Toward a new countermovement: a framework for interpreting the contradictory interventions of migrant civil society organizations in urban labor markets
Low-wage migrant workers in the United States confront a perilous labor market, where wages are low, the risk of injury on the job is high, and the fear of apprehension by immigration authorities is widespread. There is increasing empirical evidence that civil society organizations are becoming involved in mediating labor-market problems, but work remains to be done in developing a robust theoretical conception of why such organizations are involved in this arena and how we might evaluate the impacts of their interventions. This paper presents a framework for interpreting the role of migrant civil society organizations as labor-market intermediaries, by extending Karl Polanyi’s theory of the ‘double movement’ and more recent writing to neoliberalism and precarious work. On the basis of data collected from migrant nonprofit organizations in Chicago, I theorize migrant civil society organizations as part of the creation of a new countermovement that protects the interests of both workers and employers from the destructive nature of an unregulated labor market, as predicted by Polanyi. I catalogue organizations’ responses to precarious work and create a generalizable framework for evaluating the contingent outcomes of their strategies. Organizations’ work is interpreted as complex and sometimes contradictory: the potential to shield workers and advocate for progressive change is in constant tension with the neoliberal patterns of state and economic restructuring that such organizations can support.
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