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Labor Union Participation Helps Latino Immigrants Overcome Barriers to Civic Engagement

photo by 32BJ  via flickr.com

We recently came across a USC Dornsife study that has revealed a connection between experience in labor unions and the tendency toward civic participation among Latino immigrants in the United States. The study suggests that labor union participation contributes to the political incorporation of Latino immigrant parents by helping them overcome barriers to civic participation that are related to their class and immigrant backgrounds.

In the study, supported by the University of California Labor and Employment Research Fund and the John Randolph Haynes and Dora Haynes Foundation,  sociologists interviewed and surveyed parents who were in labor unions and compared their civic participation to that of nonunion parents. Union participants claimed that their experience gave them the confidence and skills to not only voice their opinions but also work with others in multiple settings. It was found that union participants are  more likely to resolve issues that affect their family and immediate community and that the experience helped them learn how to stand up for themselves.

Above all, formal organizations provide members with a way to articulate their concerns and work in partnership with others to address common goals, enabling them to cultivate a role in public life in the United States. Once involved in civic engagement, immigrants feel empowered to  voice their interests and concerns, help shape policy in their communities, and hold government and other institutions accountable.     

In today’s revitalized American labor movement that involves union members in the organization of campaigns and political activism, study participant testimony brings to light the potential of labor union participation to foster civic engagement in one area that possesses enduring implications for the incorporation of Latino immigrants: their children’s schools.  “Here at the union they teach you how to speak up, talk about what you don’t like. They make you speak up. . .  and that helps you share your point of view when you go to meetings at the school [that your children attend],” said one survey participant.

Participating in the union provided them with relevant experiences that have specifically worked toward community support for such developments as an expansion of the library at their children’s middle school and the prompting of school administrators to be more attentive to parents’ school safety concerns. 

Terriquez referred to working-class voluntary associations serving as “schools for democracy” since they assist in developing the civic capacity of their members.  Specifically, Latino immigrant union participants exhibited confidence and problem-solving, advocacy, and organizing skills, all contributing to help facilitate their new found political engagement in their children’s schools.  

Thus, study findings made it evident that parents’ political engagement helps hold schools accountable for providing an environment where their children can learn.  In this sense, labor union participation may have long-term impacts on immigrant incorporation beyond the benefits of a union contract.  

Read the full study >>


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