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Mobilizing against Inequality

Mobilizing against Inequality: Unions, Immigrant Workers, and the Crisis of Capitalism

Lee H. Adler
Maite Tapia
Lowell Turner
Foreword by Ana Avendaño
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  • Book Info
    Mobilizing against Inequality
    Book Description:

    Among the many challenges that global liberalization has posed for trade unions, the growth of precarious immigrant workforces lacking any collective representation stands out as both a major threat to solidarity and an organizing opportunity. Believing that collective action is critical in the struggle to lift the low wages and working conditions of immigrant workers, the contributors to Mobilizing against Inequality set out to study union strategies toward immigrant workers in four countries: Germany, France, the United Kingdom, and United States. Their research revealed both formidable challenges and inspiring examples of immigrant mobilization that often took shape as innovative social countermovements.

    Using case studies from a carwash organizing campaign in the United States, a sans papiers movement in France, Justice for Cleaners in the United Kingdom, andintegration approaches by the Metalworkers Union in Germany, among others, the authors look at the strategies of unions toward immigrants from a comparative perspective. Although organizers face a different set of obstacles in each country, this book points to common strategies that offer promise for a more dynamic model of unionism is the global North. The editors have also created a companion website for the book, which features literature reviews, full case studies, updates, and links to related publications. Visit it at

    Contributors: Lee H. Adler, Cornell University; Gabriella Alberti, Leeds University; Daniel B. Cornfield, Vanderbilt University; Michael Fichter, Global Labour University, Berlin; Janice Fine, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey; Jane Holgate, Leeds University; Denisse Roca-Servat, Pontifical Bolivarian University, Colombia; Maite Tapia, Michigan State University; Lowell Turner, Cornell University.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-7024-0
    Subjects: Political Science, Law, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. vii-x)
    Ana Avendaño

    The case studies collected inMobilizing against Inequalityexpertly explore what is increasingly apparent to scholars, labor activists, and workers: traditional models of worker representation that have allowed workers to win a greater share of productivity and a political voice are failing to adapt to a changing economic and political environment. In recent decades, corporate-funded politicians have pushed trade liberalization, privatization, and austerity. Employers have shifted traditional employment relationships and informalized workers through “subcontracting, privatization, or some other form of intermediary contracting arrangement in order to reduce labor costs and avoid regulations associated with formal employment.”¹ Workers’ share of national...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    Lowell Turner, Maite Tapia and Lee Adler
  5. List of Acronyms and Abbreviations
    (pp. xv-xviii)

      (pp. 3-13)
      Lowell Turner

      At this historical turning point, when global economic governance driven by market expansion and deregulation has failed, the ongoing battle for a sustainable economy hinges on two profound challenges: rising inequality and environmental destruction. In this book, we focus on the former, while acknowledging that solutions to the two central problems must be linked. Where economic growth is targeted and how the rewards are distributed will determine whether economic and social development is sustainable.

      Rising inequality is well illustrated in a juxtaposition of contemporary concentrations of wealth, on the one hand, and workforces facing increasingly precarious circumstances, on the other....

    • 2 UNION CAMPAIGNS AS COUNTERMOVEMENTS: “Best Practice” Cases from the United Kingdom, France, and the United States
      (pp. 14-32)
      Maite Tapia, Lowell Turner and Denisse Roca-Servat

      Among the many challenges that global liberalization has posed for trade unions in the Global North, the growth of precarious immigrant workforces lacking any collective representation stands out as both a major threat to solidarity and an organizing opportunity (Munck 2010). Precarious immigrant workers, often termed “workers at the margins,” make up a substantial and growing segment of the workforce in most developed countries (Thornley et al. 2010). Even though labor and immigration are inherently connected—people primarily migrate to find better employment opportunities—immigration as a topic has all too often been neglected by industrial relations scholars (McGovern 2007;...


    • 3 THE UNITED STATES: Tackling Inequality in Precarious Times
      (pp. 35-51)
      Lee H. Adler and Daniel B. Cornfield

      U.S. immigration policy has been race or nation-based for almost its entire history. Exclusion of immigrant workers from China and India, severe restrictions on Eastern and Southern Europeans, and a variety of containment policies directed at south of the U.S. border populations have characterized the 200-plus-year set of ad hoc policies.

