What Immigrant Workers Can Teach Us about Democracy

Danny Postel |

What can immigrant workers teach America about democracy?

On April 18, Interfaith Worker Justice and Arise Chicago teamed up with the political scientistPaul Apostolidis to explore this question at a thought-provoking event for his new bookBreaks in the Chain: What Immigrant Workers Can Teach America about Democracy held at the Harold Washington Library Center.

An audio recording of the event is available here, but it doesn't do justice to the multilayered texture of the presentation, a PowerPoint rich with photograhs and quotations from workers, from advertisements, from social theorists, and other sources. A video will be available soon -- check back for that.

As the publisher's website says of Breaks in the Chain, the book:

investigates the personal life stories of a group of Mexican immigrant meatpackers who are at once typical and extraordinary. After crossing the border clandestinely and navigating the treacherous world of the undocumented, they waged a campaign to democratize their union and their workplace in the most hazardous industry in the United States. ... Examining their personal narratives, Apostolidis recasts our understanding of the ways immigrants construct and transform social power. ... Linking stories of immigration to stories about working on the meat production line--the chain--he reveals the surprising power of activism by immigrant workers and their allies and demonstrates how it can-and should-promote social and political democracy in America.

I was honored to give the introduction at the event. Shelly Ruzicka of Arise Chicago provided a wonderful overview of the work that organization does defending the rights of immigrant workers in the city.

Following the event, Shelly and Gabriela Rivero (Arise Chicago's Worker Center Member Organizer ) and Danny joined Paul for this photo outside the library.Following the event, Shelly and Gabriela Rivero (Arise Chicago's Worker Center Member Organizer ) and I joined Paul for this photo outside the library.

If you'd like to read the book, please consider purchasing it online from theSeminary Co-Operative Bookstore, one of the event's co-sponsors, by goinghere. It's a compelling and relevant book.

Also check out Paul's recent blog post "Working conditions, the battle at Tyson, and the Wisconsin moment".