US Presidential Socialist Candidate Visits NZ
US Presidential Socialist Candidate Compares US/NZ Employee Exploitation
By Katie Small
Immigration is used in the same way to depress wages in the United States as it is in New Zealand, says the Socialist Workers Party’s (SWP) candidate for US president, Roger Calero.
Image of Roger Calero, by Fernando Llanos
“A number of agricultural workers were brought [to New Zealand] as guest workers to provide a pool of cheap labour to employers here,” he says.
Mr Calero is visiting Auckland to find out about New Zealand’s social and economic policies and their effects.
I catch him between meetings on Sunday morning. In a suit jacket and open-collared shirt, Mr Calero sits back on a couch in his hosts’ Mt Wellington living room and explains his impressions of New Zealand so far.
“We’ve been learning about the similarities of the impact of the economic crisis and its impact on working people … and about how working people here in New Zealand are responding to this situation,” he says.
The eloquent Nicaraguan has lived most of his life in the United States and speaks with just a touch of a Spanish accent.
Although born outside the US, Mr Calero says that, if elected, popular support would allow him to change the law preventing foreign-born people becoming president.
“If the majority of working people in the US think that [vice-presidential candidate Alyson Kennedy and I] should be in the presidency, I think we would have enough support to change the laws.”
Mr Calero says the US needs a working class voice, and that as the SWP candidate he is more representative of the population than other candidates.
As an immigrant himself, Mr Calero is aware of the issues these people face when they arrive in the US. He says neither the Democrats nor the Republicans will make adequate changes to the US immigration system.
“All three [major presidential candidates] favour tougher borders and increasing the number of border cops – the cops responsible for the raids and detentions you see around the country.”
Mr Calero says immigrants should be allowed to work and live in the US, and that current policy has created a “super exploited class” that has no rights.
“It’s a basic, fundamental right, the right to work.
“I think the right of workers to travel wherever they need to go to make a living should be defended. The bosses take their factories wherever they want to take them. There are no borders for them. The same should [apply to] working people,” says Calero.
“None of the three [major candidates] is formulating any proposals for permanent residence, unconditional and immediate, for the more than 12 million [undocumented immigrants in the US].”
Mr Calero says Republican candidate John McCain’s proposal for undocumented immigrants to return to their country of origin to apply for papers is “just not viable”.
Immigrant rights issues often go hand in hand with labour and union issues, says Mr Calero.
Although union membership is declining in the US, he says there is growing interest in unions from workers.
Mr Calero would like to see changes in the way unions operate: “mobilising the ranks” and lobbying government, more than negotiating with employers.
“We need the labour movement to fight for government-funded, government-guaranteed programmes - that includes healthcare, retirement benefits, unemployment benefits, disability [benefits].”
As a former union organiser, Mr Calero says he is “offering a voice in the political arena.”
“We don’t have a vehicle in government that can introduce legislation and help mobilise support.”
Citing the recent case of dock workers who went on strike against the war in Iraq, Mr Calero says the country needs a party in government that can raise political demands of unions.
Asked about his policy to cut hours worked but not salaries to counter unemployment, Mr Calero says the measure is necessary to protect workers.
“Our starting point is how to provide living wages for working people. Our proposals are primarily directed on how to provide some protection to working people as the economic crisis deepens.”
He says some small businesses would “probably go under” with the introduction of such a policy, but this is also because of other costs.
“In that sense it’s not the wages of workers that’s driving them out of business, but just the pressure of capitalist competition.”
Mr Calero met Tuhoe activists Sunday May 18, and spoke at the University of Auckland on Monday May 19.