TCS Daily


Paró General! The Return of the General Strike

By Lee Harris - May 1, 2006 12:00 AM

The photograph showed an elderly Hispanic man holding up a placard with the words Paró General written on it, and it accompanied an internet article about the strike of immigrant workers scheduled for May the First -- a strike that its sponsors pledged would "shut down" cities. As I glanced at the picture, groping through my very limited mental Spanish lexicon, I made the connection: Paró General is the Spanish phrase for general strike. No wonder, I thought to myself, that so many responsible Hispanic leaders have expressed concern about the possible backlash from the projected Paró General.

For most Americans, the phrase "general strike" may not pack much of a wallop. But it was once a revolutionary slogan, and one that was embraced by one of the more fascinating and original thinkers of the first half of the twentieth century, Georges Sorel.

In his most famous book, Reflections on Violence, published in 1906, Sorel argued that the general strike was the utlimate weapon in the arsenal of revolution, one that would lead to an apocalyptic transformation from capitalism to socialism. Yet, in the century that followed the publication of Reflections on Violence, Sorel's faith in the revolutionary promise of the general strike inevitably came to seem a bit puzzling. Indeed, not quite four years ago, I wrote that Sorel's myth of the general strike "never quite caught on," and that is why I was somewhat startled to see the placard proclaiming Paró General. For it suddenly made me ask myself, "Did Sorel write his book a century too soon? Is Sorel's general strike ready to have a comeback?"

A general strike is not to be confused with a normal strike. A normal strike takes place when workers refuse to work until a specific set of demands is met by those who have been employing them. Sometimes the workers get what they want; sometimes they reach a settlement; sometimes the strike is simply broken, as occurred during the strike of the air traffic controllers under Ronald Reagan. But the general strike is not targeted at any particular businesses or industries -- its target is the state itself. It is designed to intimidate the state into acceding to the political objectives of those who have called for the general strike.

The very idea of a general strike runs contrary to all the traditions of American politics. Instead of working within and through the traditional political system, those who championed the general strike have used it as a method of forcing the government to give into their demands by tactics such as taking to the streets and paralyzing the normal course of life.

This, for example, is what occurred quite recently in France. When the French government attempted to implement a law that permitted employers to fire employees under the age of 26, those opposed to this law were not content to use the normal political channels for expressing their opposition -- instead, they called for a general strike that was aimed at paralyzing French society. They took to the streets, went on rampages, burnt cars, and disrupted civic life until the French government felt it had no choice but to give in to the demands of those who were opposed to the labor law.

Yet, by giving in to these demands, the French government was in fact betraying the traditional democratic political process on which its own legitimacy rests. By showing people that the quickest and most effective way to get what they want is by paralyzing a society through the use of the general strike, the French government was in effect telling its citizens: "If you want something real bad, you don't have to go through the tedious and unpredictable channels of normal politics, such as voting and organizing political parties, funding candidates and canvassing for their support -- there is a much better way of achieving your goals: all you have to do is riot long enough in the streets, shut down cities, and viola! you win, and those fuddy-duddies who foolishly relied on the ballot box and representative government, they lose."

Any general strike poses a danger to constitutional government by offering a path to political power that short-circuits the normal rules of the political game that everyone else has been playing by. That is why, whenever a government permits itself to be influenced by the tactics of the general strike, it is unwittingly preparing for its own dissolution -- it is de-legitimatising itself by legitimatising the streets. The moment people believe that the traditional rules of the political game get them nowhere, and that the most effective means of procuring what they want is by taking to the streets, then everyone, sooner or later, will end up taking to the streets, and no one will see any point in playing by the old traditional rules of the political game.

In many ways, the key to the stability of those nations founded on Anglo-Saxon political institutions has been their refusal to permit political decisions to be decided in the streets, and their stern insistence that change could come about only through the ballot box and not by manning the barricades. Unfortunately, many Americans today, on both the right and left, have come to look upon masses of people filling the streets with their protests and demands as a healthy exercise in democracy. In fact, once those who control the streets learn that they can force governments to change their policies, or even to bring down governments altogether, then power automatically goes to whatever group can be most effective in organizing the streets to their own ends, at which point constitutional government simply ceases to exist, and the rule of the survival of the fittest comes into force.

For Georges Sorel, however, political anarchy was not an unintended consequence of the general strike; such anarchy was its ultimate objective, its whole raison d'être. This is because Sorel believed that it was only by returning to the law of the jungle that power could be put back in the hands of those who deserved it -- the warlike, the heroic, the ones willing to die for their beliefs. For Sorel, the normal political channels through which a liberal democracy selected its managerial class were carefully arranged so that only non-entities would end up with power. So, if you want to get rid of them, it is not enough to vote this or that non-entity out of power; it was necessary to destroy the very political system that was deliberately designed to keep strong and willful men away from the reins of power.

It should come as no surprise, then, that Lenin was one of Sorel's heroes. Here was a man that could never have come even close to a position of power except during a period in which all legitimate authority had collapsed, and power was lying in the streets. Napoleon, too, was another Sorelian hero, and for exactly the same reason: when the existing government of France had been battered back and forth by the street mobs, it was Napoleon who finally decided to end the French Revolution by doing the only thing that could bring an end to mob rule -- he opened fire on the mob and shot many of them dead: a feat that the timorous Louis the Sixteenth simply could not bring himself to do.

Sorel dreamt of returning to a new heroic age, in which great men would govern nations, and not mere politicians. Little wonder that Mussolini, who certainly thought of himself as such a great man, once said: "I owe most to Georges Sorel." It was Sorel who had taught Mussolini that those who were ruthless enough to dominate the streets would be able to force the government to do their bidding, just as Mussolini's Fascists were able to impose themselves upon the impotent and bankrupt Italian parliamentary system. Sorel liked to see men in power who were exciting and fanatical -- and he got his wish. With the collapse of normal boring politics, one European society after another selected men as their leaders who were Sorelian heroes: Lenin, Mussolini, Hitler, Stalin, men intensely motivated by their Nietzschean will to power and who knew how power really worked because they had worked it for themselves.

