Human Rights and Migrant Labor Struggles in the Era of Deportation: Novel Approaches to Organizing in the Case of Migrant Justice

Authors: Jacob Chamberlain*, Clark University
Topics: Migration, Social Theory, Human Rights
Keywords: autonomy, critical theory, human rights, migration, labor geography, critical border studies
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/6/2019
Start / End Time: 5:00 PM / 6:40 PM
Room: Virginia A, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In 2017, the group Migrant Justice—an organization led by migrant dairy farm workers in Vermont, U.S.A.—won a successful labor rights campaign against the corporation Ben and Jerry’s. Since 2009, Migrant Justice has grown from a few self-organized migrant workers into a statewide labor rights organization that appeals specifically to international human rights. Labor activists and organizers within migrant communities are faced with unprecedented levels of surveillance, targeting, detention and deportation in the current political context in the U.S. Because of this, new forms of organizing for labor rights are occurring. While undocumented laborers cannot make political or legal claims to a violent state-based legal system that currently affords them no rights, these actors are essentially de-bordering their political claims by scaling up and out to notions of international human rights—calling upon novel intersections between labor and human rights geographies. While current human rights law provides no protections for economic migrants, these actions challenge international rights frameworks by introducing labor rights into the mix. By making these claims, and successfully altering the political landscape for labor rights in Vermont, Migrant Justice is accomplishing several tasks: expanding notions of human rights in a successful campaign to mitigate labor issues, transcending violent border politics by autonomously organizing for better conditions beyond state mechanisms, and expanding the category of citizenship by making claims, and affecting political, social and economic change in a policy landscape that is often perceived to render residents without birthright as without political voice, power or agency.

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