Apparently this country has made no progress in the last 150 years.
Back then, the big issue was the Chinese. During the gold rushes of the 1840s and after, many Chinese came to America in search of a better life. And, because life sucked so badly for so many in China, those workers who came to the US were willing to take any job at pay rates far below what white workers demanded. Corporations, seeking as always to maximize profits, actively recruited Chinese laborers and paid them as little as they could.
And millions of Chinese took those jobs because they were still better than anything they could find at home. Some of them were probably illegal immigrants, but as far as I can tell, most of them had entered the country legally.
At least until 1882, when anti-Chinese violence persuaded the government to ban all immigration from China–a ban that was renewed in 1892 and 1902.
Of course, banning further immigration didn’t do anything to improve the lot of those immigrants who were already in the country. By the mid-1880s, there were riots across the western US, most notably in Rock Springs, Wyoming Territory and Seattle, Washington.
Let me note, by the way, that when I went to school in Seattle in the 1970s and 1980s, the Seattle riot wasn’t discussed in History class. Somehow I doubt that’s changed; if anyone in the Seattle area knows differently, I’d love to hear it. Those who don’t remember history…
Anyway, the Seattle riot is noteworthy if only for the sheer pointlessness of the actions taken by the rioters. A loose coalition of labor leaders and Socialist activists rounded up 350 Chinese residents of Seattle’s Chinatown and marched them to the docks.
When the captain of the ship they chose demanded payment to carry the Chinese, the rioters passed the hat and raised funds to cover the fares. In short, roughly two hundred of the Chinese were deported. Not back to China, but down the coast to San Francisco. Arguably, the original expression of Seattle’s NIMBY spirit. As for the rioters, a confrontation with the militia resulted in serious injury to three rioters and two militiamen and the imposition of martial law, which lasted for two weeks.
So here we are, a century and a half later. We’ve got corporations fighting against minimum wage laws and a president who wants to cut off immigration, ostensibly to protect American jobs.
Deja vu, anybody?
PS: Something more cheerful tomorrow, I promise. Oh, and don’t forget that my monthly newsletter for August comes out on Monday. If you want a sneak peek at my current work in progress, sign up now!