Men like this only come to the fore when power has left the state and has descended into the streets. That is why the mere call for a Paró General, with its shift of power away from the legitimate sources and into the streets, represents an intrusion of a very alien element into the Anglo-Saxon tradition of politics that has given the American nation its enormous stability. No matter what actually happens on the First of May, 2006, the simple call for a general strike as a means of obtaining political power sets a dangerous precedent. Yes, this is how many political questions have in fact been determined in Latin America, in France, in Spain, in Italy, and in other nations; but it is not part of the American tradition. Here the streets do not decide policy or force governments from office. It is not how we do politics; and we are unwilling to allow any group within our nation to start doing politics this way.

No one understood this truth better than Martin Luther King. The whole point of the civil rights movement was to permit black Americans to do politics the American way, by voting, by running for office, by influencing political parties to support your cause. At no point did King ever threaten to close down cities. At no point did he take to the streets the way the French students and their supporters took to the streets in France, in order to coerce the US government to adopt his policies. At no point did he ever demand anything other for black American citizens than for them to have the same civil and political rights as all other American citizens.

The false analogy drawn between the Paró General and the civil right movement brings us to what is perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the current call for a general strike. Many of those who will be closing down cities, in order to influence the policy of the American Congress, are not themselves American citizens. This means that non-Americans will be using the radically un-American tactic of a general strike in order to pressure Congress into acting in their interests, rather than in the interests of the American people. Yet what right do non-citizens have to influence political decisions about the American nation at all? People who are not citizens of the US do not have the right to vote or to hold office. But if we refuse to give non-citizens the traditional political rights of an American citizen, what sense can there be in extending to them the dubious right to use the streets as a path to political power: a right that the American tradition has always repudiated?

In short, those who think that the Paró General is a flashback to the heroic civil rights struggle of the sixties are seriously deluding themselves. The Paró General is a revolutionary gambit, though of the Latin variety, and one that may well be fraught with consequences of the gravest impact on the future of politics in America. Political power won in the streets ultimately discredits and subverts all the more prosaic and boring methods of achieving power. If shutting down cities is the way to get what you want, then who will wait patiently in a long line at election time in order to cast a vote for a man over whom you have zero personal influence?

The Latin character differs from the American character in one very obvious way. The Latin character is exciting; the American character is a bit humdrum. Latin music, dance, and food -- they're all exciting. But so, alas, is Latin politics. Just read a history of Mexico since its independence to see what I mean. In music, dance, and food, I far prefer the Latin to the American; but in politics, I far prefer the humdrum, if not the ho-hum. I like my politics American-style, and I want to keep it that way.

We are a nation of immigrants, but we are also a nation of laws, and the first rule that every newcomer to this country has had to learn is respect even for the laws you think are wrong, and even more importantly, respect for the tiresome and tedious procedures that are involved in changing the laws you don't like. Yes, it is a frustrating and often maddening process; but at least it has kept us out of the streets for two centuries -- and that is a boast that few other nations can make. Here we are ruled by those who sit quietly in their own homes, and not by those who can throw their weight around in the streets -- and this, more than any other factor, explains why the United States has been so dazzlingly successful. Here, at last, the meek have inherited the earth, and the violent do not bear it away.

Lee Harris is author of Civilization and Its Enemies.

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39 Comments

Strike today?
Was there a strike today?

Didn't notice.

It's more like a fiesta
Lee, you're doing your best to insinuate that today's demonstration is equivalent to declaration of an intent to incite violence. But that won't wash. It's an expression of solidarity for a community that (a) now lives in America and (b) numbers in the millions.

I'm sorry if you're afraid of them. Maybe if you knew any of them you wouldn't be subject to the fear/hate reaction. Haven't we accumulated sufficient historical precedent to show us that confrontation is not the proper way to address community gatherings?

Maybe it's a strike en su pueblo, I don't know. But in mine it's a holiday. My wife and I will be going out soon in search of some home cooking and good music. If by doing so we pose a threat to constitutional government-- as you aver-- so be it. We like the chuletas y cervezas.

Whew...
Thank goodness Roy is here to put it straight.

You see, I thought this was a political statement and an attempt to empower illegal immigrants. Now you come along and tell me it is just a day to be a bunch of lazy, drunken Mexicans.

Thank you for fighting the stereotype!

Solidarity
Don't forget to observe the grassroots movement to boycott Mexican restaurants on May 5th. Dine American.

Pass this on, please!

Roy???
Roy,

Do you have any respect for the rule of law AT ALL?

Does the fact that International ANSWER is behind all of this bother you in the least?

Does the overwhelming will of the American People matter at all? (it certainly doesn't seem to matter to the politicians, at least on this issue)

As far as I am concerned, there is only one justification for being here illegally (and it is a weak one at that): Our 'Legal' immigration system is far out of date, onerous, and much MUCH too time-consuming. It borders on the punitive. It is way past time that it be changed.

So let me ask you this. Do you think that nations do not have the right (some might even say obligation) to secure their borders? This question would seem to be particularly relevant, considering the terrorism issue, and possibly more importantly the issue of preventing people with communicable diseases from entering the country. What do you think?

I will tell everyone.
I dont think we will ever eat Mexican food again unless cooked by my own family. How about if us real Americans resapond by CLOSING ALL OUR HOSPITALS-MY WIFE IS A NURSE-OUR SCHOOLS, OUR PUBLIC AID OFFICES, POLICE STATIONS, FOOD DEPOSITORIES, AND AMBULANCE SERVICES AND SEE WHO IS REALLY VITAL TO THE RUNNING OF THE US ECONOMY AND COMPARE WHO IS RUNNING THIS NATION INTO THE GROUND?!? I dont trust anyone cutting my grass and enjoy doing it myself as it is the only exercise I get anyway for the week. My office will be permanately cancelling all future catered events from any and all mexican restaurants and eat anything else. I will not be told by ILLEGALS that we should have to pay for their tresspasses against America. A BOYCOTT CAN AND WILL GO BOTH WAYS. I HAVE HAD TOO MUCH OF THIS CRAP THROWN IN MY FACE AND TODAY WAS MY BOILING POINT.

P.S. WE PAY THE TAXES YOU DONT.

Spanish-language Mistake
Mr. Harris;

The elderly gentleman made a mistake with his sign, which you repeated: the proper phrase is not "paró general", but "paro general." "Paró general" is not only wrong, but makes no sense at all.

By the way, thanks for the ideas in your book. They have guided my thinking about the Muslim-West conflict in recent years.

