chapter  8
Immigrant Workers, Precarious Work, and the US Labor Movement
WithRuth Milkman
Pages 12

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.