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Immigrants and Labor Organizing: Perspectives from the USA Ruth Milkman, UCLA Thompsons Lecture Cardiff University 18 March 2007.

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Presentation on theme: "Immigrants and Labor Organizing: Perspectives from the USA Ruth Milkman, UCLA Thompsons Lecture Cardiff University 18 March 2007."— Presentation transcript:

1 Immigrants and Labor Organizing: Perspectives from the USA Ruth Milkman, UCLA Thompsons Lecture Cardiff University 18 March 2007

2 OVERVIEW Historical Background Historical Background Contrasts between Past and Present Contrasts between Past and Present New Immigrant Unionization New Immigrant Unionization Other Organizational Forms Other Organizational Forms Labor and Future U.S. Immigration Policy/Politics Labor and Future U.S. Immigration Policy/Politics

3 Immigrants and Unions: Historical Background U.S. always a nation of immigrants U.S. always a nation of immigrants Labor movement has and had a strong immigrant component - in both membership and leadership from the outset Labor movement has and had a strong immigrant component - in both membership and leadership from the outset The greatest U.S. union upsurge ( ) was in the era of immigration restriction ( ), but 2nd-generation immigrants were key to 1930/40s union growth, and were its main beneficiaries The greatest U.S. union upsurge ( ) was in the era of immigration restriction ( ), but 2nd-generation immigrants were key to 1930/40s union growth, and were its main beneficiaries

4 European Immigrants and Unions in the 20 th Century 2nd-generation immigrants led the CIO 2nd-generation immigrants led the CIO For them, unionism was a vehicle for collective social mobility and assimilation For them, unionism was a vehicle for collective social mobility and assimilation By the end of WWII, Jews, Italians, Slavs and other ethnics had become white American and middle class By the end of WWII, Jews, Italians, Slavs and other ethnics had become white American and middle class New Deal era unions also narrowed the gap between haves and have-nots – The Great Compression New Deal era unions also narrowed the gap between haves and have-nots – The Great Compression

5 How Immigration is Different Today Prior to 1924, there was no such thing as an illegal alien; today U.S. has 12 million unauthorized immigrants who can be denied basic civil rights Prior to 1924, there was no such thing as an illegal alien; today U.S. has 12 million unauthorized immigrants who can be denied basic civil rights

6 Undocumented Immigrants in the U.S., (in millions)

7 How Immigration is Different Today Prior to 1924, there was no such thing as an illegal alien; today U.S. has million unauthorized immigrants who can be denied basic civil rights Prior to 1924, there was no such thing as an illegal alien; today U.S. has million unauthorized immigrants who can be denied basic civil rights Countries of origin have shifted from Eastern and Southern Europe to Latin America (especially Mexico), Asia, and to a small extent Africa Countries of origin have shifted from Eastern and Southern Europe to Latin America (especially Mexico), Asia, and to a small extent Africa

8 Unauthorized immigrants in the USA, by place of birth Mexico – 56% Other Latin America -- 22% Asia -- 13% Europe & Canada -- 6% Africa & Other -- 3% (Pew Hispanic Center 2006)

9 Immigrant Union Organizing Takes off in late 1980s/early 1990s, with Justice For Janitors campaign Takes off in late 1980s/early 1990s, with Justice For Janitors campaign Immigrant union organizing also in construction, trucking, hotels, and low-wage manufacturing Immigrant union organizing also in construction, trucking, hotels, and low-wage manufacturing Successes initially based in California, but later spread (e.g. Houston, Miami) Successes initially based in California, but later spread (e.g. Houston, Miami) Labor historically divided over immigration, though 2000 marked a shift away from exclusion and toward immigrant organizing Labor historically divided over immigration, though 2000 marked a shift away from exclusion and toward immigrant organizing

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12 Immigrants as Unorganizable? Immigrants as Unorganizable? Compare Pay/Conditions to Home Compare Pay/Conditions to Home Sojourner Orientation Sojourner Orientation Fearful of Deportation/ICE (especially for unauthorized immigrants) Fearful of Deportation/ICE (especially for unauthorized immigrants) Unwilling to take risks involved in union organizing Unwilling to take risks involved in union organizing

13 Factors Facilitating Immigrant Organizing Immigrant social networks Immigrant social networks Collective worldviews: Collective worldviews: La union hace la fuerza La union hace la fuerza Shared stigmatization as outsiders Shared stigmatization as outsiders Relatively modest risks of organizing: There, if you were in a union, they killed you. Here, you lost a job at $4.25 an hour. Relatively modest risks of organizing: There, if you were in a union, they killed you. Here, you lost a job at $4.25 an hour.

