they can’t find anything else. And with inflation increasing and the economy in shambles, the number of non-immigrants willing to settle for such jobs is likely to rise. So it seems a bit too blithe to say that undocumented immigrants are “taking” jobs that "nobody else wants."

Nevertheless, the popular slogan--“undocumented immigrants only take the jobs that nobody else wants”--points to some important truths. And that’s why so many activists like the slogan so much.

First of all, the slogan points to the important truth that undocumented immigrants are particularly vulnerable to exploitation, and that hence they often end up with the very worst jobs imaginable, and in hugely disproportionate numbers. This is a very important point, highlighting the sad and deplorable plight of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. It may be that the very worst and horrible workplaces in the U.S. tend to employ almost entirely immigrants. But, all the same, that doesn’t mean that *only* immigrants are working such horrible jobs in the U.S., even if immigrants are the majority of those working in the very worst-of-the-worst working conditions.

Secondly, and more interestingly, the popular slogan points to the important truth that we must put a stop to the attitude of competition and animosity that some native U.S. workers have towards immigrant workers. The division in the U.S. working class is a serious issue, and xenophobia keeps the working class divided. The slogan tries to unite the working class, but it goes about it the *wrong way,* by saying that immigrant workers work one kind of job, while U.S. citizens work a different kind of job, and that hence there really is no conflict.

It is important--crucial!--to put a stop to anti-immigrant sentiment and unite the working class. That is the only way that we can stop the fascist repression of immigrants, the war in Iraq, the plummeting economy, etc., etc. But the only way to do this is by getting workers to see how their fates are interconnected. And that requires getting past an “us” and “them” way of thinking. In the end, the popular slogan succumbs to the very “us” and “them” way of thinking that it seeks to oppose. Instead of responding to the reactionary cry of “They’re taking our jobs!” by saying “They’re *not* taking our jobs!” we should instead reply: “There is no ‘they’; it’s just ‘us.’ Todos somos inmigrantes! Venceremos!”

Well, I hope that wasn't too terribly long, and I hope it was sufficiently bloggish. I look forward to comments.