The role of the labor unions in the debate over illegal immigration has been a puzzle. Basic economic principles would seem to dictate that an influx of unskilled and semiskilled labor will drive down the price of such labor. This would seem to be bad for many union members. Yet the unions have generally been invisible as opponents of guest worker proposals, and some unions–the Service Employees International Union, most notably–have been very visible participants in the pro-illegal immigration demonstrations of recent weeks.
Today the Washington Times reports that the AFL/CIO is becoming active on the other side of the issue:
Labor unions, which are among the Democratic Party’s most loyal supporters, are deeply at odds with the party’s push for a guest-worker program, and many Capitol Hill aides say erosion of labor’s support undermined the Senate immigration-reform bill last week.
While labor unions say they want immigration reform, there is division among unions who support guest workers, such as the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), and those who fear current Senate proposals will flood the U.S. job market and further undercut American workers with cheap labor.
The Democrats’ willingness to ignore the AFL/CIO and other union spokesmen on this issue may be another landmark in the Democrats’ evolution from the party of the working man to the party of the super-rich. And don’t the unions (e.g., the SEIU) have a conflict of interest on this issue? Importing lots of low-wage labor is, I think, bad for these unions’ members. But legalized immigrants are potential dues-paying union members, which could be good for the unions.