Skip to main content Accessibility help

A Movement Wrestling: American Labor's Enduring Struggle with Immigration, 1866–2007

  • Janice Fine (a1) and Daniel J. Tichenor (a2)


This article examines the American labor movement's struggles since the nineteenth century over how to respond to mass immigration. Labor's struggles have turned on whether it views new waves fundamentally as a threat, which elicits a strategy of restriction, or an opportunity, which elicits a strategy of solidarity. It also captures the advantages of a longue-duree approach for understanding the fraught and evolving relationship between American unionism and immigration. Rather than a Briggsian story of labor traditionally embracing a restrictionist position, our archival and interview research from the Reconstruction Era to present shows that labor's position on immigration has been in regular contention—with disagreements getting resolved in a restrictionist direction during certain periods and an expansionist one during others. Likewise, the familiar scholarly claim that an unprecedented “turnabout” in labor's response to immigration can be pinpointed to 1999 ignores more than a century of internal debate and variegated external activism on this issue. We lay out an analytical model for understanding why the labor movement has viewed new immigrant workers as a threat in certain contexts and an opportunity for growth in others. The model highlights how three external variables—the fluid structure of the labor market, immigration trends, and the state's disposition toward organized labor—establish either a secure or insecure environment within which unions respond to immigration. It also underscores the importance of how dominant modes of unionism within the movement interact with these external forces to shape its perception of “new” immigrants in restrictive or solidaristic terms. Significantly, the sequence and recombination of these forces during the past century or more have transformed how organized labor responds to new immigrant workers in an insecure environment today. Our research presents a diverse movement honestly wrestling with immigration's profound conundrums, including elemental issues of who it identifies as part of its fold (workers deserving of fraternity and sorority) and who it deems as permanent outsiders (workers who were a menace to the cause).

    • Send article to Kindle

      To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

      Note you can select to send to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

      Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

      A Movement Wrestling: American Labor's Enduring Struggle with Immigration, 1866–2007
      Available formats

      Send article to Dropbox

      To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

      A Movement Wrestling: American Labor's Enduring Struggle with Immigration, 1866–2007
      Available formats

      Send article to Google Drive

      To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

      A Movement Wrestling: American Labor's Enduring Struggle with Immigration, 1866–2007
      Available formats



Hide All

1. Debs is quoted in Carlson, Peter, Roughneck: The Life and Times of Big Bill Haywood (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1983), 190.

2. Ray Stannard Baker, “Lawrence Textile Strike,” American Magazine (May 1912); and Kenneth McGowan, Forum Magazine; see Kornbluh, Joyce, “Bread and Roses: The 1912 Lawrence Textile Strike,” in Rebel Voices: An IWW Anthology, ed. Kornbluh, (Chicago: Charles H. Kerr Publishing, 1988).

3. Foner, Philip S., Vol. 4 History of the Labor Movement in the United States: The Industrial Workers of the World 1905–1917 (New York: International Publishers, 1965), 64.

4. Gompers, Samuel, Seventy Years of Life and Labor (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1984), 61.

5. Powderly, Terence V., The Path I Trod (New York: Columbia University Press, 1940), 407408.

6. U.S. Senate, Committee on Immigration, Chinese Exclusion, 57th Congress, 2nd Session, (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1902), 265.

7. Gompers, Samuel, “Immigration—Up to Congress,” American Federationist 18 (January 1911): 1718.

8. Several works highlight the analytical and empirical payoffs of comparing recurrent and emergent processes, but see especially Skowronek, Stephen, The Politics Presidents Make (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997).

9. Strictly speaking, one might propose “expansionism” as a conceptual opposite to “restrictivism.” Though we write of “expansion” when that is an aim in itself, more often American labor has found itself divided over how to respond to labor market changes it does not control. Thus, “solidarity”—in either the material and/or ethnic senses already described—is the primary strategic alternative to restricting entry to the nation and/or the labor market. Our analytical choice is thus consistent with our efforts to highlight union strategy in our analysis.

