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Dr. Paul Apostolidis Combines Political Theory with the Reality Facing Migrant Day Laborers

The Center for Research on Families was excited to host Dr. Paul Apostolidis as the final Tay Gavin Erickson lecture of the semester. He presented his research on the employment struggles of migrant workers in a presentation entitled, “Migrant Day Laborers, Neoliberalism, and the Struggle for Time.” Apostolidis is a Professor and the T. Paul Chair of Political Science at Whitman College in Washington and has been conducting field work in Seattle and Portland to gain insight into the lives of migrant laborers.

Prof. Apostolidis is studying political orientations and working conditions among Latin American migrant day laborers in US cities. This project is based on collaborative research with the CASA Latina (Seattle) and VOZ (Portland) workers' centers. He discussed how neoliberalism affects migrant day laborers who are constantly looking for temporary work to support themselves and their families. By speaking with more than 80 day laborers at workers centers in the northwest, he found that these immigrants often have a discontinuous, fragmented, and even bipolar sense of time. They spend hours or even days waiting at the worker center or on the street corner hoping to get picked up for a job, and that is contrasted with the intense physical labor and long hours that they work when they are picked up by an employer.

This struggle for time is perpetuated by the neoliberal and American ideal that work is our highest calling and that we must be productive around the clock in order to effectively do our jobs. Many day laborers feel this pressure, but they are forced to wait without work for long periods of time and this often creates a great sense of internal conflict for the workers. Worker centers strive to help day laborers by organizing a lottery system for workers to get selected for jobs, providing English classes, and creating a political forum where workers can have their voices heard. Although the challenges of day laborers still persist.

He asks the question, “What can we learn about the current global crisis of capitalism and the prospects for opposing neoliberalism by viewing the crisis from the vantage point of day laborers?” This project engages the work of Moishe Postone, David Harvey, and Dipesh Chakrabarty to theorize the aspects of time, space, and race (respectively) for migrant day labor in the midst of world economic crisis and US neo-nativism.

 Professor Apostolidis's most recent book, Breaks in the Chain: What Immigrant Workers Can Teach America About Democracy, was     published in Fall 2010 by the University of Minnesota Press. The book explores how immigrant workers’ stories about their life experiences yield novel conceptions of racial and class domination and enable opposition to these power-formations