From Co-Optation to Radical Resistance: An Examination of Organized Labor’s Response(s) to Immigrant Rights in the Era of Trump

Wednesday, 18 July 2018: 08:54
Oral Presentation
Shannon GLEESON, Cornell University, USA
The election of Donald Trump has ushered in a new era of brash racism and xenophobia, marked by declarations of Mexicans as murderers and rapists, calls to build a wall on the Southern border and ramp up deportation efforts, and most recently the pardoning of convicted criminal sheriff Joe Arpaio, who terrorized Latino communities in Arizona for over two decades. This has prompted a wave of strategic responses from immigrant rights groups and their allies. Organized labor, which has had a complex legacy concerning immigrant rights, has often found itself vacillating between complete co-optation and radical resistance. This paper looks at the official responses of the AFL-CIO and the largest labor unions to the Trump administration’s attack on immigrant labor. To do so, we examine the press releases issued by the ten largest labor organizations and public statements by union officials in leading newsprint over an 18 month period: from March 1, 2016 (right before the start of the Republican presidential primary) to September 1, 2017 (10 months following Trump’s presidential victory). In this analysis we analyze three key components: 1) Which are the leading unions championing immigrant rights?, 2) How do these rights narratives frame and justify immigrant rights?, and 3) To what extent are union responses to restrictionist policies in Washington D.C. and elsewhere advancing an explicitly intersectional platform that declares solidarity with Black, Muslim and LGBT workers, for example. In addition, this analysis will assess moments of seeming co-optation by leading labor organizations who have courted favor with the Trump administration, and document resistance from factions of members who reject such instrumental alliances. We end by considering what the Trump administration has meant for the emerging platform of immigrant rights within organized labor, less than two decades since the AFL-CIO reversed its own explicitly anti-immigrant platform.