"Ruy Diaz", westernresistance.com.

typical roy
nobody ever disagrees with roy for noble motives,
it's always because they are stupid, greedy, fearfull, bought off, or some combination of the above.

all roy needs to know is that conservatives are against it.
for him to be for it.

lies about general strikes - proud US tradition
What an interesting transformation of history into nothingness, leading to an utter lie and a stilted view of democracy.

There were numerous General Strikes in US history. One of the most famous was in San Franciso, and the contemporaneous statement of objectives of that strike puts the lie to much of what this weasel is on about:

http://www.sfmuseum.org/hist4/maritime10.html

For the rest of it, the larger "this is not a democratic process" argument: for this to hold, the democratic process is unitary, occurring twice per year, and beyond that we should all surrender our voices.

What a load of manure.

And it completely ignores the delight of american liberals and neocons alike when general strikes in the Eastern Bloc, the Philippines, and most recently Nepal accomplished what the US Military should not, and virtually without bloodshed.

General strikes, general uprisings? Happily bought and paid for by the US.

This general strike - I am lucky to work in health care in a largely immigrant area, and was able to see the mobilization briefly today - is probably the most conservative possible general strike. It seeks not to weaken a state but to increase its strength by improving its demography; most of the strikers are active supporters of the state, and indeed they are out to show their support. Additionally, immigrant labor is one of the keys to the long-term solvency of social security.

One sign read "we didn't cross the border; the border crossed us." My family on my mother's side has been in California since the 1820s. I'm one of the very few Anglos who can say that. I welcome my neighbors' return with pride and optisism.

go fishin'
Gee I dunno, but it seems like today would have been a day for the INS to have gone fishing for green cards. It's also seem that the way to fix the problem isn't to go after the "fish", but after the "bait". I figure if the government took their big stick and went after the business that do the employing of illegals and collected all of the back wages less than what minimun wage or minimum job market along with all of the unpaid insurance, employment taxes, social security, medicaid and etc. in addition to heavy fines I guess the problem would fix itself. As a bonus those that do come would have benefits, a competitive wage and the enjoyment of income taxes.

Yes, Wesley
1) No.

2) No.

3) No.

4) Agree.

5) Communicable diseases? That tells me a lot more about you than it does about the immigration issue.

on please
General strikes are people power the Author does not like the reason for this one that all. General strikes have been used throughout history to force change on issues the those in power don't want to face/resolve. Is the Author saying that the general strikes that forced the Poms out of India, or the RED's out of Poland, or the Orange revolution and even the recent events in Nepal are bad.
get real stop spinning and just come out with your actual issue. What are your issues Racial, cultural or religious. This is the great irony of liberal conservatives free trade is enhanced by free movement of labour if the jobs are in the US why should Government get in the way of labour supply.

in your case Mark that is on the money.

Have Roustabout and wwgeek gone nuts?....by northernguy
Assuming that both contributors are not ten year olds I wonder if they have completely disconnected from reality!


First off, the the general strikes that took place in Eastern Europe and Nepal were not staged by a populace that was impatient with the vicissitudes of the rule of law and the democratic process. Quite the opposite! Their demand was that they have some means other than mass protest to govern themselves. Something that was not available to them and had not been for years nor would have ever been short of revolution or mass protest.


Only an ignorant fool or a wilfull liar would ever say that there was no bloodshed in Eastern Europe or Nepal as part of the process that led up to the mass protests.


My wife's earliest memories of Eastern Europe were living in hiding in the forest to escape the Germans who were rounding up all the professionals who had not cooperated with the N. .a. .z. .i's as was the case with her family. Later when the German occupiers needed the professionals to run the country it was safe to come out of hiding. When the Russians came in and replaced the Germans they rounded up all the professionals who had not cooperated with the com munists. Again the family went into hiding. Again after a period of time they came out to rejoin what was left of society. The communists ruled for generations.


When my wife herself became a professional she and her friends engaged in their own form of resistance. When she and two of her friends went out in public they would agree in advance to wear conspicuous articles of clothing that displayed one of the three colours of the national flag which was banned. Each one would wear a different colour so no single person was wearing all three colours the represented the illegal national flag. Any citizen could immediately see what they were doing but it was difficult for the Russians to prevent it. Of course they had to make sure that they never stored clothing of the three significant colours in the same drawer at home in case they were investigated. Such a mistake would have been very costly indeed.


Therefore I must tell Roustabout and wwgeek that I resent their implication that there is something similar to what the illegal immigrants and their supporters are doing and those actions that the Eastern Europeans were forced to do. The Eastern Europeans were demanding the opposite of what the illegals are screaming for. They wanted the government to be a government of laws. A rational legalistic government based on democratic principals with regular free elections designed to bring about freedom and justice for the citizens. Similar to but not identical with the structure of government that exists in the United States.


And, I might add, none of those demonstrations were composed primarily of citizens from other countries.

As for historical traditions of general strikes in North America there has never been a general strike that was successful for longer than a few days and then only in a tiny area. At least not since the availablilty of democratic recourse to justice as is the case in modern times. For a example of what is regarded as a successful general strike read up on the Winnipeg general strike of 1919. It is considered the perfect model of a general strike. Of course it failed completely and seems incomprehensible now. But I'm sure it seemed like paradise for a few days for the organisers.


At any rate roustabout and wwgeek are offensive in the extreme with their trivialisation of the risks, goals and conditions of the massive protests in Eastern Europe and Nepal. None of which would have happened without the omni presence of the American military acting as check on those outside actors who would have used their militaries to intervene if they were sure they could have gotten away with it. The two posters may disagree about America's military impact but certainly those who were actually there in Eastern Europe, oppressors and oppressed, believe it to be the case.

addendum... by northernguy
In my last post I referenced Eastern Europeans being _rounded up_. While I'm sure it's clear to just about everybody on this board it probably isn't clear to roustabout and wwgeek that being rounded up by such regimes resulted in something more than a severe tongue lashing. Most victims were transported out of the country, in the process of which many died in transit, were killed on arrival or incarcerated into a life of misery from which very few returned.

It wasn't just being a prosecutor or a judge that was dangerous but also being a court clerk. Not just the chief of police but the beat cop too if someone complained about for some reason. Unless you had already demonstrated your worth to the new regime by helping identify possible suspects. It wasn't just the top flight surgeons who were in danger but the nurses who worked in upscale clinics. I could go on but you get the idea.