10. Vernon Briggs, Immigration and American Unionism (Cornell, NY: Cornell University Press, 2001) 3–4.

11. Lane, A.T., Solidarity or Survival?: American Labor and European Immigrants, 1830–1924 (New York: Greenwood Press, 1987); and Mink, Gwendolyn, Old Labor and New Immigrants in American Political Development: Union, Party and State, 1875–1920 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1990).

12. Haus, Leah, Unions, Immigration, and Internationalization: New Challenges and Changing Coalitions in the United States and France (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2002); and Watts, Julie, Immigration Policy and the Challenge of Globalization: Unions and Employers in Unlikely Alliance (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2002).

13. In this way, our account of gradual transformation in organized labor's response to immigration, in contrast to Briggs's conception of an abrupt “historic turnaround” in 1999, is resonant with Kathleen Thelen's work on modes of gradual institutional change in How Institutions Evolve (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004), as well as the essays on mechanisms of incremental change in Wolfgang Streeck and Thelen, Kathleen, Beyond Continuity (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005).

14. This analytical formulation is richly informed by theoretical work by Gerald Berk and Denis Galvan on “creative syncretism” in “How People Experience and Change Institutions: A Field Guide to Creative Syncretism,” Theory and Society, forthcoming; Karen Orren and Stephen Skowronek on “intercurrence” and multiple layerings in The Search for American Political Development (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004); and on the importance of sequences and policy feedbacks, Pierson, Paul, Politics in Time (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004); and Skocpol, Theda, Protecting Soldiers and Mothers (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1995).

15. Balliet, , Survey of Labor Relations (Washington, DC: Bureau of National Affairs, 1981), 1342.

16. Foner, , History of the Labor Movement: From Colonial Times to the Founding of the American Federation of Labor, Volume One (New York: International Publishers, 1972), 372.

17. Lane, 47.

18. Davie, Maurice, World Immigration (New York: Macmillan, 1936), 82.

19. Ibid., 48.

20. Ibid., 49.

21. Saxton, Alexander, The Indispensable Enemy: Labor and the Anti-Chinese Movement in California (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1971); Mink, Old Labor and New Immigrants in American Political Development), 71–112.

22. Daniels, Roger, Asian America: Chinese and Japanese in the United States since 1850 (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1988), 3334.

23. Sandmeyer, Elmer, Anti-Chinese Movement in California (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1973), 4056; Mink, Old Labor and New Immigrants in American Political Development, 73–80.

24. As cited in Williams, R. Hal, The Democratic Party and California Politics, 1880–1896 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1973), 7.

25. See, for example, Washington, B.F., “Will Find His Level,” San Francisco Examiner, 26 January 1866; and testimony of George, Henry and Winn, Albert, in Report of the Joint Committee to Investigate Chinese Immigration, 44th Congress, 2nd Session (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1877), 28085, 321–22.

26. Sandmeyer, 40–56; and Mink, 72–81.

27. Bennett, H.C., “Chinese Labor: A Lecture, Delivered Before the San Francisco Mechanics' Society,” May 1870, reprinted in Racism, Dissent, and Asian Americans from 1850 to Present: A Documentary History, eds. Foner, Philip S. and Rosenberg, Daniel (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1993), 169–72.

28. Eaves, Lucile, A History of California Labor Legislation (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1910), 6.

29. Foner, History of the Movement, Vol. 1, 488–89.

30. Lane, 43.

31. Congressional Record, 1 May 1876, 2858.

32. Senate, , Report of the Joint Special Committee to Investigate Chinese Immigration Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1876), 289.

33. See Cornford, Daniel, “The California Workingment's Party in Humboldt County,” California History (June 1987), 131.

34. Article 1, Section 17; Article 2, section 1; and section 19 of the California Constitution adopted in 1878–1879; See ed. E.B. Willis, Debates and Proceedings of the Constitutional Convention of the State of California, (Sacramento, CA: 1881), 1510–11, 1519.

35. National Labor Union to the Committee on Foreign Affairs, Record Group 236, Records of the U.S. House of Representatives, 42nd Congress, Petitions and Memorials, HR42A–H7.4, Congressional Records Collection, National Archives, Washington, DC.