      There was a thawing of these restrictions for nearly two decades beginning in the mid-1960s, but tougher laws and enforcement arrived in the late 1980s and only intensified with the passage of NAFTA in the early 1990s. The past twenty years have seen a rise of the Right in...

    • 4 THE UNITED KINGDOM: Dialectic Approaches to Organizing Immigrant Workers, Postwar to 2012
      (pp. 52-68)
      Maite Tapia

      Since the 1970s, Roy Jenkins’s vision, known as the “Jenkins formula,” has signified a shift for British policymakers, establishing laws and guidelines within a model of multiculturalism rather than assimilation. Multiculturalism, that is, recognizing distinctive cultural and ethnic traditions (Taylor 1994), has been contrasted with assimilation, often described as “absorbing” minority groups into the larger established community. Even though there is variation within each country, it is widely claimed that policy in France is based largely on a Republican model of assimilation, whereas in the United Kingdom it is based on a model of multiculturalism.¹

      The United Kingdom, unlike France...

    • 5 FRANCE: Battles for Inclusion, 1968–2010
      (pp. 69-85)
      Lowell Turner

      The dominant French views toward immigrant workers, of both unions and government in the postwar period, are rooted in a republican tradition dating from 1789. The Revolution produced legislation banning “intermediate associations” that might interfere with the “liberté, egalité, and fraternité” of the French citizen. Although legislation passed in 1901 encourages and regulates the activity of thousands of contemporary associations, French unions have remained hesitant about working with community organizations including immigrant advocacy groups. An often exclusive focus on the workplace has in the minds of some critics hindered the broad social solidarity necessary to sustain mobilization efforts in fragmented...

    • 6 GERMANY: Success at the Core, Unresolved Challenges at the Periphery
      (pp. 86-106)
      Lee H. Adler and Michael Fichter

      Chapter 2 described union efforts to incorporate migrant workers by undertaking innovative organizing drives in building services, hospitality, restaurants, and carwashes in the United States, the United Kingdom, and France. An emphasis on social justice, coalition building with civil society organizations, strategic campaigning, and strong leadership in efforts to mobilize rank-and-file workers were all characteristics of union activities in these three countries. In each example there was a departure from traditional union organizing approaches, suggesting that unions operated as a countermovement to the arbitrary, unbridled employer prerogatives in these fragmented segments of the labor market.

      The German case is in...


      (pp. 109-130)
      Gabriella Alberti, Jane Holgate and Lowell Turner

      Previous chapters have provided a detailed analysis of the cases examined in this comparative study. We have seen cases in which unions and other organizations based in civil society have mobilized immigrant workers to challenge the considerable exploitation that many of them face in both the workplace and society. In this chapter we deepen the analysis to consider campaigns across all the countries involved in the study and across industries within national contexts. Addressing similarities and differences across and within France, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States, our aim is to shed light on campaign strengths and weaknesses,...

      (pp. 131-150)
      Janice Fine and Jane Holgate

      Fundamentally, we believe that the cases presented in this book attest to the powerful synergy that can occur when the labor movement and immigrant rights movements get together. For reasons we will explore further in a moment, our view is that the revitalization of the labor movement is intertwined with immigrant worker movement-building and vice versa.

      We do not underestimate the profound historical, structural, and ideological differences between the American, British, French, and German states and their respective labor movements. However, we do perceive a set of immigrant worker organizing and migration policy challenges that are common to all of...

    • 9 INTEGRATIVE ORGANIZING IN POLARIZED TIMES: Toward Dynamic Trade Unionism in the Global North
      (pp. 151-168)
      Daniel B. Cornfield

      Mobilizing against Inequalityprovides a new roadmap for labor in the Global North to pursue its historic mission of realizing an inclusive and democratic society. The roadmap is based on this edited collection’s inventory and analysis of the many innovative, contemporary cases of labor organizing in France, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The roadmap is a timely contribution to an enduring theme in a diversified and polarized world region. In the Global North, rising inequality has accompanied neoliberal deregulation and austerity policies, the transition to a service economy, and union decline. Persisting and emerging forms of social...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 169-178)
  10. References
    (pp. 179-198)
  11. Contributors
    (pp. 199-200)
  12. Index
    (pp. 201-210)