Worker centres, cities and grassroots regulation of the labour marketedit
Working conditions have deteriorated for low-wage workers throughout the Global North. In the United States in particular, employers have relative impunity to not pay minimum wage, not pay accrued overtime wages, or in extreme cases, simply refuse to pay low-wage workers at all. This loss of income creates obstacles for achieving broad-based local economic development. A number of cities in the United States have attempted to reregulate the low-wage labour market. This article draws on the experiences of Arise-Chicago Worker Center and argues that while cities face significant constraints on their abilities to engage in proactive regulation of the low-wage labour market, progressive possibilities for re-regulating the low-wage labour market and improving the possibilities of broad-based economic development may come from the combination of the agency of low-wage workers and their organizations and creative use of municipal land use, business licencing and other extant regulatory powers. Worker centres like Arise-Chicago employ a hybrid strategy relying partially on direct actions led by aggrieved workers and the threats of regulatory action to shift power in the low-wage labour market to the benefit of its low-wage, largely undocumented immigrant worker constituency. This article focuses on the centre’s evolving use of the regulatory powers of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to support its direct action organizing campaigns.