36. Voss, Kim, The Making of American Exceptionalism: The Knights of Labor and Class Formation in the Nineteenth Century (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1993), 82. As quoted in Voss, McNeill also said “We complain that our rulers, statesmen and orators have not attempted to engraft republican principles into our industrial system, and have forgotten or denied its underlying principles.”

37. Because this was their ideology, as Hattam, Voss and others have suggested, the Knights had a more expansive answer than traditional trade unions to the question of “who is in versus who is out.” As Hattam suggests: “As late as the 1870's and 1880's, many skilled workers did not consider the primary social cleavage to be between labor and capital or between workers and employers. Instead they identified as producers and allied with small manufacturers against the non-producing classes. The principal threat to the producer's republic, from an NLU and KOL perspective lay with bankers, lawyers and land speculators—the quintessential nonproducers—who were endangering the republic through their abuse of political and economic power…” Hattam, Victoria, “Economic Visions, Political Strategies: Labor and State,” Studies in American Political Development Volume 4, (New Haven and London: Yale University Press), 91.

38. Voss, 81.

39. Ostreicher, Richard, “Terence Powderly, the Knights of Labor and Artisanal Republicanism” in Labor Leaders in America, eds. Dubofsky, Melvyn and Van Tine, Warren (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1987), 37.

40. Congressional Record, 48th Congress, 1st Session, 1884, 5349–64.

41. Ibid., 5349.

42. Ibid., 49.

43. Powderly, Terence V., Thirty Years of Labor—1859–1889 (New York: Augustus M. Kelley Publishers, 1967), 213. He contrasts the behavior of Chinese workers to Polish immigrants: “The immigration from Poland began to make itself felt in 1872, and though the Poles were poor and ignorant of our laws, they were anxious to learn, and soon began to improve their condition.”

44. Foner, Philip. History of the Labor Movement in the United States, Volume 2 (New York: International Publishers, 1955), 5860.

45. Ibid., 218.

46. Foner, Vol. 2, 171.

47. Hattam argues that the AFL shifted its strategy away from the construction of a broadly defined producers' coalition to one of building trade unions instead, because the producers' vision of how the economy should function had simply become unattainable—the mass production model was unstoppable. Thus, in light of growing economic concentration and large-scale industrial development, workers needed to organize unions in order to act collectively as a countervailing power to the huge business enterprises that were consolidating their holds in many industries.

48. Foner, , Volume 3 The Policies and Practices of the American Federation of Labor 1900–1909 (New York: International Publishers, 1964), 27.

49. In its Annual Report of 1897, the IRL Executive Committee notes that numerous contacts were made with “the various bodies composing the American Federation of Labor, calling their attention to the advantages of the illiteracy test.” Annual Report of the Executive Committee of the Immigration Restriction League of 1897, 10 January 1898, IRL Papers, Prescott Hall Collection, Houghton Library, Harvard University.

50. Gompers, Samuel, Seventy Years of Life and Labor: An Autobiography (New York: E.P. Dutton and Company, 1937), 153–54, 158.

51. Qtd. in Lane, 163.

52. Iron Molders' Journal, January 1897.

53. Ibid., 157–58.

54. Gwendolyn Mink, Old Labor and New Immigrants in American Political Development, 165–66.

55. Ibid., 158.

56. “Immigration Referred,” American Fedeationist 3, no. 12 (February 1897), 257; and Gompers, Seventy Years of Life and Labor, 159–60.

57. Tichenor, , Dividing Lines (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002), pp. 4686 and 114–49.

58. “Demand of American Labor for an Illiteracy Test for Immigrants,” Publications of the Immigration Restriction League, No.35, pamphlet, IRL papers.

