FORBIDDEN WORKERS by Peter Kwong

FORBIDDEN WORKERS

Illegal Chinese Immigrants and American Labor
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 An honest look at an appalling situation, exemplified by the tragedy of the illegal-alien-bearing ship the Golden Venture. At first Kwong's (Asian American Studies/Hunter Coll.; The New Chinatown, 1987) dates seem wrong: Surely he is describing the 19th-century slave trade, not present-day smuggling of illegal Chinese immigrants. But the setting is the present, and transporting people from the Chinese province of Fuzhou to America is as profitable for Chinese ``snakeheads'' today as was the earlier commerce in human beings conducted by Europeans. The voyagers get to pay off the debt incurred by family members to finance their horrific trip by laboring for years under inhumane conditions for less than minimum wage. How could this be happening? Kwong's central thesis is that illegal immigration must be understood as a labor issue. Aliens have always filled the demand for cheap labor in this country, and powerful economic forces exploiting this supply of labor are no less present today than in the past. From the produce fields of California to New York's sweatshops, employers depend on illegals not only to keep their labor costs down, but also as a key weapon in the fight against a strong labor movement. The established unions have been worse than useless in response to this tactic, with their institutionalized and isolated leadership able to think of nothing beyond ``Buy American'' campaigns. Legislation to curb immigration is popular but expensive and relatively ineffective, and employers have wielded political clout to insure that laws prohibiting the hiring of illegals are easy to violate and rarely enforced. Kwong leaves no doubt that the fundamental cause of the trade in illegal immigrants is not the greediness of the foreign snakeheads, but rather that of American capitalists who demand labor so cheap, only illegals can provide it. Ultimately, the only hope Kwong sees for improving this situation is a renewed and committed labor movement--a very dim hope indeed.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1998
ISBN: 1-56584-355-X
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: New Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1st, 1997




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