14 Varied Immigrant Organizing Forms Conventional union campaigns Conventional union campaigns Worker Centers, especially in casualized sectors (day labor, domestic work). Worker Centers, especially in casualized sectors (day labor, domestic work). non-citizen citizenship: immigrant rights legislative and political advocacy non-citizen citizenship: immigrant rights legislative and political advocacy Political incorporation (naturalization/voting) Political incorporation (naturalization/voting) The 2006 immigrant rights marches The 2006 immigrant rights marches

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16 Immigrant Rights 2006 Marches Provoked by proposed Congressional bill to criminalize immigrants Provoked by proposed Congressional bill to criminalize immigrants Labor played a role, but ethnic media and immigrant CBOs led the mobilization Labor played a role, but ethnic media and immigrant CBOs led the mobilization

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19 Immigration Reform: Strange Bedfellows Employers and unions agree on many issues: Employers and unions agree on many issues: –Both want a path to legalization for unauthorized immigrant workers. –Both want an end to employer sanctions. –Most employers and some unions support a guest worker program.

20 The View from Below Many U.S.- born workers oppose amnesty as well as guest worker programs. They fear more immigration as a threat to their living standards. Many favor harsh anti-immigrant measures like those in HR Many U.S.- born workers oppose amnesty as well as guest worker programs. They fear more immigration as a threat to their living standards. Many favor harsh anti-immigrant measures like those in HR Immigrants themselves – legal and unauthorized alike – strongly favor reform and a path to legalization Immigrants themselves – legal and unauthorized alike – strongly favor reform and a path to legalization

21 Immigrant-Native Competition? Many native-born workers scapegoat immigrants, especially unauthorized immigrants; they view immigration as a cause of declining living standards Many native-born workers scapegoat immigrants, especially unauthorized immigrants; they view immigration as a cause of declining living standards Some black-Latino tensions too, though many efforts to build bridges Some black-Latino tensions too, though many efforts to build bridges Immigrant freedom ride; Villaraigosa; SEIU security officers organziing Immigrant freedom ride; Villaraigosa; SEIU security officers organziing

22 Labor Divided on Details of Immigration Reform SEIU and some other CTW affiliates support guest worker program as part of broad immigration reform package SEIU and some other CTW affiliates support guest worker program as part of broad immigration reform package AFL-CIO opposes guest worker programs of all sorts AFL-CIO opposes guest worker programs of all sorts This reflects contrast in memberships more than any fundamental division This reflects contrast in memberships more than any fundamental division

23 AFL-CIO and CTW Convergence Both sides recognize the potential – in re both organizing and politics – of the capacity for immigrant mobilization the 2006 marches displayed Both sides recognize the potential – in re both organizing and politics – of the capacity for immigrant mobilization the 2006 marches displayed Competition unleashed by the split led both sides to pursue relations with immigrant CBOs and worker centers Competition unleashed by the split led both sides to pursue relations with immigrant CBOs and worker centers AFL-CIO and Laborers both forged relations with NDLON in mid-2006 AFL-CIO and Laborers both forged relations with NDLON in mid-2006

24 Political Impasse Republicans divided: Republicans divided: – The business wing of the party wants a path to legalization and/or guest worker program – led by McCain! – the Republican base favors stepped up enforcement and deportations Democrats less divided but happy to see Republicans demonized in the immigrant community (thanks to HR 4437) Democrats less divided but happy to see Republicans demonized in the immigrant community (thanks to HR 4437) Both have their eyes on the Latino vote (not just recent immigrants but 2 nd generation) Both have their eyes on the Latino vote (not just recent immigrants but 2 nd generation)

25 Since the 2006 Marches Backlash: ICE workplace raids, intensified border policing, local anti-immigrant laws (breaching traditional firewall between immigration control and law enforcement). Backlash: ICE workplace raids, intensified border policing, local anti-immigrant laws (breaching traditional firewall between immigration control and law enforcement). Immigrant naturalization surge – 1.4 million applicants in FY 2007 (Oct –Sept. 2007), double the previous year. Immigrant naturalization surge – 1.4 million applicants in FY 2007 (Oct –Sept. 2007), double the previous year. Increased voter registration: In Nov. 2006, 70% of Latinos voted Democratic (while less than half of white voters did so) Increased voter registration: In Nov. 2006, 70% of Latinos voted Democratic (while less than half of white voters did so)

26 National Labor-Latino Alliance? In California, after Prop. 187 in 1994, unions mobilized immigrants politically In California, after Prop. 187 in 1994, unions mobilized immigrants politically Some efforts to replicate that now on the national level, though complicated by labors internal divisions over both immigration policy and Clinton/Obama Some efforts to replicate that now on the national level, though complicated by labors internal divisions over both immigration policy and Clinton/Obama McCain: the main threat to realizing this scenario? McCain: the main threat to realizing this scenario?


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