From the Margins of Invisibility to the Forefront: Day Laborers to Hold National Convention at UCLA

This week at UCLA, more than 200 day laborers from across the country will come together for the eighth national convention of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network. They will gather to share experiences and struggles, celebrate victories, and continue the development of national and local strategies.
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"Day laborers refuse to be objectified by those who exploit them and their circumstances. Americans need to see day laborers standing on street corners not just as workers or as immigrants but also as parents, grandmothers, sons or daughters, as artists and songwriters, and most of all, as human beings." -- Pablo Alvarado, NDLON Executive Director

This week at UCLA, more than 200 day laborers from across the country will come together for the eighth national convention of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON) ( They will gather to share experiences and struggles, celebrate victories, and continue the development of national and local strategies. To understand the significance of this event, one needs to understand the how the fight for the day laborers' rights has become a battleground in the national debate on immigration.

During the mid-1990s, the city of Agoura Hills in Southern California became the hallmark of the conditions day laborers faced throughout the country. The city enacted an ordinance, upheld in state court, prohibiting day laborers from soliciting work in public areas. Sheriff's deputies engaged in a vicious campaign to drive day laborers and anyone profiled as a day laborer away from the city. They harassed, chased, arrested, and ticketed day laborers just for being present in the city -- for waiting for buses, walking down the street, even visiting fast food places. These actions culminated in the local perception of day laborers as a burden and a public nuisance disrupting normal patterns of business, traffic, and pedestrian interchange. Day laborers became the target of state-sponsored repression, placing them at the forefront of the broader movement to criminalize immigrants.

From out of this repression, a movement emerged led mainly by day laborer leaders and organizers, mostly from Central America. Deeply rooted in the pedagogy of Brazilian popular educator Paulo Freire, these organizers worked to raise the consciousness of day laborers to become more aware of how their experiences were connected to broader sociopolitical forces. Through popular education, day laborers developed leadership skills to transform their reality.

In August 2001, after a year of strategy meetings, a group of day laborer organizers from around the country realized the potential of creating a national network that would forge an agenda to promote and protect the rights of day laborers. The first ever historic gathering of more than 200 day laborers and their allies resulted in the founding of NDLON. Priorities for the nascent network included protecting the labor and civil rights of day laborers, enhancing the organizing of day laborers, and calling for a humane and inclusive legalization program.

Dirigente popular ("popular leader") is a popular education concept that has great meaning for NDLON member organizations. The term connotes an organic leadership, embodied both individually and collectively, that embraces democratic principles to enable participants to take control of their lives. A dirigente popular is committed to creating new leaders. This is the model of leadership promoted by NDLON over the years, and it has created a generation of day laborer leaders who continue to humanize the immigrant rights movement.

As the immigration debate has unfolded in recent years, NDLON has had to maintain a high profile in Washington, D.C., to fight anti-day-laborer provisions in immigration reform proposals. NDLON's work with national immigrant rights organizations in D.C. and its historic 2006 partnership agreement with the AFL-CIO ( have been instrumental in ensuring that the rights of day laborers will be included in any proposal for comprehensive immigration reform. NDLON took the leading role in taking on Joe Arpaio and Arizona's SB 1070. They were a leading organization to challenge the President's Secure Communities Program that connects immigration enforcement with local law enforcement. In California, NDLON was a leader in the coalition to pass the TRUST Act, which curtails the scope of the Secure Communities Program and provides restrictions on issuing ICE holds.

In the process of litigating for the First Amendment rights of day laborers, organizers and legal advocates created innovative legal and organizing strategies that created a strong synergy between lawyers and worker leaders. The maturity of day laborer organizing, and NDLON's ability to combine grassroots efforts with policy advocacy to protect migrant and worker rights, enabled day laborers to work at the forefront with Dream activist groups and other grassroots organizations to spearhead the Not1More Campaign ( This campaign has resulted in a strong, nonviolent, grassroots movement to stop President Obama's deportation machine that has resulted in over 2 million deportations and the tragic separation of countless families.

The courage to stand up to the powerful stakeholders opposing the immigrant rights agenda, and to become a nuisance to them, in order to win political equality has been the strength of the day laborer movement. NDLON members fight for day laborers to be citizens of their community, and NDLON has fought to have immigrant-led voices at the table for administrative relief. As President Obama decides on his historic decision regarding the future of deportations, NDLON members will be convening to decide their plans for the coming year. Tune in to see what comes next.

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