The Labor Market and Neighbor Nations
|Overview||The Black and Indian populations of the continent have
been allies at times, have been rivals at times, have sometimes been both
at once. Whether within the Costa Chica of Mexico, or in the "Old
Southwest," or within the sprawling labor market of the modern U.S., this
relationship has fluctuated constantly. On a vast scale, the African-indigenous
population and the American-indigenous population of the New World stand
to each other very much like two neighboring indigenous towns, in competition
for land and other resources, even while both confront the demands of an
overriding, mostly white society.
The most controversial single question with respect to recent Mexican migration into the United States is that of whether it takes away jobs or cuts wage levels. For most sectors of the native-born working population, including the better-paid of African-Americans, it does not. For the really marginal sectors, include the poorest-paid of African-Americans, and for migrants who came earlier, it probably does. It is the most vulnerable communities -- not those from which the typical anti-immigrant activists come -- that may have real interests at stake.
In earlier times, indigenous villages sometimes relied on the authority of a white colonial legal system, in order to settle their land claims. But they also had to adjust their mutual claims through whatever local ties they could set up, on a daily basis. This self-regulation was, and is, the ideal. The ideal corresponds, in the world of the year 2000, to the possibility that migratory populations, both the black and the mestizo-indigenous, might adjust their competitive labor relations on terms set by themselves, not by existing governments or courts.
What is indicated is precisely not any system of race-relations committees or study groups, set up by some do-good government that wants to claim a record of achievement -- much less any system of legal resolution imposed by authority. It is not some scheme suggested by philanthropic Non-Governmental Organizations from the outside. It is not even the patronage given to indigenous communities by an official political party -- in which the PRI of Mexico simply up-dates the sentimental vision of Sam Houston. Rather, a historical opening exists for these great quasi-villages that are also nations, to find their own methods of negotiation and conflict-resolution.
If these new/old nationalities choose not to take up that particular
challenge, that is their business. It is not something over which existing
nation-states have any legitimate authority, any more than the "deluded
white chieftains" of the 19th century had any business appointing themselves
to help native peoples. Of course, if larger questions arise, affecting
many peoples, they can justify negotiation (not imposition) within a yet
wider frame, beyond the horizon of any national government.
First, there is the old way, through labor unions that include substantial ethnic memberships. This is a double-edged situation. Unions can present the claims of their members, or resist the claims of outsiders. Both have happened in the past, with results sometimes positive, sometimes discriminatory. But this is one route for negotiation.
Second, if the emerging new/old nationalities expand their own property arrangements in the direction of nonlocal institutions, the resulting welfare funds will have some of the character of strike funds. Such protective funds, however used, can undergird the autonomous identity that any community needs if it is to negotiate with outsiders. Whether communities will move in this direction is not for outsiders to dictate or even predict. It is a something to understand.
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