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Views in brief

March 9, 2007 | Page 12

VIEWS BELOW:
Labor should unite with immigrants
The "terror-free oil" scam

Labor should unite with immigrants

VERMONT HAS a reputation for standing on the side of social justice; however, that spirit has yet to be extended to the state's estimated 2,000 dairy workers, most of whom are from Mexico and are undocumented.

These men and women work long hours, starting as early as 3 a.m., for less than minimum-wage pay, and with scant access to basic health and educational services. They also live in extreme isolation and fear, because in Vermont, anti-immigrant profiling is on the rise.

In 2006, more than 100 workers--men, women, and also their children--were deported, and in most cases, it appears to have been local and state law enforcement, Department of Motor Vehicle and Fish and Wildlife employees, or grocery store and bus line employees who made the first call to border patrol.

In mid-February, several area activists and I attended a lunch with two dozen undocumented workers, who explained that because the climate has grown so hostile, they avoid even appearing in local grocery stores. Instead, when they have a chance to leave the farms to buy food, they drive extra miles to New York state.

When we asked if it was border patrol they most feared each time they step off the farm, they replied no, it's municipal police, one particular state trooper, and also local vigilantes.

Thanks to recent sympathetic press reports and public forums planned by activists, the plight of these workers who have long been laboring in the shadows is finally gaining public notice. Even Vermont's governor finally acknowledged that yes, the dairy farm operated by his in-laws depends on undocumented workers.

But the governor still refuses to issue an order to state law enforcement, health officials and other service providers to do anything to improve conditions for farm workers and lessen their isolation and fear. More, the state's racist right has become emboldened, filling newspapers with vile anti-immigrant letters.

Here's where we need Vermont's labor unions to get involved--not in support of the separate-and-unequal agricultural guest-worker program advocated by the governor, but for full civil and labor rights for all workers. As AFL-CIO President John Sweeney argued amid last spring's historic immigrant rights marches, "We must support immigrant workers because supporting all working people is the core of what it means to be a trade unionist."

We are, as Sweeney argued last spring, stronger when we stand together, and especially when we call out the racism and xenophobia the bosses want to use to keep workers from uniting and fighting together.

In a state where some 45 percent of jobs don't pay a living wage and in a state that, despite its reputation for social justice, has also in past decades put out the welcome mat for the KKK and proponents of eugenics, we've got a lot at stake in uniting to say: "Immigrants--not racists--are welcome in Vermont!"
Nancy Welch, Immigrant Rights Vermont and University of Vermont United Academics-AFT/AAUP, Burlington, Vt.

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The "terror-free oil" scam

THERE'S A new campaign out there to stoke hatred of Arabs and Muslims--and the mainstream media fell for it without a second thought.

A pro-war group called Americans Against Hate has started what it calls the "Terror-Free Oil Initiative" (TFO)--opening several gas stations that sell gas that supposedly doesn't come from the Middle East, and are therefore "terror-free."

As Ali Abunimah wrote on ElectronicIntifada.net, "The TFO logo features the Twin Towers and an outline of the Pentagon with the flight numbers of the aircraft that were crashed into them by hijackers on September 11, 2001. Other TFO propaganda features the image of Osama bin Laden with his face crossed out, reinforcing the message that the entire population of the Middle East should be viewed as indistinguishable from bin Laden."

The "terror-free" oil scheme got a lot of press coverage, but most media outlets reported it as a quirky public-interest story, no different from any other publicity stunt. Actually, the figures behind the campaign are veterans of racist causes.

Americans Against Hate's Web site is filled with diatribes about Islamists and "supporters of terrorism"--the two things being seen as synonymous. The group's founder and chair Joe Kaufman--and also the chief spokesperson for the "terror-free" gas stations--was one of the people yelling the loudest about Keith Ellison, the first Muslim to serve in Congress, earlier this year.

Also, Kaufman wrote the article in David Horowitz's Front Page magazine that accused Barbara Boxer of being the "senator for terror"--because she gave an award to a member of the Council on American-Islamic Relation, a mainstream group that Kaufman nevertheless denounces as a front for terrorists and one of "America's live-in enemies." Shamefully, Boxer caved to the hysteria and withdrew the award.

The TFO's claim to sell oil products that don't originate in the Middle East is a fraud. Its stations get gas from Sinclair Oil, a U.S.-based company that admits it can't confirm the origin of its supply.

But the TFO's real purpose has nothing to do with where the oil comes from. As Abunimah wrote, "The 'Terror-Free Oil' initiative was a successful, headline-grabbing stunt by a group of unabashed racists and demagogues."
Jessie Conrad, from the Internet

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