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The term corporate globalization usually doesn't bring to mind a place like J.J. Cassone, a Westchester wholesale bakery [near New York City]. But for Roberto Lostaunau, a baker at Cassone who emigrated from Peru, the connection is clear. His story highlights how U.S. immigration laws are one of many tools that corporations use to depress wages and living standards around the world.

Lostaunau came to the U.S. after Peru's President Alberto Fujimori initiated one of the world's most dramatic economic "restructurings" in 1990. Fuel and other living costs rose more than 30 percent while wages plummeted by half. Because the poor couldn't afford to treat their water, a cholera epidemic broke out. Thousands like Lostaunau left the country to survive.

But once in the U.S., Lostaunau found he wasn't free from sweatshops. Six days a week he bakes bread, from 3 a.m. to 3 p.m., for less than a living wage. Despite scorching hot ovens, there are no air conditioners, and people routinely faint from the heat. Lostaunau and his co-workers tried to improve their lives by exercising their freedom to form a union. But when the bakery threatened to call immigration agents if the workers voted for the union, they felt they had to back down. Lots of employers use such tactics. They illegally hire undocumented workers. When the workers stand up for their rights, the employer suddenly "discovers" their illegal status and threatens to have them deported. Meanwhile, employers are almost never severely punished when they break employment laws. Immigration rules thus enable corporations to bring their global race to the bottom home to the U.S., even to the corner bakery.

When American corporations are allowed to break basic laws by making sure their immigrant workforce is too scared to speak out, they lower the floor beneath every worker's feet in the U.S. and erode community living standards. Since I was elected to the AFL-CIO leadership along with John Sweeney and Richard Trumka in 1995, unions have increasingly reached out to immigrant workers who want to improve their situations in this country. In a substantive redirection of policy, the AFL-CIO executive council recently called for a thorough revamping of the nation's immigration laws. The current system is broken and should be replaced with one that is orderly, responsible and fair to workers who are trying to build a better life for themselves and their families.

This editorial by AFL-CIO Vice-President Linda Chavez-Thompson appeared in New York Daily News, June 27, 2000.

The AFL-CIO's mission is to bring social and economic justice to our nation by enabling working people to have a voice on the job, in government, in a changing global economy and in their communities.

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