59. For instance, at the height of restrictionist legislative success in the late 1910s and 1920s, the AFL maintained a close working relationship with Representative Albert Johnson (R-WA), chair of the House Immigration Committee, despite his being a Republican. During the 1926 election, William Green, president of the AFL, notified the Washington State Federation of Labor that “Johnson was instrumental” to the restrictionist cause and that the AFL's Washington lobbyists “kept in daily touch with him.” In 1930, Green again urged members of organized labor in Johnson's district to support him: “Let it not be said after the primaries that Labor did not stand by a true friend.” See William Green to William Short, 12 August 1926, and William Green to all Organized Labor in the Third Congressional District of Washington, 21 August 1930, both in AFL, AFL-CIO Department of Legislative Papers, George Meany Memorial Archives, Box 79, Folder 69; Ibid., Albert Johnson, 28 March 1921, and Johnson to Gompers, 18 February 1922.

60. For example, see Legislative Record of James Michael Curley on Measures of Interest to Labor, AFL, AFL-CIO Department of Legislative Papers, Box 67, File 2: James Michael Curley.

61. James Patten to Joseph Lee, 11 December 1910, Joseph Lee Papers, Massachusetts Historical Society, Box 2.

62. Gompers, Samuel, “Immigration – Up to Congress,” American Federationist 18 (January 1911), 1721.

63. Balliet, 48.

64. Balliet, 30.

65. Gompers, “Immigration—Up to Congress,” 17.

66. Reisler, , By the Sweat of Their Brow (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1976), 40.

67. Ibid., 175.

68. American Federation of Labor, Proceedings of the Annual Convention, 1934 bound volume, George Meany Archives, Silver Spring, Maryland, 550.

69. Ibid., 201.

70. Max Kohler, Undated Notes, Max Kohler Papers, American Jewish Historical Society, Brandeis University, Waltham, MA, Box 5, Immigration Notes Folder.

71. Demarest Lloyd to Joseph Lee, 17 May 1928, Joseph Lee Papers, Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston, Massachusetts.

72. Robert Ward to Joseph Lee, 17 May 1928, Lee Papers.

73. Immigration Restriction League, Executive Committee Bulletin no. 12, 1 June 1928, Immigration Restriction League Papers, Houghton Library, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

74. Levenstein, Harvey A., “The AFL and Mexican Immigration in the 1920's: An Experiment in Labor Diplomacy,” The Hispanic American Historical Review Vol. 48, no. 2 (May 1968).

75. Ibid., 213.

76. Lichtenstein, Nelson, The Most Dangerous Man in Detroit (New York: Basic Books, 1995), p. 13.

77. Galenson, Walter, The CIO Challenge to the AFL: A History of the American Labor Movement 1935–1941 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1960), 73.

78. Streeck and Thelen suggest “… that organizations come to be regarded as institutions to the extent that their existence and operation become in a specific way publicly guaranteed and privileged…” and go on to discuss unions as institutions: “… as long as trade unions are mere organizations, they can be suppressed and may even be outlawed by a hostile government. In some societies however, where their existence and activities have become protected by collective values and politically enacted norms, they constitute a socially sanctioned constraint for economic actors.” In our view, during certain limited periods American labor becomes an institution but unbecomes one later on. See Wolfgang Streeck and Thelen, Kathleen, “Introduction: Institutional Change in Advanced Political Economies” in Beyond Continuity: Institutional Change in Advanced Political Economies (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 12.

79. The War Labor Board (WLB) and Office of Price Administration (OPA) were key institutions that took on the management of wage and price relations within and between industries. According to Lichtenstein, the WLB not only helped unions add five million new workers in three years but also mandated grievance and seniority systems, sick leave, paid mealtimes, vacation pay and other items that were the goal of pre-war organizing and bargaining campaigns. Lichtenstein, Nelson, State of the Union: A Century of American Labor (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2002), 102.

80. In fact, by the end of the Second World War, half a million black workers had joined CIO unions.

81. Wise, Stephen, Challenging Years (New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1949), 239.

82. Proceedings of the 53rd Annual Convention of the American Federation of Labor, 1933 (Washington, DC: AFL, 1933), 103.

83. American Federation of Labor, Proceedings of the Annual Conventions, 1939 bound volume, George Meany Memorial Archives, Silver Spring, MD., 678.

