As the debate over immigration reform continues in Washington, the victory of one group of mostly unauthorized workers is now in the national spotlight — demonstrating a direct-action path that unauthorized workers across the country could adopt to win rights both at work and in broader society.
Robin Blotnick and Rachel Lears’ film “The Hand that Feeds” — featured today in the New York Times Op-Docs series — chronicles the year-long struggle of Mahoma López and his co-workers at Hot and Crusty, a bakery on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.
After years of working in unsafe conditions, without overtime or benefits and with paychecks regularly withheld, more than a dozen workers decided enough was enough. They began attending the Occupy Wall Street immigrant worker justice working group, linked up with a newly formed labor association called the Laundry Workers’ Center and filed paperwork with the National Labor Relations Board to form an independent union. But the corporate-owned bakery wasn’t interested in immigrant workers with rights, and the NLRB filing set off an explosive, and ultimately successful, series of pickets, marches, lockouts, workplace takeover and even a worker-run sidewalk café launched on Labor Day.
As Rachel Lears explained in the Times, this struggle extends far beyond Manhattan — or even the low-wage labor movement.
“It’s time we admit it: America runs on the labor of the undocumented,” she wrote. “Their struggle for rights, inside and outside the workplace, is an inseparable part of our democratic project.”
Check out the New York Times Op-Doc video and the film’s site.