Roustabout and wwgeek relish the discomfiture of legitimate political processess in the face of the protests. Perhaps they should talk to people who have experienced society where the norms of government have broken down.

Be Careful What You Wish For
The general strike was unnoticed in these parts. The strike showed us that the strikers are not really needed and our economy would be fine without their efforts. They probably irritated motorists in some parts with traffic delays which are not endearing to Americans. I agree with the article that they need to work within our system and not try to create their own. Isn't their system what they are trying to get away from?

OK.. Hold the phone, Roy
Wait, let me get this straight.

I asked you the following questions, and you answered:

1) Do you care at ALL about the rule of law?
(Your answer: No.)

2) Does the fact that International ANSWER (a com.munist anti-American subversive organization) is behind these 'protests' bother you at all?
(Your answer: No.)

3) Does the overwhelming will of the American People matter to you? (As it seems that it does not to most politicians as well)
(Your answer: No.)

4) I state that I believe our immigration laws and processes are out-of-date and unnecessarily onerous and almost punitive, and should be updated to become less painful.
(Your response: Agreed.)

5) Do you believe that nations do not have the right, or even the obligation, to secure their borders? Especially considering the terrorist issue, as well as people entering the country illegally carrying communicable diseases?
(Your only response: "Communicable diseases? That tells me a lot more about you than it does about the immigration issue.") You conveniently fail to answer the very pointed question of whether or not a nation has the right to secure its borders. However, the flip tone of your response also seems to indicate that you don't find anything wrong with allowing people carrying serious communicable diseases into the country to roam freely. You even seem to imply that I am somehow in the wrong to be thusly concerned. Perhaps the spike in cases of tuberculosis do not concern YOU, but they sure as HECK concern ME.

In any case, here is what one can infer from your responses.

Roy's Beliefs:
Laws are meaningless to Roy. One would suppose that he is probably all for ones that he likes, such as laws against robbing or killing him, but at the same time, the laws against, say, entering the country illegally are completely irrelevant. It's a sort of hedonistic system of beliefs, that 'pick-and-choose-which-laws-you-feel-are-worthy-of-being-followed' kind of thing.

Roy is not purturbed in the least by the fact that these 'protests' are organized and run by a subversive com.munist organization. The fact that these protests will do nothing to help these 'immigrants' does not bother him. The only thing good about them is the fact that they have the potential to harm this country, and he is apparently all for that, as are his ANSWER chums. Since he has openly admitted in the past that he is a 'radical liberal' (which is code for 'wannabe com.munist'), one suspects he is nothing more than a fellow traveler, and that Hiss and the Rosenbergs are his personal heroes.

The fact that he has no respect for the overwhelming will of the American People dovetails nicely with his lack of respect for the rule of law, and his unconcern regarding subversive anti-American com.munist activities in this country. While most Americans instinctively understand that 'It's not what the POLITICIANS want, it's what the PEOPLE want' that matters, Roy apparently is perfectly ok with the idea that politicians may blithely go against the will of the overwhelmning majority of the citizens of this country in order to pander to a tiny minority of non-citizens.

He agrees that our immigration laws should be 'updated'. However, one suspects that his idea of 'updated' and most other peoples' idea of the term are probably wildly different.

Lastly, Roy refuses to answer the question of whether or not nations have the right to have secure borders. Clearly Roy believes that America does not have this right. Doubtless he does not feel this same way about any other country on Earth, as ALL of them reserve the right to secure borders, but oh well. Again, this is simply more of the same, in that insecure borders leaves this country extremely vulnerable to damage from external actors of all various stripes. Whether it be terrorists sneaking across the Mexican border amidst a truck full of cabbage-pickers, or these same vagrant illegals carrying any manner of undetected and harmful communicable diseases, such as tuberculosis. It's all the same to Roy, as long as the end result is that harm is done to this country.

We understand you now, Roy.

The only question I have is, how can you ever expect to be taken seriously, after revealing such things?

I mean, it's one thing to constantly and pointedly always take the devil's-advocate point of view, to always be the contrarian, especially on an admittedly conservative site such as TCS. Hey, I love a spirited and intellectually stimulating debate as much as the next guy. But it's another thing entirely to step out-of-bounds and reveal yourself to being little more than a tinfoil-hat-wearing moonbat. Who would even bother debating someone like that? Sheesh. You sure spend a lot of time here to only end up being a punch line.

While it's senseless to try to reason with the unhinged, look on the bright side Roy. You don't have to worry about anyone questioning your patriotism. You clearly don't have any.

The rule of a just body of law
It's going to take us a while before communication occurs, Wes. But I think we're coming along nicely.

I prefer a society of laws to a society of men, in principle. I don't care for the Unitary Presidency, whether we're talking about Napoleon or any other unitary. They are without exception each dumber than the collective wisdom of a good body of just law.

But that's not what we have. We have a body of law with constant revisions, being bought and paid for by the highest bidders. Low rent people get to buy no law, influence no law or vote for any lawmaker who represents society as a whole. So in sum, I do not respect our body of law. It reinforces the wealth of the privileged, and blames the poorest for their condition.

Let's move to the subject matter, the fact that our laws have contrived that those who earn the lowest wages are declared to be "illegal".

If you believe in the tenets of free trade, you understand that the elements of trade must be free to move acorss borders unrestricted. Those elements are three: investment capital, market goods and labor.

Investment capital is very free. Market goods are in principle free, although often subsidised by government so they can compete unfairly over those of the country being invaded. Labor, however, is subject to strictures that make it impossible for the laborers in many industries to exercise any rights over their condition.

Migrant labor is an egregious example that hasn't changed since the 1950's. Look the other way while contractors smuggle braceros in to weed our crops, pull them, pack them and bring them to market. Pay them nothing, house them miserably and then when the goods are on the grocery shelf, arrest them and ship them home.

Likewise with the garment industry. Frequently, by tradition INS raids on sweat shops in SoCal take place on Friday morning. That way the shop owners don't have to pay for the week's production. They have a second shift handy to replace the seamstresses who get bussed back to Mexico.

That's the American Way. And because it's all legal I'm supposed to stand up and cheer, right?

I'm still sitting down.

Still doesn't address the questions Roy
First of all, who exactly decides which laws are 'just'? You? We have ballot boxes, courts, and a Constitution upon which to base all that, but I suppose you should probably take the position. After all, OTHER 'Unitary Presidents' are just awful, but with YOU in that slot, well, everything would be cool.