84. Divine, Robert, American Immigration Policy, 1924–1954 (New York: Da Capo Press, 1972) 101.

85. W.C. Roberts, Memorandum on Immigration Bill, 13 April 1938, AFL-CIO Legislative Department Papers, Meany Memorial Archives.

86. Proceedings of the Annual Committee for Protection of the Foreign Born, Constitution, 2–3 March 1940, Washington, DC, copy in the National Jewish Historical Society, Brandeis University, Waltham, MA, 14–17.

87. Galenson, 587.

88. Lichtenstein, NelsonState of the Union: A Century of American Labor (New Jersey: Princeton University Press 2002), 65.

89. Arthur Altmeyer, executive director of the War Manpower Commission, to Claude Wickard, secretary of agriculture, Memo on Proposed Agreement for the Importation of Mexican Workers, 29 July 1942, Box 35, Folder 26 on Mexican Labor, AFL-CIO Department of Legislation Papers, George Meany Archives.

90. Calavita, Kitty, Inside the State: The Bracero Program, Immigration, and the INS (New York: Routledge, 1992), 3235.

91. American Federation of Labor, Proceedings of the Annual Conventions, 1942 bound volume, Meany Memorial Archives.

92. Mexican Workers Resolution, Daily Proceedings of the Second Constitutional Convention of the Congress of Industrial Organizations, 10–13 October 1939, San Francisco.

93. Congress of Industrial Organizations, Proceedings of the Twelfth Constitutional Convention, Chicago 1950, Resolution No. 36 “Migrant Workers From Outside the Continental United States”.

94. American Federation of Labor, Proceedings of the Annual Conventions, 1946 bound volume, Resolution 85, Meany Memorial Archives, 598.

95. Ibid., Resolution 85, 250.

96. Proceedings of the Congress of Industrial Organizations, 1952, Atlantic City, New Jersey, Cornell University archives, 131.

97. Ibid., 278–279.

98. Ibid., 126–127.

99. Proceedings of the Congress of Industrial Organizations, 1951, New York, New York, Cornell University archives, 489–490.

100. Reimers, David, Still the Golden Door (New York: Columbia University Press, 1992), 54.

101. Notes of the Legislative Department of the American Federation of Labor on Immigration, 1952, AFL, AFL-CIO Legislative Department Papers, Meany Memorial Archives.

102. Walter J. Mason to W.C. Hushing, Memorandum on Immigration and Naturalization, 20 March 1952, AFL Department of Legislation, Box 84, File 74.

103. Ibid.

104. Proceedings of the American Federation of Labor National Convention, 1950, Meany Memorial Archives.

105. Report of the Executive Council of the American Federation of Labor for 1954, n.d., 1954 File, AFL, AFL-CIO Legislative Department Papers, Meany Memorial Archives.

106. 1954 Proceedings of the Sixteenth Constitutional Convention of the Congress of Industrial Organizations, Los Angeles California, Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations library archive, Resolution No. 14 Migrant Farm Labor, 525–526.

107. Lichtenstein, State of the Unions, 99.

108. Ibid., 133–136.

109. Arguably, under George Meany and Lane Kirkland and continuing up through the beginning of John Sweeney's tenure as AFL-CIO president, in terms of the role it played as a central implementer of U.S. Cold War policy in labor struggles throughout the world, the federation in this area continued to function as an institution.

110. Courtney Gifford, Directory of U.S. Labor Organizations, 1988–89 edition, based on the report of the Executive Council of the AFL-CIO to the Seventeenth Constitutional Convention (Miami Beach, Florida, 26 October 1987).

111. Walter Reuther, CIO representative, statement before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and Naturalization, 21 November 1955, Papers of the AFL, AFL-CIO Legislative Dept, Box 27, Folder 16.

112. Ibid.

113. Interview with Andrew Biemiller, 22 May 1979, conducted by Alice M. Hoffman, 1980, George Meany Center for Labor Studies Oral History Project, AFL-CIO Merger (Collection 15), Box 1, Folder 4, Meany Memorial Archives.

