Social Movements

Andrea Silva
Graduate student, political science, UCR

Political participation has been justified as a way to mitigate social and economic inequalities (Verba and Nie, 1987). Social movements will enjoy better chances to gain entrance to the political decision-making process, if the political system provides a sufficient number of opportunities for oppositional activities (Tarrow 1996, 54). Cultural variables also influence the viability of a social movement (Gamson 1995; Mansbridge and Morris 2001).

This review moves away from general discussion of social mobilization (See Tarrow 1996, Edelson 2001, Giugni, McAdam and Tilly 1999, Castells 1985), focusing instead on the participation of immigrants in these movements. In addition to labor movements, immigrants have also mobilized to increase their civil, political, and social rights. Marshall’s understanding of “social rights” (Klausen 1995) as a “modicum” of economic protection, but more, the right to share in the social heritage and life standards prevalent in society. These rights are connected to the education system and social services (Marshall 1973, 66).

Immigrants and organized labor movements
At the turn of the 20th century, immigrants arriving from Europe met cold receptions from “natives,” but found employment opportunities in large industrial enterprises, leading to a congregation in urban centers. The mobilization of immigrants became integral in the labor movements in the nineteenth century as the increase in European immigrants offered leverage for an increase in wages and working conditions (Tichenor and Heyman 2007) Irish immigrants became highly organized following their settlement in the industrial centers of the Northeast. Labors movements grew with Irish-American labor leaders Terence Powderly, Grand Master Workman of the Knights of Labor, one of the many immigrant-focused harbingers of the American Federation of Labor. These organizations were a novel blend of labor movements and immigrant mobilization, as well as the inclusion of women and African-Americans (Forbath 1991, Walker 1991, Clauson and Clauson 2000). Additionally, different immigrant communities created their own labor unions, responding to AFL support for restricted immigration in the United States at the end of the nineteenth century (Foner 1974, Sorrentino and Krase 2000, Min 2002).

This rift between organized labor and the immigrant community is rich in academic research as scholars investigate the allegation of organized labor against immigrants who undermine wages and break union strikes (Horowitch 1912, Moreno 2006, 296, Taft 1964, Powell 2005, 173, Cherry 2003, Hollifield 1992). Although this rift exists today, actions to incorporate migrants in labor movements was occurring as early as the Second World War. The Bracero program of the 1940s brought migrant workers to the United States from México and the Filipines to fill the labor shortage left by the war. These migrants integrated into a larger struggle for farm workers’ rights on the west coast, later coalesced into the United Farmworkers (Acuña 2007, Griswold del Castillo and Garcia 1997, Shaw 2008, Berberoglu 2002).

The UFW has since expanded its advocacy to include rights for undocumented immigrants in the workforce (Akers Chacón, Davis and Cardona 2006, Aquino and Goizueta 1998, Wong 2006). Some argue a “revitalization” of immigrant labor organizing has taken place since the 1990s, specifically in urban centers like Los Angeles, Chicago and New York City (Milkman 2006, Wong and Shadduck-Hernández 2008, Acuña 2008, Abu-Lughod 1999), in some cases specifically emerging out of religious movements (Hondagneu-Sotelo 2008, Snow, Soule and Kriesi 2004, Jasper 1999, McAdam, McCarthy and Zald 1996).

Immigrants and Social Movements
The mélange between the labor movement and immigrant mobilization is one example a greater immigrant movements to further their social incorporation into American society. In addition to rights at the workplace, immigrants have mobilized to increase their sphere of influence to the civil, political, and social. The distinction in the United States between undocumented immigrants, naturalized citizens, and legal permanent residents creates another variable in understanding immigrant mobilization.

Scholars argue a link between the treatment of immigrants and mobilization of underrepresented citizens asserting their civil rights in the United States (Johnson 2004, Bardes, Shelley and Schmidt 2008), framing the struggle for immigrant rights as another struggle for civil rights (Dodd and Thomas 1999). The scope of immigrants’ participating has also expanded in light of September 11th, as Muslim Americans as well as other immigrants from the Middle East attempt to assert themselves against a cultural backlash from “native” Americans (O’Brien and Newman 2009).

Political participation by immigrants is limited in the united state because of a new institutional precedent barring non-citizens, however, before the 20th century, many states allowed some level of immigrant suffrage (Keyssar 2001, Rosenberg 1977). Mobilization for immigrant political participation has found some creative outlets, including the mobilization through family and naturalized citizens (Warner 2009).

Social rights, as defined the right to share in the social heritage and life standards prevalent in society. In 2006, the marches for comprehensive immigration reform were in part, an assertion of these rights (Oboler 2006, Tichenor 2009).


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