Socialism Today                     The monthly journal of the Socialist Party

Issue 31 contents

About Us

Back Issues



Contact Us



Issue 31, October 1998

California immigration clampdown

    A strategy to rein in the Latino population
    Is a new electoral trend developing?
    Propositions 226 and 227: contradictory results
    Labor Militant and the fight for immigrant rights

June's referendum vote to end bilingual education is the latest effort to control California's growing Latino population, writes SIMON MORALES in San Francisco. But the state's June elections also showed that a significant minority left-wing vote is beginning to develop.

ON 2 JUNE, 61% of voters in California passed Proposition 227, eliminating bilingual education for more than 1.3 million students in the state - most of them Latinos. The initiative also mandates one-year of 'English immersion' instruction, immediately followed by regular classes where only English is spoken, and threatens teachers with fines and other legal consequences if they do not comply.

Bilingual education is the teaching in their native tongue of students in all subjects. Progressively, students are allowed to add more classes in English and at the end of a period between 3-4 years they obtain fluency in both their first language and English.

Sociologically, bilingual education serves the students to preserve their culture, pride and community connections. Educationally, it allows them to advance in every subject without the traumatic experience and delay caused by 'English immersion' techniques.

Multi-millionaire Ron Unz, a Republican and advocate of right-wing politics, was the main author and sponsor of Proposition 227 and spent more than $2m of his own money to successfully have it approved by mostly white voters.

  top     A strategy to rein in the Latino population

LATINOS TODAY CONSTITUTE over 42% of the population of California. Blacks and Asians are an additional 12-14%, and whites are now a minority of around 45% among over 36 million Californians.

Proposition 227 is the latest of a number of initiatives passed in the last 15 years to control the growing Latino population. Fearful of the demographic changes, right-wing white think tanks have devised a number of strategies to deprive - or at least slow down - the transfer of political power to the new emerging majority. The Census Bureau has predicted that before the year 2002, over 52% of the population will be Latinos.

In 1996 Proposition 187 was passed with a 75% vote, eliminating all services, from education to health care, for undocumented immigrants in the state - estimated by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) to be between three and seven million. The law was successfully challenged on constitutional grounds, but in 1997 the federal Congress passed - and Clinton signed - laws eliminating many of the services targeted by Proposition 187. Clinton and Congress went further and included legal immigrants in the bill's provisions, leaving additional millions out of the social services safety net. Also in 1997 Proposition 209, eliminating affirmative action programmes in higher education and hiring, was passed leaving mostly Latinos, but also African Americans and women, without protection after facing decades of discrimination in admission to colleges and universities and in obtaining high quality jobs. Registration in colleges and universities among Latinos dropped more than 60% in its first year of implementation; among African Americans, the drop was almost 35%.

The logic of these propositions was to use the temporary supremacy of the white vote to slow down and/or eliminate the process of Latinos empowering themselves through the electoral and educational systems. It is estimated that while Latinos now constitute the fastest growing segment of the population, it will take another six to eight years for the demographic changes to catch up electorally.

  Their are several reasons for this: millions of Latinos are still either 'legal' residents or undocumented, thus preventing them from voting; the INS is saturated with more than 1.5 million applications for citizenship in the state (The time to obtain citizenship in California is now two years, up from an average seven months two years ago); and finally, a significant segment of the Latino population is still under the age of 18 - the legal age for voting rights. Sources at the Department of Census estimate that, if present trends continue, Latinos will be 20% of the total vote in the next election, 28% at the subsequent one, and over 45% of the vote by the year 2000. By the year 2002 they may became the absolute majority of voters in the state.
  top     Is a new electoral trend developing?

FOR THE FIRST time ever, on 2 June, there were open primary elections in California. The concept, approved by voters two years ago, allows voters to be able to vote for any candidate regardless of party affiliation, except for central committee positions. The turnout - around 40% - was slightly higher than the previous primaries two years ago. Significantly, the Latino vote doubled, according to reports across the state.

The election results showed the emergence of a growing segment of 'independent voters': approximately 20% of all voters 'declined to state' party preference and close to 10% are registered with 'third party' organisations, such as the Peace & Freedom Party (P&FP) and the Green Party on the left, and three right-wing outfits (Libertarians, Natural Law, American Independent). Both 'decline to state' and 'third party' registrants constituted almost 27% of all votes cast.

Alternative candidates to the left of the Democrats obtained over 250,000 votes, which is unprecedented. The top vote-getter was the candidate for Governor of the Green Party, Dan Hamburg. His 90,000 votes raises the potential of him winning at least 500,000 votes in the general election in November if he and his party conduct an effective, organised campaign.

Second to Hamburg was Dennis Peron who ran a left liberal campaign as a Republican. Two candidates for Governor of the P&FP obtained a combined 35,000 votes, which was more than they usually receive in general elections where the turnout is much higher. The Green Party, and to a lesser degree the P&FP, may well hold the balance of the November gubernatorial race between the Democratic Party aparatchik, Davis Gray, and the ultra-conservative Republican, Dan Lungren.