114. Hyman Bookbinder, “The Whole Country Benefits,” American Federationist, copy in Box 27, Folder 20, Emanuel Celler Papers, Library of Congress.

115. H.L. Mitchell and Ernesto Galarzo, National Agricultural Workers Union to Members of Congress, 17 February 1958, Papers of the AFL, AFL-CIO Legislative Department, Box 27, Folder 34, Meany Memorial Archives.

116. Hyman Bookbinder, “The World's Refugees – A Challenge to America,” 30 March 1960, copy in the Papers of the AFL, AFL-CIO Legislative Dept. Papers, Box 27, Folder 26, Meany Memorial Archives.

117. Rep. Henry B. Gonzalez, interview by author, March 1996; Calavita, Inside the State, 163–169.

118. Ogle, Alice, “Revolution in the Vineyards,” America (11 December 1965): 747–48; and Andrew Kopkind, “The Grape Pickers' Strike,” New Republic (29 January 1966).

119. Cesar E. Chavez to Robert F. Kennedy, Western Union Telegram, 11 August 1968, Robert F. Kennedy Papers, Container #71, Senate Legislative Subject Files, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library, Boston, Massachusetts.

120. See El Malcriado: The Voice of the Farm Worker (newsletter of the United Farm Workers Organizing Committee) 11 (15 March 1968); and the unpublished testimony of Chavez before the Senate Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Immigration and Naturalization, qtd. in Kitty Calavita, 155.

121. Reimers, 202.

122. Andrew Biemiller to Peter Rodino, 8 September 1972; Biemiler to Rodino, 23 March 1973; Biemiller to Rodino, 1 May 1973; Rodino to Biemiller, 15 May 1973, AFL, AFL-CIO Papers of the Legislative Dept., Box 71, Folder #28, Meany Memorial Archives.

123. Congressional Record, 12 September 1972, 30164, 30182–83.

124. See, for example, The New York Times, 31 December 1974.

125. “Statement by the AFL-CIO Executive Council on Illegal Aliens,” 18 February 1974, Papers of the AFL, AFL-CIO Legislative Department.

126. Congressional Record, 12 September 1972, 30164, 30182–83; NCLR documents made available to the author by the national office of NCLR.

127. “Chavez Shifts Views of Illegals,” reprinted in “Illegal Aliens,” Hearings before the Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, and International Law, 4 and 26 February; 5, 12, 13, and 19 March 1975, 82–83.

128. Los Angeles Times, 30 January 1975.

129. Transcript of SCIRP meeting, 7 May 1980, Record Group 240, Box 26, National Archives, 34.

130. Fuchs, Lawrence, American Kaleidoscope (Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 1990) 252.

131. The New York Times, 24 August 1981.

132. See Chisti, Muzzafar, “Employer sanctions against immigrant workers,” WorkingUSA 3, no. 6 (2000): 7176.

133. See Haus, , “Openings in the Wall: Transnational Migrants, Labor Unions and U.S. Immigration Policy,” International Organization 49, no. 2 (Spring 1995): 299304.

134. The arduous path to the Simpson–Mazzoli legislation in 1986 is discussed in depth in Tichenor, “Chinese Exclusion and Precocious State-Building in the Nineteenth Century American Polity,”Dividing Lines.

135. Lane Kirkland to Lawrence Siskind, 16 February 1989, Addition: Papers of the Coalition on Civil Rights, Container 46, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress.

136. See Diane Schmidley, Profile of the Foreign-Born Population in the United States: 2000. U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Reports, Special Studies No. P23–206, December 2001.

137. Immigrant Union Members Numbers and Trends Migration Policy Institute Immigration Facts, May 2004, No. 7.

138. According to Haus, the federation evolved toward support for a more and more expansive amnesty from the late 1970s to 1986 when it supported amnesty for all undocumented workers who had resided in the U.S. for one year prior to enactment of the new law and explicitly discussed amnesty as an organizing tool. Haus, “Openings in the Wall,” 306–308.

