ABOUT THIS BOOK
Jorge Bonilla is hospitalized with pneumonia from sleeping at the restaurant where he works, unable to afford rent on wages of thirty cents an hour. Domestic worker Yanira Juarez discovers she has labored for six months with no wages at all; her employer lied about establishing a savings account for her. We live in an era of the sweatshop reborn.
In 1992 Jennifer Gordon founded the Workplace Project to help immigrant workers in the underground suburban economy of Long Island, New York. In a story of gritty determination and surprising hope, she weaves together Latino immigrant life and legal activism to tell the unexpected tale of how the most vulnerable workers in society came together to demand fair wages, safe working conditions, and respect from employers. Immigrant workers--many undocumented--won a series of remarkable victories, including a raise of thirty percent for day laborers and a domestic workers' bill of rights. In the process, they transformed themselves into effective political participants.
Gordon neither ignores the obstacles faced by such grassroots organizations nor underestimates their very real potential for fundamental change. This revelatory work challenges widely held beliefs about the powerlessness of immigrant workers, what a union should be, and what constitutes effective lawyering. It opens up exciting new possibilities for labor organizing, community building, participatory democracy, legal strategies, and social justice.
A genuinely outstanding book. There is no better account of the dilemmas and potentialities of organizing and lawyering on behalf of poor immigrant workers in today's America. Many people extol 'participatory democracy' and call for building labor and community organizations from the bottom up. But we have few richly detailed descriptions about the actual creation and operation of such an organization, fewer still by a brilliantly reflective participant observer, and none by an author with Gordon's gifts as storyteller and analyst. Brimming with both practical and theoretical insights, Suburban Sweatshops will be widely read.
-- William E. Forbath, University of Texas Law School
Suburban Sweatshops tackles a tough and timely topic, offers a fascinating narrative, and, most impressive, combines memoir, organizational case study, and a broad analysis of current trends in labor organizing to make a compelling case for how to do things differently. Readers will be drawn to the book for its focus on two issues of broad public concern: the place of recent immigrants in America's workforce and the prospects for a renewed labor movement. Powerfully argued and engagingly written, this is a real contribution.
-- Francesca Polletta, Columbia University
This is a superb book. Gordon is self-critical without being defeatist or cynical, optimistic without being unrealistic or self-deceiving. She combines story and theory in a seamless web. And she writes beautifully.
-- Richard Abel, UCLA School of Law
An inspirational book, Suburban Sweatshops exposes the hidden underbelly of immigrant life in modern-day America, but nonetheless leaves one with a sense of hope. Gordon's passion for her work shines through on these pages, making it a must read for anyone laboring on the side of justice.
-- Anthony D. Romero, Executive Director, American Civil Liberties Union
Suburban Sweatshops is a case study in what happens when courage and solidarity come up against against greed and indifference. I came away from it with great respect, not only for the sweatshop workers whose story it is, but for Jennifer Gordon, who emerges as a brilliant and admirably modest role model for young professionals with a conscience.
-- Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America
Jennifer Gordon's Suburban Sweatshops is a beautifully written, uplifting story where good--in the form of resourceful and creative advocacy involving thousands of immigrants--occasionally triumphs over the evils of a grim underground economy. In lucid prose, Gordon shows how immigrant workers courageously fought to build paths to democracy. At the same time, she offers intriguing new approaches for lawyers and organizers in the struggle for social justice.
-- Lani Guinier, co-author of The Miner's Canary: Enlisting Race, Resisting Power, Transforming Democracy
In this compelling book, Gordon combines the harrowing stories of individuals with a broad perspective on suburban economics to create a vivid analysis of immigrant labor in America...Her unflinching study raises questions about the future of immigrant rights and the causes behind the 'disturbing renaissance of sweatshop work.'
-- Publishers Weekly
[An] important new book...Suburban Sweatshops is a self-reflective insider's account of Gordon's efforts--and of how difficult marrying law and organizing proved to be.
-- Scott Cummings and Ingrid Eagly Legal Affairs
[Gordon's] book is a sobering, informative, and inspiring look at the achievements of the Workplace Project, a Long Island workers' center that is one of the many organizations devoted to organizing poor workers around the United States.
-- Virginia Harabin International Socialist Review
Gordon presents an enlightening, uplifting book that can also serve as a manual for immigrant rights activists. In an inspired use of "sweatshop" as metaphor for suburban employers of undocumented immigrant workers who, like their manufacturing counterparts, flagrantly violate minimum wage, health, and safety standards, Gordon calls attention to the plight of the millions of undocumented workers.
-- E. Hu-DeHart Choice
The author tells a detailed story of her involvement in the Workplace Project and the struggle to get the Republican-controlled New York state legislature and Republican Governor to pass the Unpaid Wages Prohibition Act in 1997...This is an important book in many ways. It provides a highly personal perspective on the issue of exploitation of foreign-born low-wage service workers in the United States. At the same time, because the author is not a foreign-born low-wage service worker, she is able to maintain an appropriate detachment to produce an insightful and rich discourse.
-- Sharon M. Lee Ethnic and Racial Studies