Workers Who Organize in the Public Square: A Comparison of Mexican and U.S. Informal Worker Organizing Models

Friday, July 18, 2014: 5:30 PM
Room: 315
Oral Presentation
Chris TILLY , Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, UCLA, Los Angeles, CA
Enrique DE LA GARZA , Sociology, Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana, Mexico City, Mexico
Jose Luis GAYOSSO RAMIREZ , Universidad Autonoma Metopolitana-Iztapalapa, Mexico
The growth of informal employment in Mexico and the United States cries out for solutions.  For informal workers, unprotected by existing laws, this requires developing new and distinct organizing strategies, and building alliances.  Our study uses case studies of organizing of informal workers who contest over the use of public space in the two countries to understand this process in comparative perspective.

Our central questions are:

  • What forms does this organizing take in the two countries?  How and why are these forms different between the two?
  • How do informal worker organizations formulate and implement their strategies, and how do they target and develop alliances, in the two countries? 
  • What is the role of worker identity  in these organizing processes? 

Our analysis undertakes two case studies grounded in interviews and participant observation: day laborers in the US, and street vendors in Mexico.  It is a bit unconventional to carry out such a non-parallel comparison of different sectors in the two countries, but we have chosen to examine these two informal groups because the literature suggests that they are the most advanced instances of informal worker organizing in each country.  We will need to take the sectoral differences into account in explaining differences in strategic direction and degree of success, but choosing the two most advanced cases should give us leverage on our central questions.

In our case studies, we will examine national-level organizations, but our main focus will be on day labor organizations in Los Angeles California and street vendors in Mexico City, Mexico.  These respective cities not only house the greatest concentration of these groups of workers, but are also the home base of the leading national organizations representing these trades.