139. Fisk, Catherine L. and Wishnie, Michael J., “Hoffman Plastics Compounds, Inc. v. NLRB: The Rules of the Workplace for Undocumented Immigrants,” in Immigration Stories, eds. Martin, David A. and Schuck, Peter H. (New York: Foundation Press, 2005), 311341.

140. “The AFL-CIO in the Twenty-first Century, Organized Labor in a White Collar World: Can the Labor Movement Rise to the Challenge” in conference materials prepared by the Department of Professional Employees, AFL-CIO, Paul E. Almeida, president, December 2004, 9.

141. The unions were: SEIU, UNITE-HERE, the Laborers International Union, the United Food and Commercial Workers and the Teamsters. They were joined by another AFL-CIO union, the United Farm Workers, as well as the Carpenters, which left the federation in 2003.

142. Authors' calculations based on Directory of US Labor Organizations, 2006 and 2007 editions (Washington, DC: Bureau of National Affairs).

143. Two others joined later: the Flat Glass Workers and the Brewery Workers.

144. See Burgoon and Jacoby, “Is Immigration Dividing U.S. Labor?” Using occupation-level data, the authors estimate the foreign born proportions of the core occupations of the different Change to Win unions: 24 percent for cleaning and building services (SEIU, HERE), 16 percent for health services (SEIU), 23 percent for construction labor (LIUNA) from “Foreign-born shares of Change to Win Coalition Compared with total employment,” paper prepared for British Journal of Industrial Relations Conference, London, UK, March 2006, 30 and Fig. 7.

145. John W. Wilhelm, Letter to John J. Sweeney, president of the AFL-CIO, 18 July 2005, accessed from (accessed18 June 2007).

146. Andrew Pollack, “Immigrant Workers and the Split in the AFL-CIO,” Labor Standard, n.d., (accessed 27 June 2007).

147. In some ways this latest effort was also a continuation of projects begun years earlier. In 1987 as part of the AFL's evolving support for amnesty and organizing immigrant workers, the federation established the Labor Immigrant Assistance Project, which was directed by the Los Angeles central labor body. See Haus, “Openings in the Wall,” 307.

148. Support for amnesty represented quite a shift in the trades' long-standing policy position on immigration. The trades had been a bulwark of support for employer sanctions, and in contrast to the ILGWU, ACTWU and SEIU, had actually pushed to tighten them in the early 1990s. Also, they had not taken a position in favor of amnesty. See Haus, “Openings in the Wall,” 305.

149. The Building and Construction Trades Department. Statement of Principles on Comprehensive Immigration Reform, (16 February 2007), 2. While opposing new guest worker programs, BCTD endorsed their use by construction employers in cases where there are “genuine short-term shortages of qualified U.S. workers in the building and construction industry that the hiring hall system can not meet otherwise. The current H2B visa program provides for the temporary admission of foreign workers to perform non-agricultural work which must be temporary, if unemployed U.S. workers cannot be found.” Concerned about displacement of U.S. workers due to ineffectual labor certification practices in the H2B program, BCTD called for changes which would allow not just employers but joint labor-management organizations and building trades unions to sponsor workers.

150. Bacon, David, “Workers Not Guests,” The Nation, February 19, 2007, 41.

151. See Narro, Victor, Wong, Kent and Sahdduck-Hernandez, Janna, “The 2006 Immigrant Uprising: Origins and Future,” New Labor Forum 16, no. 1, (December 2007): 4956; and Ong Hing, Bill and Johnson, Kevin R., “The Immigrant Rights Marches of 2006 and the Prospects of a New Civil Rights Movement,” Harvard Civil Rights–Civil Liberties Law Review 42 (2007).

152. Other unions within the Change to Win coalition including the Laborers and the United Food and Commercial Workers also objected to the guest worker provisions in the bills and, like the AFL-CIO, refused to support them.

