Wednesday, April 28, 2010

May Day and the Plight of African Immigrants in the U.S. and Europe

The Plight of African Immigrants in the U.S. and Europe

Discrimination, repression and the struggle against world imperialism

By Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire

This year’s May Day commemorations are taking place amid an escalation of racist and xenophobic attacks against immigrant communities in the United States and Western Europe. The recent passage of a new Arizona law that legalizes racial profiling and the electoral campaigns by right-wing, anti-immigrant parties in Hungary, France, Italy and the Netherlands, illustrates the need to intensify efforts aimed at building international solidarity among workers and the oppressed throughout the world.

These attacks against immigrant communities in the Western countries coincide with the burgeoning economic crisis that has resulted in the massive layoffs of millions of workers of all nationalities and the worsening of the social conditions faced by people in both the industrialized and underdeveloped states. The decline of the capitalist system that has been characterized by massive bank bailouts, plant closings, the shrinking of the public sector, cutbacks and denial of healthcare and the privatization of education, has intensified the assaults on trade unions, poor people of color, women and other historically exploited and marginalized groups.

Inside the United States since 2006 the immigrant rights struggle against the draconian laws passed by Congress since the 1990s, has created the social conditions for the revival of May Day. Millions of workers led by the Latino communities throughout the country has challenged unjust policies that scapegoat the immigrant population groups both documented and undocumented.

It should not be surprising that the reemergence of May Day has been initiated by Latino immigrants. During the period between the late 19th century and the Great Depression, it was workers from various Eastern European states and the nationally oppressed who played a decisive role in struggles to win the eight hour day, the ending of child labor and the securing of collective bargaining rights.

Even though the Latino working class in the U.S. has been at the forefront of the massive demonstrations and campaigns to highlight the plight of the undocumented, the overall decline in the social wage of labor in general necessitates the broadening of the conception and realization of the independent and militant action to defeat the intensifying war on people from all segments of society.

Although the corporate media has placed a brown face on the recent plight of the immigrant communities, the conditions of immigrants of African descent have been just as precarious in both the United States and Europe. The discrimination and repression leveled against African immigrants cannot be separated from the legacy of racism and national oppression against Black people in the United States who are ostensibly “citizens” of the country. This same contradiction also exists in Europe where the conditions of immigrants must be viewed within the context of the ongoing subordinate position of people of color who are supposed to be protected under the laws governing the various states.

The Conditions of African Immigrants in the United States

Over the last several decades there has been a significant increase in the number of immigrants from the Caribbean and the African continent living inside the United States. Nonetheless, there was a decline in the number of Caribbean nationals who were granted naturalized citizenship during 2009. In 2008 some 131,935 people from the Caribbean gained citizenship in the U.S. in comparison to a significant decline to 84,917 in 2009. (, April 23, 2010)

This reduction in the number of people from the Caribbean becoming citizens follows a broader pattern where in 2008 some 1,046,539 became naturalized, while in 2008, there were only 743,715. It is not surprising that the immigrants from Cuba topped the list of those from the Caribbean becoming naturalized with 24,891.

The United States has favored and even encouraged immigration from Cuba in the five decades-long destabilization campaign against the revolutionary government on the island. Nonetheless, even the number of Cubans being granted citizenship declined from the 39,871 who became naturalized in 2008.

Interestingly enough, the group showing an increase in naturalization are nationals from the African continent. However, the conditions under which they are living inside the U.S. are not free of discrimination and racism.

For example, several years ago the Mayor of Lewiston, Maine, Laurier T. Raymond, Jr., stated publicly that the Somali immigrant community should look elsewhere to live. The Mayor voiced sentiments of the largely white city that the presence of immigrants from East Africa would adversely impact the living standards and culture of the broader community.

Jonathan Rogers, a Portland resident, asked recently in response to this form of anti-immigrant racism, that “Can you imagine a city mayor turning away hoards of new residents and their contributions to the local economy in today’s economic climate? Mayor Raymond wasn’t alone, however. Many Mainers still harbor a sentiment of distrust, disapproval and hostility toward unfamiliar immigrants.” (Portland Press Herald, April 14)

Rogers continues saying that “Xenophobia can make you believe all sorts of things; that these new families are a drag on the economy, that they all live in public housing and are unemployed or that the low-income neighborhoods they may inhabit are the most crime-ridden in town.”

