With Cesar Chavez’s birthday fast approaching, you are sure to read more about how great he was. One can admire his nonviolent approach to pressing for his cause, and he can be considered great in this sense. Whether the ideas he promoted were great, however, is another matter.
Chavez sought to unionize farm workers throughout the United States. Unions are attempts to create a monopoly over labor in order to raise wages and other benefits. Monopolies are very difficult to maintain when competitors, i.e. non-unionized workers, are constantly entering the market. For the farm-worker industry, this means having to reduce the number of immigrants to as few as possible.
For Chavez’s plan to work, he had to discourage migrants from coming, and he did just that by actively campaigning against things like the Bracero Program, which allowed migrant workers into the United States during the 1940s. It is odd then that many migrants consider Chavez a hero when he actively tried to stop them from coming here.
Chavez argued that migrant workers were being abused and called for fair working conditions, but one must remember that migrants come to here because they have no better choices at home. However bad the wages of migrant workers might be, they’re still several times higher than the wages they could earn elsewhere.
Most migrant workers will earn relatively low wages compared to already established families. This isn’t because the system is against them, but because migrants are typically unskilled. With time, they accumulate new skills and begin to move up the economic ladder.
My own parents came into this country young, in their late teens, without any real skills. We spent most of my early life living in areas of Los Angeles that I doubt many people would willingly drive by, let alone live in. Over the years, my parents acquired skills by working at the very bottom and moving up. My father started as a janitor’s assistant (yes, that position exists) and now he can command a salary as high as a luxury apartment manager.
Low-paying jobs allow unskilled workers to acquire skills in order to acquire better jobs in the future. Increasing the cost of hiring these unskilled workers would deny them the ability to acquire marketable skills. So, as much as Chavez might have had good intentions, it’s a good thing his discouragement of migrant workers failed. Otherwise, many migrants, myself included, would be living in a third-world country with little hope to prosper.
The best thing that can be done to help migrants is reducing the cost of employing them. Lower taxes so that employers have more money to spend on investment. Lower capital taxes in order to increase the quantity of capital, increase the product of labor, and ultimately, increase wages for everyone. Reform the migration process to let anyone who wants to work, come here. These things would help migrants without hurting anyone.
Let’s not increase the cost of employing migrants by forcing employers to pay higher wages or taxing them to provide for more welfare. Economic law tells us that this will only cause higher unemployment, and in the case of migrant workers, force them to return from the places from which they left or escaped.
Unfortunately, Chavez wasn’t alone in misunderstanding economic law. Several members of the Chicano movement understand that the government does not have business in deciding whether an employer hires a migrant or native.
Both employer and employee are consenting to the relationship voluntarily and do not need regulation. They require no more regulation than two consenting people who date, marry or have children. However, most Chicano movement members don’t apply the same principle universally.
The government should not be involved in deciding how much someone sells their labor for. It should not be involved in deciding what health care benefits are provided. Such decisions should be made between consenting employer and employee.
This Cesar Chavez Day, I ask you not to celebrate Chavez’s pro-monopoly, anti-migrant ideas. Instead, I ask you to celebrate America, because it is one of the few places in the world where people have the freedom to not only choose what jobs they want, but also who they want to hire, and how they want to live. That is something worth celebrating every day.