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Comments by YACCS
Friday, April 07, 2006

About work and immigration

You sweep the motherfucking floor

You know, people like to say that Americans will do ANY job if it pays enough.

So why won't they become nurses? A job shortage, high wages, choice of employment.

Yet, every year there is a shortage of nursing school students and nurses.

So why is that?

Maybe because they get treated badly?

Once there was a pool of women who gladly became nurses. Now, half of medical school classes are female.

Maybe status has a little to do with this.

My point is that this is not anything like a simple argument. Immigrants don't just take jobs Americans would do like construction, but jobs they won't do, like low-end service work. The middle class repeats this myth that "any job is better than no job" when they never experience what any job really means.

When people say they've cleaned toilets and swept floors, that was a job they fled as quickly as they could.

Most middle class people talk about these jobs as a memory, not a reality.

Now, there are plenty of poor people who clean floors, but with union wages and government titles. There is a sharp divide between union, government work and cleaning offices and for the most part, American citizens refuse these jobs.

After 400 years, African Americans want to get the same jobs as whites. They do not want to clean up after white people. So making this argument about wages, misses the reality that there are low status jobs which most Americans will not take and want no part of. So patronizingly expecting a sea of young blacks to take these jobs is a delusion, at best.

The problem with black unemployement is that they are largely not hired for the jobs they want, like construction. That is the one area where contractors were more than happy to not hire blacks and American-born Hispanics. This is the one area is where immigration affects American workers directly. You can see this in New Orleans, where Mexicans are crossing the border and coming up and getting jobs blacks would do.

But when it comes to jobs like being a nanny or maid or cleaning offices, without a union behind it, are simply unacceptable work.

One of the things about poverty is self-esteem. While some people hold that you gain self-esteem from work, they have never picked up leaves for welfare checks. Jobs which were once done by union people, who were mysteriously laid off. And this wasn't particularly low status work.

What people have to understand is that there is no vast pool of Americans willing to do the worst, least status work for even decent wages.

Once upon a time, blacks did the vast majority of restaurant work, both front and back of the house. But slowly, and for a variety of reasons, they were shoved out. Back of the house work didn't pay as much as union jobs and increasing education, made them less desirable. There was a stigma to front of the house work, because waiters were often treated as servants.

But, around the mid-70's, as waiting became a transitional job, it suddenly became fashionable for young whites with college educations to become waiters. They made a nice presentation to the customers and were not looking to stay on. Hispanic immigrants took the back of the house jobs because they were eager for the chance and willing to suffer difficult conditions.

Now, blacks are a rarity in non-black owned restaurants. The Times had a long article on the struggle of blacks to become chefs in established restaurants.

The best way to look at this is: would you do this job if you had ANY other alternative? If the answer is no, well, that's how other Americans see it. Because the only people who argue this are the people who don't see this as their career. They see it for other people, unlucky people, but not themselves.

People keep saying Caesar Chavez opposed illegal immigration, Which he clearly did. He wanted a unionized workforce in the fields. Only problem, the next generation wanted a life way the fuck away from the fields. As education became available, the last job they wanted was picking fruit. And their parents encouraged this.

Why do you think over a third of the US Army is minority? Because these kids didn't want the crappy jobs available to them. The same with poor white recruits. They just didn't want the low-status jobs and the military provided status, a chance for education, and self-esteem and respect.

So let's be realistic about this: yes, there is wage pressures on these jobs, but the idea that there are poor people sititng in some project who are being held back from cleaning offices by people from Bosnia and Puebla is wrong. Ask those people the kind of work they want, and that ain't close to it. They want government jobs, corporate work where they can look nice, not a broom.
And that is what they are trained to do. I've never seen a government grant for training office cleaners from the unemployed.

Immigration is not just about low wage conservatives exploiting people, but a wide spread perception that Americans don't do certain jobs, period.

Don't take my word for it, find some poor kids , list some jobs on a blackboard and ask them would they do them as a career.

I await your answer.

Oh yeah, let's not forget something: these are shitty jobs for Americans, they are not shitty jobs for immigrants. Cleaning toilets may suck, but it beats laying brick for a couple of dollars a day and a steady diet of black beans.

We need to remember, that for the average poor immigrant, that crappy job is miles beyond anything which could happen in Mexico, where Indians and metizos get crap from the day they were born. When people say that Americans would do these jobs, they forget that for many immigrants, that $10 an hour cleaning job, while under union wages, allows their family in Mexico to eat and go to school.

This is a step up in status for them, while many of you are wondering why Americans won't take a step down in status. People don't immigrate to make their lives worse.

posted by Steve @ 7:14:00 PM

7:14:00 PM

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