This same author encourages people living in Portland to “Take a tour of the neighborhoods with public housing developments in Portland, many of which are home to Somalis and other East African families. Compared to areas of similar income, you will find stronger communities, more thriving social networks and more civic-minded people there than anywhere else in the city.”

At a conference held on February 28 on the African Diaspora in Washington, D.C., people from 19 countries and 137 organizations meet to discuss how resources could be mobilized to assist in the economic development of the African continent. The conference examined several areas of concern including governance and capacity development, women’s empowerment, information technology and economic development.

This event reported the World Bank estimates that “African immigrants living abroad mostly in North America and Europe send home between $32 and $40 billion every year. This figure far exceeds the money that is given to Africa through formalized development aid channels. “(Modern Ghana News, April 5)

Despite the constructive role played by African immigrants in the United States, many people from this community are subjected to racial profiling and discrimination. There have been numerous cases of African immigrants who have been harassed, brutalized and murdered by law-enforcement.

The Somali community in Minneapolis has been targeted as suspects in the so-called “war on terrorism.” During the inauguration of Barack Obama in 2009, the FBI questioned Somali student activists about an alleged plot to assassinate the president. Mosques frequented by Somalis have been infiltrated by government informants and recently there have been reports in the corporate media claiming that youth are being recruited to go and fight against the U.S.-backed Transitional Federal Government in Mogadishu.

The Plight of African Immigrants in Europe

As a result of the impact of the world economic crisis on the African continent, more workers and youth have fled as refugees to Europe in search of employment and a higher standard of living. However, these workers have been subjected to gross discrimination and violence from various European governments and racist vigilantes.

This anti-immigrant bias has been reflected in the electoral campaigns of various right-wing political parties who have openly advocated reprisals targeting African workers who are seeking asylum in European states. In Hungary in April, the right-wing Jobbik party gained 16 percent of the vote in parliamentary elections.

The same sentiment is reflected in France with the growth of the racist National Front Party and in the Netherlands where the Party of Freedom enjoyed gains in the recent elections. In Italy the anti-immigrant Northern League has openly spread racist sentiment against workers from Africa and other parts of the world.

In January in a town in southern Italy, two African immigrant workers were shot when air guns were fired from a moving vehicle. The incident sparked mass demonstrations and a rebellion when the workers took to the streets demanding that they be treated like human beings.

According to a report broadcast over Germany Television “More than 2,000 immigrants protested with banners in front of the town hall, highlighting what they say is racist treatment at the hands of locals. ‘We are not animals,’ some shouted.

“Schools and shops were closed due to the tense atmosphere, and there were reports of one white resident firing ammunition into the air. Immigrants in the town work picking fruit and vegetables, with about 1,500 living in abandoned factories with no running water.” (Deutsche Welle TV, Jan. 8)

According to an article in the Ethiopian Review, the rise in racism in Europe is closely linked with the deepening economic crisis within the western capitalist states. The journal says that “Although right-wing ideology takes different forms across Europe, it shares a common strategy: exploiting the fears of voters in times of crisis. Right-wing populists focus on their follower’s discontent.” (Ethiopian Review, April 13)

“They offer easy answers to complicated problems: the economic situation, unemployment or social security,” said Wofgang Kapust of German National Radio (WDR). “Above all, they want to rid of, deport or ‘send home’ foreigners and ‘the others’.” (Ethiopian Review, April 13)

Workers Have No Borders: The Need for Solidarity With Immigrant Workers

Inside the United States it is important that labor organizers, anti-racists and civil rights groups condemn acts of discrimination and violence against immigrant workers. These attacks are not just directed against the foreign-born and their descendants but are designed to weaken and intimidate the proletariat and the nationally oppressed as a whole.

The emergence of the so-called “Tea Party” movement in the U.S. represents another manifestation of an age-old phenomena of the ruling class attempts to divide and conquer the working class and the oppressed. These angry workers and displaced middle-class whites are being encouraged by sections of the capitalist class to attack immigrants, African-Americans, Latinos, women, the LGBTQ communities, unions and progressive forces as a whole.

In fostering international solidarity with immigrant workers, the progressive forces inside the United States and Europe can build a united front against a potentially dangerous neo-fascist movement that is supported and promoted by the ruling class and its corporate media outlets. Only a broad-based alliance of working people, immigrants and the nationally oppressed can effectively counter efforts by the capitalist class to further impoverish and politically isolate the struggle against the economic austerity imposed on the majority of people inside the United States and around the world.

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