On street corners throughout the country, men stand or sit together patiently while they wait for someone looking to hire un buen trabajador (a good worker). These day laborers are visible symbols of the changing nature of work—and the demographics of workers—in the United States.
Carolyn Pinedo-Turnovsky spent nearly three years visiting with African American men and Latino immigrant men who looked for work as day laborers at a Brooklyn street intersection. Her fascinating ethnography, Daily Labors, considers these immigrants and citizens as active participants in their social and economic life. They not only work for wages but also labor daily to institute change, create knowledge, and contribute new meanings to shape their social world.
Daily Labors reveals how ideologies about race, gender, nation, and legal status operate on the corner and the vulnerabilities, discrimination, and exploitation workers face in this labor market. Pinedo-Turnovsky shows how workers market themselves to conform to employers’ preconceptions of a “good worker” and how this performance paradoxically leads to a more precarious workplace experience. Ultimately, she sheds light on belonging, community, and what a “good day laborer” for these workers really is.