153. Worksite enforcement policy has shifted over the years. During the Clinton years, additional resources were allocated to interior enforcement efforts, including employment eligibility verification and worksite enforcement, and between 1995 and 1998 the INS carried out large numbers of workplace raids, which resulted in thousands of arrests. However, in 1998, the INS, responding to complaints about agency tactics during raids, altered its approach to focus on working with employers to improve their compliance with employment eligibility requirements and to target criminal employer cases in which there was a clear pattern of knowingly hiring the undocumented, as well as engaging in abusive treatment of workers and violating labor and employment laws. In 1999, the INS targeted the meatpacking industry. Operation Vanguard involved the subpoenae of all I-9 forms and employment records of workers in all the meatpacking plants in Nebraska and others in Iowa and South Dakota. These records were then checked against INS and Social Security databases and to identify workers whose work authorization could not be verified. The lists were given to employers who then “arranged interviews” for the workers with the INS. There was a strong political backlash against Operation Vanguard, and it was discontinued. See Immigration Enforcement within the United States, Congressional Research Service (CRS), (2006), 37–40. See also Fact Sheet on Worksite Enforcement US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, 12 June 2007.

154. Historically, many more resources had been committed to border enforcement: According to the CRS, U.S. Border Patrol resources nearly doubled within FY 1997 and FY 2003, whereas interior enforcement activities increased only slightly, and the number of inspection hours went down. “Furthermore, focusing on interior enforcement, in FY 2003, the largest amount of staff time was devoted to locating and arresting criminal aliens (39%), followed by administrative and non-investigative duties (23%) and alien smuggling investigations (15%). Only 4% was devoted to worksite enforcement (i.e. locating and arresting aliens working without authorization, and punishing employers who hire such workers.”154a

154aU.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Fact Sheet on Worksite Enforcement, 12 June 2007.

155. Pear, Robert and Rutenberg, Jim, “Senators in Bipartisan Deal on Immigration Bill,” New York Times, 18 May 2007, A-1.

156. The bill was defeated 8 June 2007 (34 Y:61 N). A majority, comprised of conservative republicans and liberal democrats, opposed the bill.

157. Greenhouse, StevenLabor Coalitions Divided on Immigration Overhaul,” New York Times, 26 June 2007.

158. Ibid.

159. The actual vote was on invoking cloture; it was 46 Y:53 N.

160. For instance, see the essays in Skowronek, Stephen and Glassman, Matthew, eds., Formative Acts (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007).

161. In thinking about “multiple traditions” in American political development, we are of course indebted to Rogers Smith, Civic Ideals (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999). We are especially intrigued by the relative independence and linkages between the collective ideals that emerge within social movements and those in the nation at large, the latter obviously being the focus of Smith's scholarship. (See also Smith, , Stories of Peoplehood (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004.) For an especially valuable account of the importance of discourse and change in American political development, see Victoria Hattam and Joseph Lowndes,”The Ground Beneath Our Feet: Language, Culture, and the Micropolitics of Change,” in Formative Acts, eds. Skowronek and Glassman.

162. Massey, Douglas S., Durand, Jorge and Malone, Norman J., “Repair Manual: US Immigration Policies for a New Century,” in Beyond Smoke and Mirrors: Mexican Immigration in an Era of Economic Integration, (New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2002), 156.

163. Jennifer Gordon has written intriguingly about contemporary efforts to engage in transnational unionism: See “Transnational Labor Citizenship,” Southern California Law Review 503 (2007) 80.

Acknowledgments: Anastasia Mann, Elisabeth Clemens, Sue Cobble, Wade Jacoby, Scott James, Eugene McElroy, Nancy Foner, Fred Feinstein, Alison Reardon, Ana Avendano and the CUNY Graduate Center's New York Immigration Series, Dan HoSang and the University of Oregon's Political Science Speaker's Series, Roger Waldinger and the UCLA Migration Study Group, Cornell's ILR Faculty Seminar, the Rutgers' Political Science Emerging Trends Series, and the anonymous reviewers for Studies.

Related content

Powered by UNSILO

A Movement Wrestling: American Labor's Enduring Struggle with Immigration, 1866–2007

  • Janice Fine (a1) and Daniel J. Tichenor (a2)


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed.