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tions. In Mexican workers, Sweeney sees the future of organized labor. Under Sweeney’s direction, labor has moved aggressively to organize the undocumented the UNITE drive to sign up Chicago laundry workers \(and win the raid-protecnizing efforts aimed at unionizing lowwage immigrant workers. The most visible union movement is the Service Employees International Union’s “Justice for Janitors” campaign to organize office cleaners from San Diego and Los Angeles to Chicago and New York. The struggle pits mainly Mexican workers against some of the most powerful corporations in the U.S. “These companies are benefiting from the low wages they pay us,” Guadalupe Herrera, a Mexican-born office cleaner at Cisco Systems in California’s Silicon Valley, recently told The New York Times. Silicon Valley office cleaners earn the $5.50 an hour minimum wage, and dream of the $8 hourly pay the union organizing drive promises. Although the average U.S. hourly wage is now $13, a quarter of the labor force works at jobs that pay below $8 an hour. The current demand for undocumented workers has muted immigration as an issue in this year’s U.S. presidential race. Unlike in 1996, when Mexican immigration was the hot-button issue, Al Gore and George Bush have not been quick to pick up the cudgels. Indeed Bush, a border-state governor, is considered an immigrationfriendly candidate. Only Pat Buchanan, who four years ago preached going to guns to defend the U.S. against a “foreign invasion,” is still fulminating on the issue as he wraps up the Reform Party nomination. And very few Americans, it seems, are joining Buchanan’s pitchfork brigade. U.S. immigration policy has historically been driven by labor-demand enforcement. And cycles of Mexican migration are tied to the expansions and contractions of the economy north of the border. At the beginning of the last century, Mexicans were welcomed by western growers and the expanding railroads, until many of them were forced out by the Depression scare of 1921, when the U.S. passed stringent “anti-alien” legislation. Again, the big crash of 1929 put tens of thousands of Mexicans on the deportation trains heading south from Los Angeles until the World War II worker shortage invited them all back. In the Sixties, “Operation Wetback” drove Mexicans back across the border. Today, Operation Guardian is just one more recrudescence, although it is out of sync with the economy. So long as the U.S. bubble does not burst, undocumented Mexicans working in El Norte remain protected from mass deportations. But if history is any teacher, a long-predicted cooling of the U.S. economy will trigger a crackdown on the indocumentados, more killings in the desert, forced exodus, and subsequent pressures on Mexico’s own economic stability. John Ross is currently in Chiapas, Mexico. His forthcoming book, “The War Against Oblivion: Zapatista Chronicles 1994-2000,” now has a cover. This story was reported from California, Arizona, and Mexico City. “On the Border,” from page 15 1979, he went home to Blytheville to manage Universal’s new plant, a job he would keep until late 1987, when MagneTek transferred him to oversee construction in Matamoros. After conducting a lengthy and thorough tour of his domain the clean, noisy shop floor and the utilitarian executive offices Peeples escorted the visitor into his office, a similarly modest space with a three-chair conference area, a vinyl marker-board, and a bookcase housing numerous but indeterminate works the spines of most faced the wall, the exceptions being the four-volume Tax Laws of the World and the companion Commercial Laws of the World. Above the bookcase was a small wooden plaque: “Leaders are like eagles. They don’t flock. You find them one at a time.” The visitor told Peeples he had been in Matamoros for some weeks, and that he had spent much of his time in a colonia in the literal and figurative shadow of the MagneTek plant the colonia was sepa 20 THE TEXAS OBSERVER rated only by chain-link fence from the rear of the plant. The visitor added that the colonia reminded him in many ways of the old cotton mill villages he had seen in isolated towns of the American South. Though the colonia was neither built nor owned by MagneTek, most of its households included at least one family member who worked for the company or for another of the foreign-owned firms in the industrial park. And all lived from paycheck to paycheck to keep their woeful roofs over their heads. The visitor was curious about Peeples’s awareness of his employees’ living conditions. “Well, I know the associates” MagneSpeak for employees “don’t make enough money to buy homes,” Peeples replied, “they live in federal housing or whatever.” \(He added that in the wake of the most recent peso devaluation, in 1994, the company had made one-time emergency loans to some of its “professional managers,” supervisors, who were was enough to live on, Peeples said, “Yeah, I think so. But nobody’s getting rich.” His tone was not so flip as it might suggest, but neither was Peeples ashamed for his workers his “associates” to live in penury. The phone rang “Whatcha need, Sugar Jam?” Peeples asked and then he told the visitor he had to run. One last question: is it sensible for a young person to leave her hometown for a job with MagneTek, and for the hardships of life on the border? “That’s a tough one,” Peeples answered. “I guess it depends on what they were leaving.” Bill Adler is also the author of Land of Opportunity: One Family’s Quest for the American Dream in the Age of Crack Esquire, Rolling Stone, Mother Jones and other publications, and is a contributing writer the Observer. JUNE 9, 2000