As the debate over immigration reform continues in Washington, the victory of one group of mostly unauthorized workers is now in the national spotlight — demonstrating a direct-action path that unauthorized workers across the country could adopt to win rights both at work and in broader society.
Robin Blotnick and Rachel Lears’ film “The Hand that Feeds” — featured today in the New York Times Op-Docs series — chronicles the year-long struggle of Mahoma López and his co-workers at Hot and Crusty, a bakery on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.
After years of working in unsafe conditions, without overtime or benefits and with paychecks regularly withheld, more than a dozen workers decided enough was enough. They began attending the Occupy Wall Street immigrant worker justice working group, linked up with a newly formed labor association called the Laundry Workers’ Center and filed paperwork with the National Labor Relations Board to form an independent union. But the corporate-owned bakery wasn’t interested in immigrant workers with rights, and the NLRB filing set off an explosive, and ultimately successful, series of pickets, marches, lockouts, workplace takeover and even a worker-run sidewalk café launched on Labor Day.
As Rachel Lears explained in the Times, this struggle extends far beyond Manhattan — or even the low-wage labor movement.
“It’s time we admit it: America runs on the labor of the undocumented,” she wrote. “Their struggle for rights, inside and outside the workplace, is an inseparable part of our democratic project.”
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