In temporary courtrooms at a fairgrounds here, 270 illegal immigrants were sentenced this week to five months in prison for working at a meatpacking plant with false documents.The 2006 demos came at the height of the housing bubble in the US, whose construction boom had significantly boosted undocumented immigrants' economic bargaining power and bolstered their political confidence. Now, after the burst of the bubble, it would be very difficult to mount the same level of action for immigrant rights: Eduardo Porter, "Housing Slump Takes a Toll on Illegal Immigrants" (New York Times, 17 April 2007).
The prosecutions, which ended Friday, signal a sharp escalation in the Bush administration's crackdown on illegal workers, with prosecutors bringing tough federal criminal charges against most of the immigrants arrested in a May 12 raid. Until now, unauthorized workers have generally been detained by immigration officials for civil violations and rapidly deported. (Julia Preston, "270 Illegal Immigrants Sent to Prison in Federal Push," New York Times, 24 May 2008)
For the ruling class, immigrant workers are the most disposable part of the reserve army of labor, who are also useful as scapegoats on whom they can blame economic troubles. The spontaneous consciousness of workers is more often shaped by experience of competition for private-sector jobs and public-sector programs than solidarity, especially in the context where the frequency of industrial actions has so declined that most workers have never had a chance to experience working together to win. That makes it very difficult -- but also urgent -- to create a political culture that can withstand the divide and conquer strategy of the Right.