On the corner : gender, race, and the making of informal day labor markets in New York City and San Francisco

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This dissertation is an ethnographic exploration of Latin American migrant women who engage in day-wage labor in two distinct organizational settings: an informal street-corner market located in Brooklyn, New York and a worker center in San Francisco's Mission District. Based on sixteen months of fieldwork consisting of interviews and participant observation, my research follows these women's daily search for casual employment and their ongoing negotiations and contestations with state and non-state actors who seek to visibilize their social, structural, and sexual vulnerabilities. More specifically, this dissertation seeks to provide insight into how and why Latin American migrant women turn to this form of self employment over other types of low-wage work, and how day-wage labor can be perceived as favorable, even desirable, by women with limited labor market opportunities. Drawing on the Sociology of Gender, Labor, and Immigration, I incorporate three levels of analysis. At the micro level, I examine Latina day laborers' livelihood strategies and solicitation practices across two day labor organizational settings: an open-air street-corner market in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and a worker center located in San Francisco's Mission District. My findings show that while the Brooklyn corner is one of the few informal open-air day labor markets in the country where women gather to solicit temporary employment, the San Francisco worker center attracts a considerable number of migrant women looking to secure employment through its domestic worker collective in exchange for their activism and labor organizing. On a meso level, I examine how day labor markets have become an especially fertile ground for the enactment of innovative labor organizing strategies, particularly through the emergence of worker centers. My findings highlight how state and non-state actors, in various entanglements, employ different tactics to fashion a particular type of day labor behavior and idealized forms of employment solicitation. At a macro or structural level, I examine the expansion of state apparatuses for immigration regulation, particularly the development of internal governing schemes aimed at policing migrant populations. I situate the creation of worker centers on a continuum of local forms of social control that the state mobilizes to manage “illegal” migrants.