Building workers power and solidarity among precarious migrant workers. The case of indie unions in London.

In a contemporary renationalising Europe migrant workers find themselves increasingly in vulnerable positions characterized by multiple and intersecting forms of precarity - economic, legal, social and political. This goes hand in hand with growing anti-immigration discourses calling to put ‘native’ workers first. In terms of representation, migrant workers tend to be overlooked by mainstream unions which privilege native citizens in ‘secure’ employment. This paper focuses on the emerging phenomenon of British indie unions - independent grassroots unions co-led by migrant workers in London. This paper documents the appeal that these unions provide to precarious migrant workers as well as their remarkable successes despite the lack of material resources and the presence of a hostile environment. In so doing, it documents the grassroots practices through which increasingly marginal subjects confront exclusionary forms of citizenship and aquire new rights (economic, social and cultural). The paper draws on an intersectional actors-centred approach based on extensive multi-sited ethnographic fieldwork with three new migrant-led unions in London (UVW, IWGB, CAIWU). In particular, the paper documents what these new unions provide to invisibilised, isolated, disempowered and unorganized workers that helps transforming them into ‘communities of struggle’ capable of successfully taking on much more powerful counterparts (e.g. the contractors for whom they often work, their client organizations and sometimes even mainstream unions).
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