Students, Immigrants, and Sanctuary Campus Movement: The Struggle Against Debt and for a Living Wage

Guest post by George Caffentzis

After the massive demonstrations that followed the alleged Trump electoral victory, the first visible response to Trump’s ascendance to the presidency has been the Sanctuary Campus Movement now centered in more than a hundred university and college campuses around the US. The objective of this movement is to commit the college administrations to protect immigrant students, to refuse collaborating with the government in its plan to deport undocumented immigrants, and to provide material assistance to those facing deportation. 
In its moral and political foundations this campus-centered movement recalls the church-based sanctuary movement of the 1980s. But it is also driven by the struggle that in recent years have grown on campuses across the nation that have brought together students fighting against debt and for student unions with immigrant staff workers fighting for a living wage, both finding a more formal political expression in the common support for the Bernie Sanders campaign. 
A key reason for the increase in the attacks on immigrants (both through deportations and through “hate crimes” committed by the home-grown equivalent of paramilitaries) has been the fear of these movements and above all the fear of a recomposition between students and immigrants, who are often the same person. This is what has stimulated capitalists like Trump to launch a large-scale and vicious racist attack on immigrants and plan mass deportations. There is no doubt that the capitalist class wants immigrants in the country, but only if they accept a totally subordinate position and carry no social cost. The biggest calamity capitalists fear (much more than climate change!) is an across-the-board wage increase spearheaded by the lowest paid workers in the country. 
In the 1980s through the politics of mass incarceration the US establishment exorcized the threat of a Black revolution by putting behind bars the most combative sector of the US working class. Today they are countering the surge of immigrant struggle by planning the mass deportation of immigrants. They are indeed deporting the ‘immigrant revolution.’ It is tragic that many white workers have assisted this project, which is separating them from the very people they can rely upon to forward their interests. 

Students have filled the ranks of the minimum wage and living wage campaign, undoubtedly motivated by a sense of justice, but also by material considerations. Immigrant struggles have raised the bottom for all and increased all workers’ social power. The often-indebted students who joined living wage campaigns refused meritocracy as their goal, saw the destructive and divisive power of competition, and opened a powerful process of cooperation in the rejection of all new forms of servitude. 

The growing revolt against student debt, now averaging thirty thousand dollars per student, the increasing exploitation of unpaid student labor—through internships generating huge profits for employers—have also raised consciousness that school work is indeed work and now work that has to be paid for! 

Since the Occupy Movement highlighted the plight of indebted students, the demand for its abolition and for ‘wages for schoolwork’ (an established practice in Scandinavian countries) has circulated through the classrooms, creating a material connection with the immigrant struggle and practices of solidarity with the “Dreamers” movement. 

The New Sanctuary campus movement is not, then, an anomaly. It is the continuation and radicalization of a student movement that has been growing across the nation, highlighting the place of students, schoolwork, and schools in general in the capitalist organization of work and the need for students to ally with workers’ struggle. Thus, while the movement echoes religious themes, it is based on a principle of class justice: you must be paid for work you do and you must be paid a living wage. This is what immigrants are demanding. Trump’s instigated class terror will not silence this powerful demand. 
May the demand of the Sanctuary Campus Movement grow and help transform our universities, neighborhoods, cities, and shared continent into a sanctuary for all.

A couple of titles from Common Notions Press will provide some background: 

Wages for Students
Introduction by George Caffentzis, Monty Neill, and John Willshire-Carrera
Edited By Jakob Jakobsen, María Berríos, and Malav Kanuga
ISBN: 978-1-942173-02-1
Published September 1, 2016

The Debt Resisters' Operations Manual
Strike Debt
ISBN: 978-1-60486-679-7
Published: April 1, 2014

We Want Freedom: A Life in the Black Panther Party
Mumia Abu-Jamal
ISBN: 978-1-942173-04-5
Published October 1, 2016