Tuesday, November 20, 2018

It's Like Angela Nagle Read Settlers and Sided with the White People

Angela Nagle pulls at our collective memory of decommunization by invoking Reagan's Berlin Wall speech in the lede of her latest for American Affairs Journal. In keeping with her steady slide into Strasserism, we find her parroting some of Tom Metzger's favorite talking points by positing unchecked immigration as inherently anti-working class (and the reverse position as the True Left).

At the very outset she fudges the facts. In her first paragraph she describes the felling of the Berlin Wall thus:

He went on to say that those who “refuse to join the community of freedom” would “become obsolete” as a result of the irresistible force of the global market. And so they did. In celebration, Leonard Bernstein directed a performance of “Ode to Joy” and Roger Waters performed “The Wall.” Barriers to labor and capital came down all over the world; the end of history was declared; and decades of U.S.-dominated globalization followed. [Emphasis mine]
Here Nagle is living in a fantasy world in which borders are equally porous for labor and capital. In reality, no such opening took place. Though borders became more porous for capitalists shifting their business interests around the globe, the working class found the same difficulty migrating between countries - passports, visas, immigration quotas, refugee applications.

Launching from this fabrication, Nagle begins what can only be described as a Strasserite claim that immigration restrictions are left wing, actually. To bolster this claim, she points to the 1986 "Reagan Amnesty" - a bipartisan bill that offered a path to citizenship for 2.7 million undocumented immigrants in the US. What she fails to mention is that this same law legalized use of vulnerable undocumented labor in agriculture rather than giving those workers legal work status. It also made it illegal to knowingly hire or recruit undocumented immigrants creating the subcontracting nightmare that prevents workers from unionizing because they don't know who their actual boss is.

Plagiarizing the Right Again?

To bolster her claims to immigration being a right wing cause, however, she points us to three articles. Of the three, she seems to parrot claims from Grover Norquist's article without any sort of fact checking. In the article for The American Spectator, Norquist makes the claim that it was in fact the left who were anti-immigration all along. To prove this he points to the AFL-CIO's support of the Chinese Exclusion Act. It should be noted that at the time there was no AFL-CIO. The right wing AFL wouldn't merge with the left wing CIO until 1955 nearly half a century later. There were in fact many unions that supported the Chinese Exclusion Act and other racist legislation. What united them all were their general hostility to communists (who were and have always been internationalists). In classic Angela Nagle style, rather than fact checking her right wing sources, she chooses to plagiarize from them instead.

Compare Norquist:

Hostility to immigration has traditionally been a union cause. The first American law limiting immigration was the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, championed by labor bosses. Samuel Gompers, the president of the AFL-CIO from 1886 to 1924, strongly supported the Chinese Exclusion Act and urged Congress to similarly restrict Japanese immigration. Professor Vernon Briggs of Cornell University writes that “At every juncture and with no exception, prior to the 1980s, the union movement either directly instigated or strongly supported every legislative initiative enacted by Congress to restrict immigration and to enforce its provisions.” Union opposition to labor mobility also brought us the Davis-Bacon Act of 1931, which set minimum wage restrictions designed to stop the internal migration of black workers from the South to compete with white construction workers in the North.

Steve Sailer, himself a foe of immigration reform, has pointed out that in 1969, United Farm Workers union leader César Chávez led protests against illegal immigration. Senator Walter Mondale joined the march and the UFW picketed the INS offices to demand closure of the border—long before the Minutemen.
to Nagle:
He’s not wrong. From the first law restricting immigration in 1882 to Cesar Chavez and the famously multiethnic United Farm Workers protesting against employers’ use and encouragement of illegal migration in 1969, trade unions have often opposed mass migration. They saw the deliberate importation of illegal, low-wage workers as weakening labor’s bargaining power and as a form of exploitation. There is no getting around the fact that the power of unions relies by definition on their ability to restrict and withdraw the supply of labor, which becomes impossible if an entire workforce can be easily and cheaply replaced. Open borders and mass immigration are a victory for the bosses. [emphasis: mine]
In this passage, Nagle also shows her ass by referring to migration as "importation" in line with the far-right figures she often finds herself echoing. Not to mention, if we take Norquist at his word, this also puts Nagle in the camps of contractual restrictions on workers of color.

Failing Support

But where historical fabrication won't do, Nagle has another weapon: misrepresenting the words of Marx. Nagle quotes this passage from a letter he wrote in 1870:

Owing to the constantly increasing concentration of leaseholds, Ireland constantly sends her own surplus to the English labor market, and thus forces down wages and lowers the material and moral position of the English working class.

And most important of all! Every industrial and commercial centre in England now possesses a working class divided into two hostile camps, English proletarians and Irish proletarians. The ordinary English worker hates the Irish worker as a competitor who lowers his standard of life. In relation to the Irish worker he regards himself as a member of the ruling nation and consequently he becomes a tool of the English aristocrats and capitalists against Ireland, thus strengthening their domination over himself. He cherishes religious, social, and national prejudices against the Irish worker. His attitude towards him is much the same as that of the “poor whites” to the Negroes in the former slave states of the U.S.A. The Irishman pays him back with interest in his own money. He sees in the English worker both the accomplice and the stupid tool of the English rulers in Ireland.

This antagonism is artificially kept alive and intensified by the press, the pulpit, the comic papers, in short, by all the means at the disposal of the ruling classes. This antagonism is the secret of the impotence of the English working class, despite its organization. It is the secret by which the capitalist class maintains its power. And the latter is quite aware of this.
What Nagle fails to offer us, in classic style, is context. Was Marx talking about the voluntary migration of Irish families? Hardly. What Marx was in fact talking about was the deliberate forcible eviction of Irish folks to turn their land into pastures and their bodies into cheap labor. It's probably also worthwhile to note that, at the time, Ireland was not an independent country from England.

After additional prattling about employers' associations being against E-Verify - a debate that is not about open borders, she finally comes to cite a scholar who agrees with her. He is George Borjas. Borjas, like Nagle, is no stranger to scandal, particularly that involving the credibility of his work. Like Nagle, he cherry picks facts to arrive at his anti-immigration conclusions. Borjas is perhaps most well-known for circulating a study, contradicting all existing studies, that the Mariel boatlift immigration was harmful to Miami's wage earners. Except in the minds of far-right Trump supporters, the Borjas results are bunk.

So Where Does This Put Us?

Once again, we find Angela Nagle plagiarizing right wingers, fudging the facts, and withholding necessary context. Her article reads like she read J. Sakai's equally bad rendition of labor history called Settlers and decided that the racist white union leaders were actually the good guys. Where she finds no base of support from this century, she appeals to a reimagined historical left comprised of right wing labor unions and misreadings of Marx. Well, perhaps not no base of support. There's always the Strasserites.