Branden del Rio
Hector Delgado presented his research on the relationship between immigrants and unions in the first lecture of this year’s Faculty Lecture Series, appropriately named “Immigrants and Unions.”
In the lecture on Monday Delgado, professor of sociology, illustrated the complex relationship between immigrant workers and unions in the United States.
Delgado began his lecture with a history of immigrants and unions.
“The issue of immigration always seems to come back during times of recession,” Delgado said.
In the early 18th century, the U.S. was receptive of immigrants and in fact welcomed them to fill in the gaps left by native-born citizens in the work force.
However when the Panic of 1837 occurred Americans became more speculative of the immigrants.
In the history portion of the lecture he stated that the beginnings of many American labor unions came from ideas that sprung out of England. In fact some of the original labor union leaders were either first-generation or second-generation immigrants.
Delgado included a chart that showed the growth of unions over the years.
And to the surprise of the audience, the chart also showed a steady decline of unions beginning in the 1950s and continuing into present time, something he said is a bleak sign that unions may not be much longer in action.
David Werner, associate professor of English, also noticed a steep decline in the 1970s.
“The whole unions system has been under attack for a while starting with Reagan and the air traffic controllers,” Werner said.
Despite that fact, one of Delgado’s main points was whether unions should protect the immigrants.
Delgado acknowledged that one of the current issues we face today is the issues with immigrants coming from south of the United States border.
He said if unions do not stand up for immigrant workers they become more vulnerable and can be taken advantage of more easily by big companies in search of cheap and disposable labor.
This therefore makes them more attractive to the big companies.
“His historical overview showed that basic contradiction will always exist,” Al Clark, associate vice president for academic affairs, said.
Delgado mentioned the outright racism that eventually came about during times of recession and was aimed at different migrant groups.
He cited the Oxnard Strike of 1903 in which the American Federation of Labor denied entrance to a union of sugar beet field workers comprised mainly of Mexican and Japanese immigrants because the union represented Japanese immigrants. The audience reacted to this troubling anecdote with sounds of disapproval.
In the 20th century the government passed laws that set quotas on the number of immigrants that could enter the United States.
Specifically he presented the quota on Chinese immigrants in the United States in the 1920s.
During the time these quotas were in place there were no quotas established for Mexican immigrants.
However, there were many fees that had to be paid and therefore it was harder for Mexicans to enter the country.
As a result they began coming over the borders illegally, Delgado said.
Delgado also dispelled several rumors such as the belief that immigrants come to the United States for the welfare. In fact they come here simply to work and earn fair money.
He included the fact that over the past decade there has been a steady decrease in the number of undocumented workers entering the country.
At the end of his lecture Delgado reasserted his main point.
“One thing is clear: The fortunes of unions and immigrants are tied together; neither can ignore each other,” he said.
Branden del Rio can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.