ABSTRACT This article argues that the immigrant labor movement in the contemporary United
States has three distinctive strands. The ﬁrst involves traditional trade unionism. Although US
unions once supported restrictive immigration policies, that has changed dramatically in the
twenty-ﬁrst century. Several leading US unions have recruited Latino immigrants employed in
low-wage janitorial, retail, and hospitality work, and to a lesser extent in residential
construction and in manufacturing. And both major union federations now support immigrant
rights and a path to legalization for the undocumented. The second strand of the immigrant
labor movement revolves around the advocacy and organizing efforts of labor-oriented NGOs
– known in the US as ‘worker centers,’ which number well over 100 and are scattered across
the country. Finally, a vibrant immigrant rights movement has taken shape in recent years,
which represents a third type of immigrant labor activism. Although it uses the rhetoric of
human rights and/or civil rights, its quest for legal status for the unauthorized is motivated primarily by the desire to improve immigrant employment opportunities and conditions.
Despite tensions and differences that divide these three strands of immigrant labor activism,
their basic goals and activities are increasingly synergistic and sometimes directly intersect.