Feeding the Fight: Organising Across Ethnic Boundaries Among Street Vendors in New York

Osborne, Andrew. 2024. Feeding the Fight: Organising Across Ethnic Boundaries Among Street Vendors in New York. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

This thesis explores how multiethnic organising is conducted at the New York-based worker centre Street Vendor Project (SVP) which for nearly two decades has organised across multiple ethnic boundaries among a highly diverse workforce. To date, US worker centres have successfully won rights for immigrant workers by organising in casual labor markets segmented by race, gender and ethnicity. Historically, these gains were mostly achieved through monoethnic organisation, an advocacy-led approach that leverages immigrant identity to win legislative reform, yet such approaches have been known to limit organisational capacity in multiethnic sectors and in response, this study seeks to evaluate the collective potential for multiethnic organising at SVP.

Accordingly, this inquiry asks two principal questions: (i) does multiethnic organising at SVP enhance political participation; and (ii) can such organising increase the collective power of the project’s vendor members in their fight for recognition. Legislative informality and administrative harassment have until now disrupted SVP’s ongoing efforts to build solidarity among the vendors, and while diversity at the project is a strength to be celebrated, it is also an organisational limit that needs to be overcome.

Since 1983, New York has operated a hard cap on the issuance of new vending licences, which in turn has created an illegal market for permits. As a result, reform of the permit system has been the most generalisable of legislative issues around which to engage the project’s diverse membership. Over time, however, this appeal has underperformed in terms of sustaining participation and therefore, this inquiry attempts to contrast SVP’s major campaign to Lift the Caps with a discrete subset of social reproduction issues specifically affecting Latina vendors, and whose primary concerns, until recently, were not considered to be directly vending-related. Yet by conducting intensive and emotional work within the newly formed Women’s Committee, SVP has enabled this vulnerable section of the membership to address important social reproduction issues, building strong intersubjective commitments among the women, while also providing a solid participatory foundation that SVP can build upon.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

Identification Number (DOI):



Street Vending, Worker Centres, Immigration, Gender Roles, Informal Labour, Organising, Trade Unions, Sociology, Ethnography, Labour Studies, Workers' Inquiry

Departments, Centres and Research Units:



29 February 2024

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

08 Apr 2024 10:57

Last Modified:

08 Apr 2024 12:02



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