Immigrants, Unions, and the New U. S. Labor Market / Edition 1by Immanuel Ness
Pub. Date: 06/28/2005
Publisher: Temple University Press
In recent years, New Yorkers have been surprised to see workers they had taken for granted-Mexicans in greengroceries, West African supermarket deliverymen and South Asian limousine drivers-striking, picketing, and seeking support for better working conditions. Suddenly, businesses in New York and the nation had changed and were now dependent upon low-paid immigrants to fill the entry-level jobs that few native-born Americans would take. Immigrants, Unions, and the New U.S. Labor Market tells the story of these workers' struggle for living wages, humane working conditions, and the respect due to all people. It describes how they found the courage to organize labor actions at a time when most laborers have become quiescent and while most labor unions were ignoring them. Showing how unions can learn from the example of these laborers, and demonstrating the importance of solidarity beyond the workplace, Immanuel Ness offers a telling look into the lives of some of America's newest immigrants.
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Table of Contents
|1||Why New Immigrants Organize||1|
|2||The Political Economy of Transnational Labor in New York City: The Context for Immigrant Worker Militancy||13|
|3||Unions and Immigrant Worker Organizing: New Models for New Workers||40|
|4||Mexican Immigrants, Class Formation, and Union Organizing in New York's Greengrocery Industry||58|
|5||Francophone West African Supermarket Delivery Workers Autonomous Union Organizing Outside of a Union||96|
|6||Black-Car Drivers: Industrial Restructuring and New Worker Organizing||130|
|7||The Post-September 11 Economic Crisis and the Government Crackdown on Immigrant Workers||162|
|8||Parallel Organizing: Immigrants and Unions||181|
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As a union organizer, I carry the book around like a bible to remind myself that immigrant workers organize into unions eagerly and are directly mobilize to improve their conditions and forge bonds of solidarity with all other workers. The revival of union organizing in the US and elsewhere must include immigrants, who had been neglected before the major organizing drives described in this and other books in the early 21st century. Anyone organizing immigrant workers MUST read this book.
This book provides an innovative perspective on migrant labor in the United States that is typically ignored by most labor analysts. Unlike so many other writers who write on organized labor, Ness is more interested in the workers and their capacity to form independent organizations, in most cases outside of the rubric of formal labor organizations. I think this is the wave of the future, especially if labor seeks to recapture its lost power. Some may think that numbers are equivalent to power, but this book seems to argue otherwise, that to build a stronger labor movement in the United States of America, and for that matter the rest of the world, it is necessary that workers build autonomous power. Working class power can only advance through self-activity, using the IWW model of organizing that set the stage for the revitalization of the labor movement in the 1930s and beyond. I consider this book crucial to understanding working class New York in the contemporary era and essential to the growth of working-class power. While this book is in the Marxist tradition, it is also rooted in democratic civil society articulated by Vladimir Lenin, Rosa Luxemburg, and Antonio Gramsci. For Ness, it seems, to advance working-class power, building political power within democratic civil society is a necessary precursor.
This is first book to evaluate social, economic, conditions for United States working class. Author has vivid examples and I now recognize that as that Ness explains the class dialectics for Americans and immigrants and why and when workers will resist capitalist oppression. The book takes us back to Marxist-Leninist analysis and renews it for the present. It is so true that employers always seek to restructure work, this time through use of immigrants. This is pattern in Persian Gulf and Southeast Asia. Capitalists will stop at nothing to raise surplus value, in this case replacing one set of workers with another. The real story is in the resistance and worker struggles that is presented here. Immigrants are not the 'huddled masses' with no recourse. In capitalist system, they know even better than Americans how to resist super-exploitation. But he says that American workers are also capable of building power. The dialectics of historical materialism is brought to life here.
This is without a doubt the best book on labor and unions in New York City. The first book to show how immigrants influence the political economy of major cities, it provides unique historical perspective without blindly celebrating unions or for that matter construe the city as a working-class town.
This book is among the best ethnographies that I have read in recent years. In the tradition of Clifford Geertz, Fresh Fruit captures the everyday lives of migrant workers. The book is accessible and generates profound conversation among my students.
Professor Immanuel Ness brings a lot to the lectern in this story of spirited, but impoverished immigrant workers organizing in New York City. Ness is a professor of political science. He's written widely on cities. And his years as a union organizer give him instant street credibility. All this experience and knowledge is effectively woven into his book, Immigrants, Unions and the New U.S. Labor market The title is accurate although Ness rarely strays far from the battles in New York's five boroughs. New York is a kind of testing ground. Immigrant workers in New York City make up more a than half the labor force. The low wages of these immigrants explain why New York County has the biggest spread between rich and poor in America -- It's in these organizing campaigns that the struggle to keep America from sliding back to the pay and conditions of the Gilded Age are being determined. Ness focuses on three campaigns: Mexicans who work in Korean deli's, Pakistani limo drivers and west African grocery store workers. With dozens of candid interviews, he takes us inside these immigrant communities, to hear the voices of New York's most silent workers. Everyone knows that immigrants have it hard. But Ness forces us to see just what it means to be delivery man from Mali and be forced to live on $1.00 an hour - plus tips of course - while working for A&P's Food Emporium. These workers are so exploited they aren't even permitted the status of workers. They're 'independent contractors' 'a fiction that allows employers the right to ignore the provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act (1938) regulating minimum wage, maximum hours and safety conditions. The upshot is that the grocery baggers from Mali wind up making that $1.00 an hour - which is more than they would make in Mali but not as much as Americans made a century ago. . Ness shows us how these immigrants nevertheless have been able to come together to demand dignity, rights and a few extra dollars - at great risk, despite threats of physical harm, deportation, and job loss. It's not exactly workers of the world unite. But a triumph of the resilience of traditional social bonds which somehow survive even in the Global City. Plus it turns out they can mobilize a lot of outside support - the Mexican workers in Korean deli's got help from State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer who obligating sued the employers for back pay a formidable community campaign sprang up on the Lower East Side to support the workers when they went on strike the Mexican Consul-general got involved, too. Ness' most surprising finding is that American unions - the institution you might expect to be leading the charge on behalf of the most exploited workers - the established unions - are mostly missing in action or actively undermining the immigrant organizing campaigns. There are some splendid exceptions, like Ernesto Joffre the former Chilean miner, jailed for subversion under the Pinochet dictatorship who went into exile here in New York and became head of an exemplary garment workers local. But mostly organized labor is too busy patrolling its jurisdictional boundaries to give more than perfunctory help. Almost immediately after Joffre's untimely death, his parent union liquidated support for the organizing campaign. A shady longshore union located in New Jersey wound up with sweetheart contracts with several of the Korean deli's. Ness' accomplishment is dual: anthropology of New York's newest immigrant communities and a political science of the city's unions. It adds up to the most valuable account yet of the astringent realities of immigrant organizing in America.
As unions debate the future structure of organized labor, this is the only book that shows us how we build worker power--through encouraging workers to organize themselves into autonomous locals. We need to establish strong local ties in our workplaces. By encouraging labor to address shopfloor issues in America, workers will be willing to organize on a mass basis. This is not a prescription for organizing shop-by-shop, but allowing workers in similar industries to organize around issues that concern them most.
This book has shown me that the organizing strategy for labor is to build power. This author establishes the credible case that all workers can learn a valuable lesson from immigrant workers. Rather than cutting and running when we have had enough, we should joint together on all common grounds to build power and fight for better wages and working conditions.