The Unholy Relationship Between Big Labor and Immigration

In the wake of the recent presidential election, immigration has become a defining partisan issue. Donald Trump and the Republican Party rose to victory in part on the promise of immigration control. The Democratic Party has doubled down on more expansive immigration and amnesty for illegal aliens. Hillary Clinton, backed by a strong coalition between the Democratic Party and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), promoted open borders and amnesty for illegal aliens, and lost, in part because those positions have little appeal beyond the party’s hard core base. So, why would the SEIU, an American labor union, support mass immigration and amnesty for illegals especially when such legislation is in direct opposition to the needs of the American working class and the obvious desires of the American public?

The answer to these questions begins with the appointment of John Sweeney as SEIU president in 1980. His selection is significant in two respects: First, it marks the return of internationalist ideology to the Labor Movement. Sweeney’s open advocacy of democratic socialism caused a gradual but steady shift within the union. Second, it marks the beginning of an era of professional union leadership with no connection to rank and file laborers. The arrival of these paid community organizers caused a severe detachment between SEIU leaders and the workers they were supposed to represent.

This rupture was further driven by a nationwide drop in union membership. Bad trade deals and globalization pushed manufacturing jobs overseas, resulting in a catastrophic loss of American jobs – good jobs with union wages and benefits. When they left they were replaced with low-wage service jobs that had little attraction for union members. So they left in search of higher-paying non-union positions. As a result, many unions, the SEIU among them, needed a way to revive membership and rebuild a private-sector presence. The question was where to look for new union members? Enter Andy Stern.

Stern took action by fathering the Justice for Janitors movement, and began advocating for the rights of immigrant workers in America. This redirection of union attention toward illegal labor permanently altered the scope of union interests. These professional union bosses not only turned away from American workers and began to recruit the steady flow of unaffiliated, low-skilled laborers pouring across the southern border, they actually capitalized on the decimation of unionized American workers. The janitors for whom SEIU demanded “justice” were the very people who busted the mostly black unionized janitorial service workers in the 1980s, driving down wages by more than half. This new working class was the perfect antidote to low membership numbers and diminishing union funds, created in part by the labor movement’s failure to defend American workers.

The Democratic Party and the SEIU cemented their relationship in 2006 when the latter broke away from the AFL-CIO with a small conglomerate of other unions. This break resulted in a renewed alliance between the DNC and the SEIU, propelling the latter to rival the AFL-CIO as the policy driver of the Labor Movement.

In a 2007 memo from John Podesta and Andy Stern to top DNC donors, the two outline several key stratagems for an Obama presidential victory. One of those strategies entailed capitalizing on the growing Latino population in America and converting it into a dependable Democratic voting base. The subsequent unionization of this demographic by the SEIU would secure member dues with which to fund future Democrat campaigns. The Democratic Party imprudently believed that this strategy of embracing amnesty and open borders would propel them to unremitting electoral success.

In the aftermath of the 2016 election, exit polls indicated a dramatic decline in Democratic voting from union households. In fact, many union workers defected from the Democratic Party and helped push Donald Trump over the top in key swings states in the Rust Belt as labor unions like SEIU sold out the disenfranchised and forgotten American working class.

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Content written by current and former interns for the Federation for American Immigration Reform.


  1. avatar

    Samuel Gompers was the founder and long time president of the American Federation of Labor, the AFL. He was one of the prime supporters behind the movement that ended with Congress voting in the 1920s for a drastic reduction in the high levels of immigration in the early part of the 20th century.

    Gompers did not hesitate to say that the biggest proponents, and the biggest beneficiaries, of wide open immigration were the factory owners and others who wanted a never ending supply of foreigners to keep wages low. As he pointed out repeatedly, workers were left with virtually no bargaining power when the supply of labor constantly exceeded the demand.

    In fact, the highest peak of union membership was the 50s and 60s, which, not by coincidence, were also low immigration decades. Then, as now, it’s big business promoting wide open immigration at all levels. They do it for the same reason they do every thing, the bottom line. Theirs, not the workers.

  2. avatar

    Experience, Skills and Veteran Preference is Considered the Problem By Open Border Pundits [Fascists?]

    Ask the AFGE [AFL/CIO] federal government worker union if they’re doing anything about that recent policy change by the DOD? LOL….they don’t care! A lions share of the Generals that retired [???fired by Obama] from DOD are now part of Trump’s cabinet. What goes around come around….LOL

    Our American unions remind me of the phony money changers from 2000 years ago, whose tables were flipped over by Jesus, because evil didn’t belong in the Temple…

    • avatar

      SWE you said:
      “Experience, Skills and Veteran Preference is Considered the Problem By Open Border Pundits [Fascists?]”

      Who are these people? please be more accurate and precise…did you mean the government Trump? the republicans and democrats?….

      Because as far as I know they are the ones that can change this BUT YET no change..right?

  3. avatar
    cynthia curran on

    Wonder if the garment workers are also big supporters of illegal immigration along with meat packing union since lots of the workers in those refractory jobs are here illegality or are refuges.