New Labor Movement for a New Working Class: Unions, Worker Centers, and Immigrants

Source: Kent Wong, Berkeley Journal of Employment and Labor Law, Vol. 36 no. 1, 2015
(subscription required)

….In many ways, June 15, 1990 was a turning point in the campaign that successfully reorganized the janitorial industry in Los Angeles. Not only did union density grow by leaps and bounds but more importantly, it demonstrated the power of immigrant worker organizing. The campaign proved that when unions develop creative organizing strategies backed by resources, immigrant workers could be organized.

Another breakthrough campaign was won in 1999 by the Los Angeles homecare workers. Again, many in our own union thought this campaign was a waste of time. There were tens of thousands of low-wage women workers, women of color and immigrants, each working in separate homes scattered throughout Los Angeles County. How could the union possibly organize them?

The organizing method utilized was a grassroots, community-based approach. Organizers went door to door to identify the homecare workers in their neighborhoods and organized small house meetings of three to five homecare workers. Long before formal union recognition, the campaign operated as if they were a union, including political mobilization actions. In 1999 after over a decade-long fight led by low-wage women of color, 74,000 homecare workers were successfully organized – the single largest union victory in the country in decades. Today, there are 250,000 homecare workers who are covered by union contracts in the state of California.

These campaigns reflect the potential of future organizing, and especially immigrant worker organizing, within the country. For more than twenty years, I’ve been the director of the UCLA Labor Center. Much of our work has been focused on reaching out to low-wage workers, to workers of color, and to immigrant workers, and finding creative ways to forge new alliances, new coalitions, and new opportunities to envision a new labor movement for the new working class…..