In any case, when you say: "Let's move to the subject matter, the fact that our laws have contrived that those who earn the lowest wages are declared to be "illegal"."

Which laws exactly have contrived 'that those who earn the lowest wages are 'declared' to be "illegal."'?

I have not heard of such a law. Perhaps you could share.

I myself tend to believe that it is exactly the opposite as you say. None of those people in any of those situations are in them against their will (if they are, they are a tiny fraction, and that is certainly an entirely different topic). Those people are taken advantage of because they have placed themselves in that situation. NOT because they are victims of injustice. All of those people could choose to be here legally, in which case they would not be targeted for exploitation. The fact that they CHOOSE to come here illegally only makes their exploitation inevitable, but the responsibility lies with the individual at the moment he or she decides that the best course of action is to enter the country in other than legal ways.

Should laws be enforced more stringently against hiring illegal labor? Of course. Is it wrong for sweatshop owners to exploit and unfairly treat their 'employees'? Of course. But again, there's that pesky 'rule of law' thing again.

I would contend that if our laws had been upheld more properly from the beginning, this would not be a problem today. People who want to move to this country in order to improve their lives have a legal avenue with which to achieve this goal. However, this means that, as part of the process, some would not be allowed in. Criminals, those carrying diseases, etc, would be turned away. That is our right. Granted, it takes a while. Granted, it is not the quick and easy fix for someone who wants to get some dineros quickly. That is not our problem.

Where you see the Noble Worker, Virtuous Labor, striving only to go where the work is, in a utopian sort of free-trade/free labor process, (you say 'If you believe in Free Trade - I think Free Trade is probably better than the alternative, but that does not somehow mean that it trumps our Constitution and our laws) I also see American prisons that are increasingly illegal immigrant, I also see emergency rooms in constant crisis mode because the vast majority of patients in them are illegals who have no money with which to pay, no insurance, and full expectations for their every medical condition to be treated free of charge. I see our already-inadequate school systems being overburdened by non-english-speaking children non-tax-paying non-english-speaking illegal parents. I see our laws and our rights being trampled on by people who are not even citizens of this country making demands as though they have a single right at all to expect that their demands be met. I see myself paying skyrocketing health care costs, I see myself paying skyrocketing taxes, in order to pay for all these things these illegals expect for free.

And I am not alone. The overwhelming majority of Americans feel as I do, according to the precious polling that the media love so much. Yet the politicians across the board act as though they are in terror of offending people who don't even want to be anything more than 'mexicans living in America.' It fills me with revulsion, and anger, against both them and the politicians who care less for the will of the people they represent than the desires of citizens of other countries.


This is going to cost them, all of them, at the ballot box in a few months.

In any case, you have focused narrowly on just one question of the many I asked. You STILL have not answered the question of whether or not a nation has the right to secure its borders. I guess sometimes the things left unsaid are just as telling as those which are voiced.

I see your problem...
at least one of them Roy.

>"Let's move to the subject matter, the fact that our laws have contrived that those who earn the lowest wages are declared to be "illegal"."

Actually, the states they are "illegal" if they cross the border and remain here illegally. As in "Against the Law". Does that clear it up a little for you?

You can earn the lowest wages and be a legal citizen. It is quite like you to be confused on a pretty clear concept. The sad thing is when you attempt to spread your confusion to others.

BTW: Did everyone notice that the US economy shut down yesterday? No? Because it didn't. It is interesting to note that the illegal march proved that we don't need illegals.

to: roy_bean
I'll bet that between the two of us, only one graduated law school. "Legal" and "just" are not the same. Stick to what you for fact, not what you think that you know.

Happy Trails.

To: Wesley
"Just" is an opinion; "Legal" is a fact.

The General Strike: An American Tradition
I wasn’t present for the conversation yesterday about the general strike but being an enthusiast for American history I can’t resist but to jump in. This anti-labor, anti-immigrant, and I would say anti-American “history” of the general strike by Mr. Lee Harris deserves a response…

Harris’s xenophobic, reactionary historiography plays the old ruse of attempting to simultaneously demonize and efface America’s tradition of social and democratic reform by trying to characterize it as foreign and un-American. It is a not-so-subtle way of excluding ideas and actors of our history that have posed real challenges to the grip that the wealthy and privileged have held and still hold on our democratic institutions. Mr. Harris prattles on about Georges Sorel- a European intellectual and activist that happened to be an enthusiast for general strikes- and concludes- ispo facto- that the general strike is “radically un-American.”

This is baloney. The general strike is absolutely apart of an American tradition of radicalism and democratic social reform in this country and it would only take the most committed “conservative” idealogue to deny this. General strikes can be found in both nineteenth and twentieth century America. During the Civil War, as the Confederate army retreated or disintegrated across much of the South, hundreds of thousands of slaves walked off the plantations in what was effectively a general strike that crippled the Southern economy. On May 1, 1886 initiated by the Knights of Labor a national general strike for the eight-hour day brought much of industry and commerce to a halt in many cities. The 1894 Pullman Railroad Strike, while not a general strike, was a mass political strike with that same democratizing purpose that Harris decries. The Seattle General Strike in 1919 is perhaps the most notable in its success and its non-violent, rank-and-file organization and was part of the national industrial democracy movement during that era. There were also general strikes in San Francisco and Terre Haute, Indiana in 1930s and threats of general strikes during the period helped bring many union victories in many Midwestern cities. During the 1940s there was a wave general strikes in Stamford, Connecticut; Lancaster and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Rochester, New York; and Houston, Texas, Oakland, CA.

It is worth noting that most of these general strikes, although not all, were led and largely populated by white, working class Americans. Who could be considered more “American” (in Harris’s Anglo-Saxon version of history) than Western figures like the IWW’s Big-Bill Haywood? (Georges Sorel has nothing on general strike enthusiasts like Montana’s Big Bill Haywood. By Harris’s fallacious logic one could argue Declaration of Independence is “anti-American” because Thomas Jefferson borrowed ideas and phrases from Lafayette and drafters of France’s Declaration of the Rights of Man.)
So it is absolutely false to say that general strikes, “never caught on” in America. If they are rare, it’s because they are not easy things to organize and because they have, in many instances, been successful in democratizing the workplace in particular and society in general. That general strikes have waned in the post-WWII period is one measure of the labor movements success in securing the modern institutions of a democratic and equal opportunity society. That the general strike is back is one indication of their need for renewal.

