workers freedom

economics as if workers mattered

Guest workers — the bosses can never get enough

Republicans and Democrats alike agree that one of the key components of immigration reform must be an expanded guest worker program, so that the bosses can import their low-paid workers legally, without running afoul of immigration laws. The current program, it seems, is just too restrictive to meet the bosses’ needs.

The Harrisburg PA Patriot News reports that foreign guest workers participating in the State Department’s current J-1 Visa Exchange Visitor Program were briefly locked out of their company-provided housing after protesting conditions at the three McDonald’s outlets they were brought in to staff. Students pay about $3,000 to participate in the “educational” program, working for four months for the sponsoring program and then having a couple of months to visit the country. Several guest workers were sponsored by the franchise holder for six central Pennsylvania McDonald’s, who put them to work at minimum wage, sometimes scheduling them for as few as four hours in a week, and made them live in the basements of homes he owned (8 to a room, each paid $65 a week). The students came from Argentina, Peru, Chile and Malaysia, according to the Huffington Post.

The National Guestworker Alliance says McDonald’s “hijacked” the student visa program to “access cheap, exploitable labor.” This comes two years after another group of foreign students protested against the giant candy-maker Hershey for bad working conditions and large deductions from their pay. That case was settled after the feds directed Hershey to pay more than $200,000 to students in back pay.

Evidently, it’s difficult enough to get workers to agree to McDonald’s conditions that its franchise operators find it easier to work with the government to bring in workers from abroad — workers whose visas are contingent on staying on the job, and so aren’t free to leave if the situation becomes too abusive.

Evidently it’s a great deal, and the bosses want more. Tens of thousands more, to compensate them for the difficulties they will experience from the decline in the numbers of undocumented workers they can ruthlessly exploit.

The quickest and easiest way to rid ourselves of these abuses would be to rid ourselves of borders. Already, the bosses and “their” (actually our) money travel the world at will, as do our jobs and the products of our labor. (and the pollution and social misery created by this system.) Only workers are controlled by national borders, and anyone who believes the borders are administered in the interests of the working class needs to get a better grade of tea.

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