• One Rise, One Fall: Labor Organizing in New York's Asian Communities, 1970s to the Present

      Simon, Bryant; Bruggeman, Seth C., 1975-; Neptune, Harvey R., 1970-; Thompson, Heather Ann, 1963-; Wu, Judy Tzu-Chun (Temple University. Libraries, 2020)
      The mid-1970s was a turning point in the history of New York’s Asian/American communities. As the city stood on the brink of economic collapse, the broader labor movement’s membership declined, but many Asian/American New Yorkers demonstrated their labor activism in worker centers, grassroots organizations, as well as unions. This was also a moment, as the Cold War waned, when tens of thousands of Asian migrants resettled in New York City. With the influx of migrants in a tightening economy, the nature of the city’s workforce changed, adding to the growing labor surplus, just as work was disappearing. My dissertation titled “One Rise, One Fall: Labor Organizing in New York’s Asian Communities, 1970s to the Present,” is a study of labor activists’ strategies to deal with the economic crisis and reconcile their racial difference. Through oral histories and archival research, my dissertation bridges the fields of Asian American Studies, urban studies, and labor history. While historians have examined the intense economic transformations of the 1970s, noting the changes in the labor market and decline in trade unionism, few have examined the varied attempts to organize durable unions and labor organizations in this period. My dissertation contributes a class analysis to the literature on racial formation, examining the strategies of New York’s Asian communities in harsh economic times. Dominant discourses about race and class, like yellow peril and model minority narratives, became a barrier for Asian/American labor activists looking to build worker power and remake their city. In some instances, Asian/American workers were perceived as dangerous foreigners who were taking white working-class jobs, and in other contexts, they were docile and deserving subjects in contrast to black and brown Americans. These two poles – of yellow peril and model minority narratives – informed Asian/American labor mobilizations. This study examines how race and class were inextricably intertwined, affecting modes of labor organizing in every industry. Opening with a study of Asian/American building tradesmen and their fight for jobs in the mid-1970s, “One Rise, One Fall” examines the multiple strategies that Asian/American workers deployed in order to cope with economic changes and racial discrimination. In my study, Asian/American organizers struggled to organize new immigrants in the Chinese restaurant industry in the 1980s, and rank-and-file garment workers fought for fair piece rates despite the logics of a global supply chain in the 2000s. Each chapter is a case study of organizing strategies in midst of Asian/American laborers’ varied circumstances of citizenship, race, class, and gender. As labor organizing became increasingly difficult in an era of increased migrations, weakened labor laws, and globalized production, labor mobilizations in Asian communities occurred in and outside of unions. My research reveals the capacity and creativity of labor activism in grassroots organizations, worker centers, and labor unions, since the 1970s. Through this case-study approach, my dissertation analyzes the experiences of organizers and workers, in order to investigate how Asian/Americans navigated the politics of work, difference, and the radical restructuring of the urban-based global economy.