Though rare, general strikes and other mass political strikes have played an important role in both local and national struggles for democracy and equal rights. They are one of many direct action tactics including boycotts, marches, other traditions of extra-legal civil protest- dating back to Shay’s Rebellion and earlier- that have been a powerful democratizing force in America. For example, the long-struggle for eight-hour day, for which the Knights of Labor initiated their 1886 general strike, was not just about securing humane working conditions, it was about ensuring that workers, as citizens, had time to participate in the democratic institutions and process… the democratic institutions and processes that Mr. Harris views as the only legitimate channel political change.
Hence, ironically, the general strike can be attributed to achievements that have sustained the democratic traditions and institutions that Mr. Harris “defends” yet so poorly understands (they are not exclusively Anglo-Saxon by any means).

While the most effective and enduring strategies of civil protest- including general strikes- have been non-violent, our democratic institutions have always relied on extralegal, civil protest for their reinvigoration and renewal. Jefferson recognized this dynamic in American democracy when he wrote "The spirit of resistance to government is so valuable on certain occasions, that I wish it to be always kept alive. It will often be exercised when wrong, but better so than not to be exercised at all. I like a little rebellion now and then…” or again in noting “Certainly one of the highest duties of the citizen is the scrupulous obedience to the laws of the nation. But it is not the highest duty.”

I am not about to defend the actions of every demonstrator nor deny that America has a tradition of violent vigilantism (for which racial and ethnic minorities have usually been the target).

It is Mr. Harris (not the demonstrators defending immigrant rights) that is most at variance America’s finest democratic tradition. Ironically it is the ideas, tactics, and actors that Harris tries to characterize as un-American that that have actually played the most important role in maintaining and reviving our democracy and our democratic institutions. It’s been the practitioners of the general strike, not the arm-chair philosopher of democracy, that have done the most to sustain and advance America’s truest and most cherished creed of universal rights and participatory democracy.

I would argue, then, that it is Mr. Harris that is most anti-democratic and unAmerican in questioning the legitimacy of citizens and non-citizens to demand equal rights for immigrants. The majority of immigrants and the protestors in the streets giving them voice are simply claiming the self-evident, inalienable human rights that- as Thomas Jefferson aptly put it in July 1774 (and other places)- "nature has given to all men, of departing from the country in which chance, not choice has placed them." From Jefferson to Martin Luther King Jr., America's truest and most admirable creed has always been to defend, uphold, and advance the universal rights of all human beings, not to greedily hoard them behind our national borders, as Harris and other so-called “conservatives” would have it.

The General Strike: An American Tradition
I wasn’t present for the conversation yesterday about the general strike but being an enthusiast for American history I can’t resist but to jump in. This anti-labor, anti-immigrant, and I would say anti-American “history” of the general strike by Mr. Lee Harris deserves a response…

Harris’s xenophobic, reactionary historiography plays the old ruse of attempting to simultaneously demonize and efface America’s tradition of social and democratic reform by trying to characterize it as foreign and un-American. It is a not-so-subtle way of excluding ideas and actors of our history that have posed real challenges to the grip that the wealthy and privileged have held and still hold on our democratic institutions. Mr. Harris prattles on about Georges Sorel- a European intellectual and activist that happened to be an enthusiast for general strikes- and concludes- ispo facto- that the general strike is “radically un-American.”

This is baloney. The general strike is absolutely apart of an American tradition of radicalism and democratic social reform in this country and it would only take the most committed “conservative” idealogue to deny this. General strikes can be found in both nineteenth and twentieth century America. During the Civil War, as the Confederate army retreated or disintegrated across much of the South, hundreds of thousands of slaves walked off the plantations in what was effectively a general strike that crippled the Southern economy. On May 1, 1886 initiated by the Knights of Labor a national general strike for the eight-hour day brought much of industry and commerce to a halt in many cities. The 1894 Pullman Railroad Strike, while not a general strike, was a mass political strike with that same democratizing purpose that Harris decries. The Seattle General Strike in 1919 is perhaps the most notable in its success and its non-violent, rank-and-file organization and was part of the national industrial democracy movement during that era. There were also general strikes in San Francisco and Terre Haute, Indiana in 1930s and threats of general strikes during the period helped bring many union victories in many Midwestern cities. During the 1940s there was a wave general strikes in Stamford, Connecticut; Lancaster and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Rochester, New York; and Houston, Texas, Oakland, CA.

It is worth noting that most of these general strikes, although not all, were led and largely populated by white, working class Americans. Who could be considered more “American” (in Harris’s Anglo-Saxon version of history) than Western figures like the IWW’s Big-Bill Haywood? (Georges Sorel has nothing on general strike enthusiasts like Montana’s Big Bill Haywood. By Harris’s fallacious logic one could argue Declaration of Independence is “anti-American” because Thomas Jefferson borrowed ideas and phrases from Lafayette and drafters of France’s Declaration of the Rights of Man.)
So it is absolutely false to say that general strikes, “never caught on” in America. If they are rare, it’s because they are not easy things to organize and because they have, in many instances, been successful in democratizing the workplace in particular and society in general. That general strikes have waned in the post-WWII period is one measure of the labor movements success in securing the modern institutions of a democratic and equal opportunity society. That the general strike is back is one indication of their need for renewal.

Though rare, general strikes and other mass political strikes have played an important role in both local and national struggles for democracy and equal rights. They are one of many direct action tactics including boycotts, marches, other traditions of extra-legal civil protest- dating back to Shay’s Rebellion and earlier- that have been a powerful democratizing force in America. For example, the long-struggle for eight-hour day, for which the Knights of Labor initiated their 1886 general strike, was not just about securing humane working conditions, it was about ensuring that workers, as citizens, had time to participate in the democratic institutions and process… the democratic institutions and processes that Mr. Harris views as the only legitimate channel political change.
Hence, ironically, the general strike can be attributed to achievements that have sustained the democratic traditions and institutions that Mr. Harris “defends” yet so poorly understands (they are not exclusively Anglo-Saxon by any means).

