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Street-Corner Solidarity (NY Times)

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Omaha Steve Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Aug-10-06 09:39 AM
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Street-Corner Solidarity (NY Times)

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Street-Corner Solidarity

Published: August 10, 2006

It may be hard to see just what immigrant day laborers, those wiry guys scrambling for landscaping jobs amid clouds of picketing Minutemen, have in common with union workers, the folks with American flags on their hard hats. But the two groups are a lot closer than you might have thought temperamentally, philosophically and now officially. The A.F.L.-C.I.O. announced yesterday that it was forging a partnership with the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, an association of worker centers for the men and women who have become, for many, the public face of illegal immigration.

The groups plan to lobby for labor-friendly laws, to expose workplace abuses and to press for comprehensive immigration reform. As union leaders tell it, it became clear that worker centers and unions had common goals: decent wages and job conditions and an end to unfair competition from employers who exploit immigrant labor. It was probably also clear that anyone looking for signs of life in the labor movement would find it in places like these grass-roots centers 140 of them in 31 states, and 40 in the growing national network.

Critics may accuse unions of trying to draw a jolt of energy from a pool of illegal workers. But the value of worker centers goes beyond such expedience. As Washington dithers over fixing the broken immigration system, worker centers have arisen as a modest step to removing some perversity from the status quo, in which the benefits of illegal immigration largely flow to unscrupulous employers.

The way to fix immigration chaos is to channel and regulate it. Worker centers bring a shadowy system into the open, discouraging exploitation by holding employers to account. The bold idea behind labors embrace of immigrants is that third-world outsourcing should stop at our borders that the best way to help all workers is to start with those at the bottom. The less our street corners resemble a chaotic job bazaar, the better off all workers will be.

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