In Oakland, former state Governor and presidential candidate, Jerry Brown, ran as 'decline to state'. Brown is also a member of the Labor Party and won 59% of the vote for mayor in a field of 11 candidates. Leaving aside Brown's utopian views of 'anchoring rich people to live in downtown Oakland as a way to attract investment and jobs', the fact that he ran outside the Democratic Party and in opposition to its local political machine proved the point that it can be done.

  top     Propositions 226 and 227: contradictory results

THESE TWO PROPOSITIONS illustrate the contradictions of the present political situation and highlight the opportunism of the labor union bureaucracy and Democratic Party hacks. Both propositions started on the polls with the same degree of support - 70%. But Proposition 226, 'a proposal to force unions to seek individual members' approval every year before they spend money on political campaigns', failed by 55% against to 45% for, while Proposition 227, 'proposing to eliminate all bilingual programmes', was passed by a margin of 65% to 35%.

Why? The reason was clear: the California labor unions and AFL-CIO spent over $50m to defeat 226, and mobilised the entire union staff and left-wing activists. They bombarded the air with thousands of TV spots, published close to 30 million pieces of literature and were supported by the Democratic Party apparatus. They effectively exposed supporters of the proposition as 'corporate millionaires and right-wing politicians'. The unfair targeting of unions while corporations' political funding was left untouched did the rest.

On the other hand, opposition to the racist Proposition 227 did not enjoy the support of labor union leaders or the Democrats who argued that actively opposing 227 could 'endanger' the campaign against 226. It was left to some non-profit organisations and underfunded immigrant rights groups to fight against 227. Only in a few exceptional cases did some labor leaders link the need to defeat both Propositions.

The most left and progressive votes were cast in Northern California, where Proposition 226 lost by far wider margins than in the Southern half of the state. Proposition 227 lost in important counties, like San Francisco, Alameda and others, while in the Northern districts it won by far thinner margins than in Southern California.

  San Francisco, where only 15% of Democrats who voted did so for members of the Democratic central committee, remained electorally the most left-leaning city in the state. There Proposition 226 lost with 60% opposition, and Proposition 227 received 65% of negative votes. A local 'Proposition E', that would have eliminated rent control in the city, was overwhelmingly defeated 61% to 39%. Over 32% of the voting population in the city are either 'decline to state' or 'third party' registrants. Left candidates for governor received more than 10% of the vote in San Francisco, and other 'third party' candidates fared extremely well. Democrats are 52% of the registered voters and Republicans a mere 16%.

California's electoral results, issues and politics are often seen as setting national trends. With all the contradictory messages, these seem to indicate a shift in the mood of a large sector of the population, including trade union members and among Latinos and immigrants, creating opportunities for the left to grow. Unions and the Labor Party may very well benefit from the defeat of Proposition 226 and utilise the momentum to organise fresh layers of workers.

Members of Labor Militant, who actively participated in the elections and worked for the defeat of Propositions 226 and 227, are already making plans to intervene again in the November elections.

  top     Labor Militant and the fight for immigrant rights

LABOR MILITANT (the Socialist Party's sister organisation in the US), particularly its California branch, has been for years at the forefront of the struggle for immigrant rights. Some of our initiatives have gathered tremendous support:

1994-96 - We were at the forefront of the struggle against Proposition 187 and members of our organization were prominent leaders in massive demonstrations and electoral activities to defeat the anti-immigrant proposals. Allied with the politically independent Immigrant Rights Movement (MDI), we obtained local victories in the election (ie Proposition 187, while passed at state level, was defeated 76%-24% in San Francisco where MDI led the campaign).

1995-1998 - Labor Militant members collaborated with MDI to create in the city of San Francisco an annual celebration of the immigrant communities and an organising tool for the forces opposed to discrimination and anti-immigrant drives. Immigrant Pride Day - that's the name of the event - is presently supported by over 150 community and non-governmental organisations and hundreds of performers. The all-day gathering for workshops, political rallies and entertainment and ethnic food has attracted larger number of participants every year. Over 5,000 in 1995; 12,000 in 1996 and 30,000 in 1997. This year, organisers expect over 50,000 participants. The rallying themes will be 'Papers for All' and 'Electoral Rights for Immigrants'.

1996 - MDI and other organisations, including Labor Militant, proposed a local referendum in San Francisco to allow non-citizens the right to vote on local issues and offices. The proposal made the frontlines of daily newspapers and an early poll found that over 50% of voters in the District supported the idea. The liberal establishment successfully blocked this initiative in court, but the organisers are planning to put it back on the ballot in 1999. 1997 - Immigrant rights groups, with the active help of Labor Militant in California, launched an international campaign to gather signatures to demand an immediate amnesty for all undocumented immigrants. Over 200,000 prominent leaders, organisations and union members throughout the country, and in another 32 countries, have signed the petition.

1996-1998 - Labor Militant has participated in local electoral slates of the MDI and the Civil Rights for All Electoral Coalition and polled consistently 8-13% of the vote for local offices. In the coming November elections a slate of four or five candidates will again run for local offices. Three of the candidates are immigrants, two of them members of Labor Militant.

Home | Issue 31 contents | About Us | Back Issues | Reviews | Links | Contact Us | Subscribe | Search | Top of page