While the most effective and enduring strategies of civil protest- including general strikes- have been non-violent, our democratic institutions have always relied on extralegal, civil protest for their reinvigoration and renewal. Jefferson recognized this dynamic in American democracy when he wrote "The spirit of resistance to government is so valuable on certain occasions, that I wish it to be always kept alive. It will often be exercised when wrong, but better so than not to be exercised at all. I like a little rebellion now and then…” or again in noting “Certainly one of the highest duties of the citizen is the scrupulous obedience to the laws of the nation. But it is not the highest duty.”

I am not about to defend the actions of every demonstrator nor deny that America has a tradition of violent vigilantism (for which racial and ethnic minorities have usually been the target).

It is Mr. Harris (not the demonstrators defending immigrant rights) that is most at variance America’s finest democratic tradition. Ironically it is the ideas, tactics, and actors that Harris tries to characterize as un-American that that have actually played the most important role in maintaining and reviving our democracy and our democratic institutions. It’s been the practitioners of the general strike, not the arm-chair philosopher of democracy, that have done the most to sustain and advance America’s truest and most cherished creed of universal rights and participatory democracy.

I would argue, then, that it is Mr. Harris that is most anti-democratic and unAmerican in questioning the legitimacy of citizens and non-citizens to demand equal rights for immigrants. The majority of immigrants and the protestors in the streets giving them voice are simply claiming the self-evident, inalienable human rights that- as Thomas Jefferson aptly put it in July 1774 (and other places)- "nature has given to all men, of departing from the country in which chance, not choice has placed them." From Jefferson to Martin Luther King Jr., America's truest and most admirable creed has always been to defend, uphold, and advance the universal rights of all human beings, not to greedily hoard them behind our national borders, as Harris and other so-called “conservatives” would have it.

Jim Labbe - Portland, Oregon

why am I not surprised
That roy has no objections to the involvement of a hard core stalinist organization.

unitary presidency
Just means that the president, and the president alone is in charge of the executive branch.

Since this is precisely what the constitution says, it shouldn't be controversial.

I have no doubt that all roy knows about the theory of the unitary president, is that Bush is for it, therefore, he's against it.

A lesson in the law
Even though you may have graduated from law school while I was out having fun, I think we both know "legal" and "just" mean different things. That in fact was my point. Re-read my comment if you think I've confused the two.

To: roy_bean
I think got it right. Your comment about "poor is illegal" is the culprit. It may not be 'just', but it is not 'illegal'.

Hint: When you let emotions cloud your thinking, you lose.

That's why bigots are such easy targets.

you just made my point
Outstanding. When you write "the omni presence of the American military acting as check on those outside actors who would have used their militaries to intervene if they were sure they could have gotten away with it. The two posters may disagree about America's military impact but certainly those who were actually there in Eastern Europe, oppressors and oppressed, believe it to be the case."

That's much of the point right there: when it's in our interest, the US backs and foments mass action.

Or perhaps you don't think the Solidarity actions in Poland received massive US support - in funding, in advertising design, in logistics and of course in the presence of the US military and its demonstrated willingness to act?

There are many, many other instances where the US has created or tried to create mass movements in other countries. We abandoned the marsh arabs in Iraq under Bush I, we're currently trying to buy students in Iran, much of the dissolution of Yugoslavia was fomented with American aid - our favored groups were delivered suitcases of dollars, as reported by Steve Erlanger in the New York Times.

The US supports democracy through elections when the outcome suits us. Had we honored the democratic process in Indochina in the 50s, we would never have gone to war to install our good friends the South Vietnamese.

There are numerous other examples - in Chile, in Nicaragua, in Guatemala, in Mexico, in Indonesia - we go in overtly or covertly to prevent elections, to overturn elections, to influence elections.

When the outcome might not suit us - in postwar Greece, in postwar Italy, even in Sweden and Australia - we go in covertly.

Perhaps they should talk to people who have experienced society where the norms of government have broken down.

In today's Boston Globe, there's an interesting article discussing how our last three Presidents have each added waivers to their signatures on hundreds of pieces of legislation. Rather than honestly vetoing the bills and standing and fighting, Bush, Clinton and Bush are claiming not to be bound by the Constitution or the law.

If this is the norm of government you wish to uphold, that's fine. It's the norm of government yesterday's demonstrators greatly desire to uphold, as tax-paying members of the US economy.

Be honest about it is all; don't claim that general strikes are unamerican foreign imports. Don't pretend that the United States is Mother Theresa with first strike capability. Our history shows that the governments we empower are far from it.

WRONG!!!!! Respect for law is not what makes America go. And TCS should know it.
The American government is not what has made this country go. Infact dissing the law was what created it!!!! The government was just unsuccessful at stopping it. The real force in creating the US was and is the millions of FREE citizens and their trillions of little transactions made to better themselves. This activity has propelled this country from a backward farm based set of colonies to the most modern society in the world.

As for the Paro' General, it will have no real effects. Most immigrants both documented and undocumented will be doing what the other millions of peaceful folks will be doing while the strike is on. That is working, going to and from work, or enjoying themselves in one of an infinite number of other things.

As for respect for the law, the less there is the betterm AND the more respect of the individual the better!!!! This great nation was founded on folks who disrespected the law and the authority of government. Furthermore they created a government that until recently had to respect the rights of citizens over the decisions of bureaucrats. It will be a sad day for US and rest of mankind when the citizens of the US finally respect the law.

Well, you know what they say, Bill..
You know that old saying..

'The thing that's so great about free speech..."

You can fill in the rest, I am sure.

No the only thing proved is that most folks care about their employment over a protest.
Face it, The only thing proven by the lack of stoppage of the entire USA if that is even possible, is that the illegal and legal mass majority of Americans feel that the continued selling of labor to an employeer is worth more than participating in some Communist throwback May Day celebration.

So go vote. I did, today.
There's not a lot of choice involved in coming here in search of work. The people you meet here are mostly rural-- people who lost the means of supporting their families when NAFTA undercut their farm production. Did you know in Mexico you can buy American corn more cheaply than a local farmer can afford to grow it? This is economic warfare, and we are seeing the refugees.

America would in principle enjoy a right to secure its borders. But in this situation that right is countered by the right of America's economic victims to continue their existence by coming here and seeking work. So to me it is the lesser right.

Those who come and want to consider citizenship come by the legal route. Those who come to survive only want to earn money to take back home. While they're here they contribute to our economy by their labors, and I find no problem with them. That's my vote and I'm standing by it.

