Ethnographies of Accommodation and Resistance
Edited by Rob Lambert and Andrew Herod
Chapter 3: Bounded mobilizations: informal unionism and secondary shaming amongst immigrant temp workers in Chicago
In the United States, the rise of low-waged work, outsourced or temporary labour and other forms of atypical employment arrangements has challenged unionization efforts across a widening array of economic sectors. Although labour unions have made some attempts at organizing precarious workers, struggles at the bottom of the labour market are increasingly being waged outside government-sanctioned formal union representation and collective bargaining systems through a range of techniques falling under the umbrella of what can be called ‘informal unionism’ (Chauvin 2009). Such efforts are typically marked by three characteristics. First, many of these campaigns are carried out by non-union organizations such as worker centres (Fine 2006), whether on their own initiative or with the financial and strategic support of legally constituted unions (typically when the latter make a deliberate decision to ‘outsource’ their campaigns [Greenhouse and Clifford 2012]). Second, owing to legal limitations upon their bargaining power, campaigns often use ‘symbolic leverage’ (Chun 2009) to improve working conditions without seeking to unionize workers in the short run. Through appealing to common values or threatening the reputation of their corporate targets, labour rights organizations are thereby sometimes able to circumvent obstacles posed by firms’ geographic dispersion across different political jurisdictions, outsourcing structures and/or franchising systems, for example by attacking a whole brand through one of its subcontractors or franchisees.
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