What's Causing the Great Divide Among Workers?

Today, Republicans and Democrats quarrel over having more or less immigration while working people continue to struggle. And even though the parties talk about unifying the country, they still have not put forward a plan to end the divisions and hardship among working people, nor crafted a concrete vision to unify working people in this country around a program that will work for ALL of us.


Today, we are seeing conditions that liken that of the Gilded Age. The richest 1 percent of Americans now owns more wealth than the bottom 90 percent of Americans. Americans are working longer hours, at an average of 7.8 percent more than four decades ago. A third of the country’s workers work more than 45 hours a week while 10 million Americans work more than 60 hours per week. The average productivity per American worker has increased 400% since 1950, but our real wage or real income has decreased drastically. Even in a liberal state like New York, some unionized workers are openly forced to work 24 hours a day, while so-called progressive leaders fail to denounce such sweatshop conditions. 

In the past four decades, the 1% has been able to obtain record profits at the expense of working people. For example, Amazon raked in a net profit of $10 billion last year, a  232.11% increase from its previous year, while workers reported working 10-hour shifts, at neck-breaking speed without bathroom breaks

So, how is it possible that working people continue to point their fingers at other workers while letting off the hook the top 1% and the government, at all levels, that has allowed them to enrich themselves  at the expense of the 99%. 


In the year 2017, 4,260 racially-motivated hate crimes were reported. And we need only to turn to the recent El Paso shooting, before which the shooter Patrick Crusius wrote in his manifesto: “This attack is a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas…American jobs are lost to immigrants,” to remind us that working class Americans are more divided and lacking leadership than ever. 

In order to understand the growth of grassroots fascism among working people in this country and the rise of Trump’s support, I turn to Antonio Gramsci who wrote during Mussolini’s rise to power. In “Democracy and Fascism” Gramsci argues that liberalism created a crisis in capitalism during 1920s Italy.  While the population suffered from mass unemployment, food shortages and engaged in mass protests that threatened capitalist institutions, fascism ascended to quell this “crisis of hegemony.” The state embodied a new rhetoric and restructured itself to maintain capital’s control over workers. On the one hand, fascist leaders promoted xenophobic propaganda to divide workers; on the other, they instituted repressive measures to control them. In the same vein, during the height of Obama’s neo-liberal administration, we witnessed the ascendancy of the Tea Party movement along with the Occupy Wall Street movement that targeted financial institutions, only to be followed by the consolidation of Trump’s base of populist fascist supporters a few years later. It is no wonder that while American workers are suffering more than ever, we are also more divided than ever. What W.E.B. DuBois wrote of the lost opportunity that post-Civil War Reconstruction period offered for working people in the South to unite against the oligarchical planter class, rings true across our country today:  “So long as the Southern white laborers could be induced to prefer poverty to equality with the Negro, just so long was a labor movement in the South made impossible.”

As working people, we must critically ask whether the current proposals from liberals will merely repeat the same cycle of political, ideological, and economic reaction?


Today, progressives are calling for more jobs to come back to the country and a higher minimum wage, when millions working in the country are not even paid the current minimum and overtime wages. Progressives are calling for a universal basic income and universal health care when millions working in the country will not have the right to access basic care. Progressives are calling for an end to the detention of immigrants at the border, only to be released into a society where they will have no rights to fight against their exploitation at work and in their communities. 

We cannot continue with these liberal piecemeal reforms: using identity politics to glorify differences among working people without focusing on our common struggle, praying for the few among us to climb the ladder to be part of the top 1 %, taking stabs at capital without challenging the government who upholds them, fighting against racism, sexism and poverty, but not their root cause- exploitation and super-exploitation.

The 1 % has succeeded in reaping superprofits off the backs of working people because we are divided. The first and most urgent task that faces us today is to unite the working class. But what demands will bring us together, so that we can start calling for a program that works for ALL working people. 


The crisis we face today has been deliberately created through a system of divide and control that we, as working people, must work together to destroy. The country has a) created an unequal two-tiered system among working people through the criminalization and denial of rights for groups of workers in the country, and then b) used this to divide and repress all working people from organizing for better conditions. Ensuring that all workers have equal rights is the first step for working people to take control of our work conditions, our communities, and our health. Specifically, Break the Chains is calling for:

  1. Equal Rights to Organize:

Currently, the  legislative proposal Protect the Right to Organize (PRO) Act is calling for greater protections for organized labor. However, under a two-tiered system of workers in this country, employers will wittingly turn to undocumented workers, criminalized and denied of the same rights under the law, in order to evade and undermine any labor law reforms. Even workers in the South do not have the same collective bargaining rights as in other states. 

Specifically any reform must protect the rights of all workers under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), regardless of immigration status, protect workers from retaliation, such as harassment, firing, or deportation, due to union/ organizing activities. 

The right to organize must be given to ALL workers in the country. 

2. Repeal the modern slave law- the 1986 Immigration Reform Act’s Employers Sanctions Provision. 

In 1986, a coalition of conservatives and progressives pushed for the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA), believing it would protect American workers. However, in the nearly forty years since it has been passed, our country has seen a staggering regression in workers’ rights. Because of this law, undocumented workers are criminalized for working. This maintains an underclass of super-exploited workers with no rights. Instead of deterring employers from hiring undocumented workers, employers actively use the law to pit workers against one another. 

Any chance at uniting the working class must include a repeal of this slave law and an end to the criminalization of undocumented workers in the country.

3. Equal Rights to Citizenship:

If we look at our history, we are reminded how the U.S. has historically denied citizenship rights to different groups of workers over time to maintain a highly-exploitable underclass in our society- from black slaves, Native Americans, women, and groups of immigrants. But if we can learn from our history, we realize that the disenfranchisement and alienation of groups of workers only serve to increase political backwardness and divisions among working people. Demanding equal rights to citizenship differs from calls for legalization. By merely demanding legalization, we affirm the idea that undocumented workers are criminal. It does not address the multi-tiered system of workers we have in our country today.

All of those who have worked and resided in the U.S. for three years without committing a crime should have equal rights to adjust their status and obtain citizenship. 

Let’s not repeat the mistakes of the past. Fight for the unity of working people. Fight for equal rights for all workers.