I am Humberto Reynoso-Vallejo, a private consultant on health services research. In a recent study, my colleague Lee Staples (Boston University) and I explored Immigrant Workers Centers (IWCs), community-based organizations that have been developed in the United States to promote and protect workers’ rights through support, services, advocacy, and organizing initiatives. We examined how IWCs in the Eastern part of Massachusetts are structured along twelve dimensions of organizational development and community organizing.
Qualitative research methods were used to identify shared themes as well as their organizational responses to the current anti-immigrant environment. Shared themes included:
a) Prioritizing community organizing for workers’ rights and collective empowerment;
b) Sub-modalities such as education, training and leadership development are a common feature;
c) Individual support is provided within a context that emphasizes the need for collective action to overcome injustice;
d) Health/safety, sexual harassment, discrimination, and various problems associated with wages (underpayment, missed payments, collecting back wages, and lack of overtime pay);
e) IWCs respond to anti-immigrant policies and practices by supporting larger efforts for immigration reformat the municipal, state, and federal levels.
f) Coalitions of IWCs and their allies attempt to make statewide and federal policy changes by using a variety of organizing tactics, including legislative lobbying, media events, rallies, marches, vigils, and a variety of direct actions.
Hot Tip: Consider using community organizing principles that enables collective action, particularly given the increasing number of immigrant workers experiencing growing hostility and deteriorating working conditions. Principles include: building powerful locally-based organizations; systematically recruiting organizational members from the affected community; training leaders from that constituency; identifying specific, “winnable” issues of immediate concern; fixing responsibility on the appropriate institutional decision-makers; and engaging in social action campaigns to pressure decision-makers to meet collective goals by acting in specified manner or by modifying or stopping certain activities.
Hot Tip: These organizations also incorporate principles from the influential Brazilian social theorist and political activist, Paolo Freire, including: an emphasis on the personal development of individual participants; exercising the skills of dialogue to problematize personal/local issues, often through codification that brings salient issues to life through photographs, stories, drama or music; the facilitation of conscientization about the sources of oppression, through “liberation education” and critical pedagogy; participatory praxis, and collective action for transformative change to achieve social justice and collective well-being.
Rules for radicals: A practical primer for realistic radicals by Saul Alinsky (1971).
Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Friere (1970).
Centros de Trabajadores Inmigrantes en el Este deMassachusetts by Humberto Reynoso-Vallejo and Lee Staples (2013).
Roots to power: A Manual for Grassroots Organizing (Second Edition) by Lee Staples (2004).
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