Date of Award

2013

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

South Asia Regional Studies

First Advisor

Kathleen D. Hall

Abstract

This dissertation examines the political engagement and occupational struggles of South Asian immigrant taxi workers in an American metropolis, and their participation in a taxi workers alliance. Contrary to popular understandings of South Asian immigrants as a model minority --- politically passive and economically successful professionals --- these South Asian immigrant taxi workers often struggle to make ends meet, and are actively involved in both leadership positions of their workers alliance as well as the rank and file. Further, their political engagements and their creative strategies to survive, maximize income, and achieve upward mobility show how poorer immigrants in non-professional occupations cannot be viewed simplistically as victims of structural exploitation. Using primary data (interviews with stakeholders in the taxicab industry) and secondary data (legislative records, Census data, newspaper archives), this study explores if, how and why immigrant workers chose to participate in this political mobilization. It recognizes three important factors that enabled the successful mobilization of this occupational group. Firstly, immigrant organizers used their social networks and ethnic ties to influence immigrant drivers' decisions to participate in alliance activities; these ties variously enabled and constrained their participation. Secondly, non-profit organizations assisted the fledgling alliance with logistics and strategizing. Thirdly, national unions have been growing more receptive to nontraditional labor organizing, and provided institutional support to taxi worker organizations across cities in the United States.

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