Foggy thinking
I got the part about my being a bigot, but the rest of your reasoning is unclear. You appear to be saying that if I allow principle to affect my thinking I'm just not being realistic. Would that be accurate?

Whenever I have a choice between doing what's right and following the law, you know where you'll find me.

English Language
Principle is not the same as emotion. Live it up; buy a dictionary; use it.

So what was the candidate's platform?
You voted. Yay. I wonder if the preferred candidate's platform was one of 'America doesn't have the right to secure is borders, our laws are unjust, and subversive com.munists are fine by me.'?

Well, at least you don't have to worry about having wasted your vote.


But onward.

You say:
"There's not a lot of choice involved in coming here in search of work. The people you meet here are mostly rural-- people who lost the means of supporting their families when NAFTA undercut their farm production. Did you know in Mexico you can buy American corn more cheaply than a local farmer can afford to grow it? This is economic warfare, and we are seeing the refugees."

You seem to believe that these people coming here illegally have no choice but to do so. While that is clearly not true, it may be true that they feel it is their best alternative. What is interesting is that, like the typical dime-store liberal, your first instinct is to 'Blame America' for the faults and corruption of other nations. What is it about the fact that the Mexican government is possibly the worst, most corrupt and badly managed government entity on the fact of the planet that you don't understand. We have free trade agreements with Canada, but for some reason you don't see millions of Canadians sneaking into this country illegally. Why is that I wonder? Could it possibly be because Canada is actually a viable place in which to live and work?

You're right though. It *is* economic warfare, and we ARE seeing the refugees. However, the war is being waged by mexico upon its own citizens, and we here are bearing the brunt. The real culprit is the mexican government which has created a situation where it is cheaper to buy American corn than to grow it themselves.

Seriously, are you ever interested in actually solving problems, or is the only thing that concerns you is that you never be perceived as cold or mean or hard? It's cool to be so 'nice' all the time, no matter what. After all, the world needs people who are born to be nothing but victims, just like nature's system makes for both predator and prey.

Those millions of protesters ought to be marching in downtown mexico city, if they really cared about fixing the problems which caused them to feel the need to illegally come here in the first place. The fact that their government is a joke, and deals with its citizens' complaints by giving out instruction guides on how to illegally enter the United States, is not our responsibility.

You say:
"America WOULD in principle enjoy a right to secure its borders. But in this situation that right is countered by the right of America's economic victims to continue their existence by coming here and seeking work. So to me it is the lesser right."

We would, but we don't. As I said earlier, we understand you now. These poor people are just our victims, and therefore we have no right to keep them out. Let's just throw out that whole Constitution thing, and all those laws, and bills of rights, and all that, because the only thing that really matters is these foreigners''rights' - the "right of America's economic victims to continue their existence by coming here and seeking work.". Is Allen Funt around here somewhere? Is someone going to jump out from behind a curtain with a hidden camera and yell 'Gotcha!' and laugh at me for being gullible enough to take you seriously? I mean, you cannot actually believe these things you are espousing, can you? You would have to be completely insane. Really, this has got to be some kind of elaborate practical joke.

Lastly..

You say:
"Those who come and want to consider citizenship come by the legal route. Those who come to survive only want to earn money to take back home. While they're here they contribute to our economy by their labors, and I find no problem with them. That's my vote and I'm standing by it."

Ah. They only need to follow the 'Legal' route if they intend to become citizens. If they just want to come here to get some money, well then, they don't have to follow our laws, do they? Heck, why should they?

After all, they (as you say - "While they're here they contribute to our economy by their labors, and I find no problem with them.") 'contribute'. Oddly though, your idea of the definition of 'contribute' and the definition sensible people use must be two different things. Every dollar that they 'take back home', as you say, removes 4 to 5 times that much from our circulating economy. They have essentially shut down countless emergency rooms, and have crippled countless school districts. They do not pay proper taxes. Not to mention the increasing illegal population in our prisons.

The fact is, whatever you think you know about how great illegal immigrants are for our economy, it would be far better off if they were not here illegally. Any increases in labor costs would be more than offset by decreases in social services costs. Plus, all those American dollars which are drained from our economy every year would remain in circulation here, instead of traversing the south-of-the-border villages as real money instead of the near-worthless mexican currency.

If you don't believe me, why don't you try talking to some actual LEGAL Mexican immigrants, and ask them how they feel about illegals? Maybe that will open your eyes, if nothing else will.


postscript - I don't suppose the irony has escaped your notice.. the irony that you think our laws are not worth following, and yet you have chosen the name of a Judge as your nom de plume? Mildly amusing.

Voting-- a citizen's duty
As it turns out, I'm one of the more influential citizens in my precinct. Turnout around here for this off-season vote ran somewhere between one and four percent of registered voters-- who are themselves in a minority of the general population.

Mostly it was judges. We voted (that's two votes) for the guy who wants to outlaw campaign contributions to judges' campaigns from attorneys who come before them. Sounded good to us.

We also voted (in another seat) for a judge who's active in the Domestic Violence Commission, the Rape Crisis Center and the Workplace Policies Subcommittee.

We also voted for the incumbent Clerk of the Court. The guy sounded like he knew his business a lot better than the one who wanted his job. And as a former jobholder, I tend to look kindly on incumbents.

That's it. A real coupla radicals, my wife and I. There were no communists to vote for this time. And the Libertarian Party lost its standing, having drawn less than one percent of the vote in 2004. So they weren't even on the ballot.

A solution to the problem
You're right, Wesley. I've been devoting way too much time to describing what's wrong, and not enough time to how we can put it right. So check this out:

Stop ALL agricultural subsidies. Right now. Let the American consumer pay what it actually costs to put food on his table. It'll save us having to pay those billions to ADM and the other major players.

Without subsidies, American exporters of chickens, wheat and corn will have to charge the Mexicans enough for their commodities to be able to make a profit. And they won't be able to without coming in higher than local Mexican farmers can produce those foods.

Mexican agriculture will be revivified. And all the illegals now working in this country can come home and work out of their houses, instead of only seeing their wives every second or third year.

That would be a good solution all the way around. Wouldn't you agree?

Post Script: the irony of my nom de plume was not lost on me when I chose it. During his career the Judge always felt the law was what he said it was. I try to emulate his fine example.

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