Yesterday, Republican members of the House Immigration Reform Caucus (HIRC) dedicated a three and a half hour long pseudo-hearing in a nearly empty room in the Rayburn building to spewing their “well-worn rhetoric about the hordes of illegal aliens destroying the American way of life.” During the event, “American Jobs in Peril: The Impact of Uncontrolled Immigration,” Rep. Steve King (R-IA) seemed to suggest that the U.S. should rid itself of its immigrant workers because, back in the good ‘ol days, high school “football stars” could get good-paying jobs not because they were qualified to work at them, but rather, because “they knew someone”:
Thirty years ago in the packing plants there in that town — which I do call my hometown — you had to know somebody to get a job. And I can remember looking at the football stars on our football team that graduated back in those years in the mid to late 60s and thinking:
“Those guys will get the best-paying jobs at the beef plant. They can just take their degree and go out and get a job — if they know someone. If they don’t, they won’t get the job. Well I can’t do that because I’m not tall enough or strong enough.”
But today it’s entirely different.
King attributes the end of cronyism in the meatpacking industry and the deterioration of wages and working conditions to undocumented immigrants. The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), which has represented meatpackers for almost a hundred years, has a different take about the sequence of events.
Back in March, Center for Immigration Studies Senior Fellow Jerry Kammer — who was also a panelist at the event — offered an interpretation of the industry’s history similar to King’s, minus the football players. The UFCW was quick to point out that Kammer’s misinterpreted and manipulated “data to reach a totally biased and flawed conclusion” and demonstrated a “complete lack of understanding about the history of the meatpacking industry.” They also provided their own account of what happened:
Immigrants worldwide have been essential in strengthening the U.S. meatpacking industry, by organizing around increased wages and improved industry standards. But during the ‘80’s, something happened. Consolidation, mergers, and company-induced strikes helped drive down wages for meatpackers. During the strikes, companies aggressively recruited strike breakers-not immigrants but individuals who came from the decimated farm industry-to cross the picket lines.
Many of these workers soon realized something: these jobs were tough. Too tough to perform at the wages companies were offering. So, they left. But the damage was done. And the UFCW has been fighting to rebuild wages and standards for these jobs ever since.
In direct reference to yesterday’s event, UFCW’s Director of Civil Rights and Community Action, Esther Lopez, commented, “Given their [King and his allies] terrible track record on worker issues, it really is the height of hypocrisy that they are now trying to portray themselves as champions of workers.”
The House Immigration Reform Caucus (HIRC) is a group of (mostly Republican) representatives founded by former Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-CO) with the mission of stopping “the explosive growth in illegal immigration,” “reversing the growth in legal immigration,” and halting “amnesties.” The forum featured panelists from two of the three organization which “stand at the nexus of the American nativist movement,” and are often referred to as part of the “Nativist Lobby.”