Laura Y. Liu is Associate Professor of Urban Studies at Eugene Lang College, The New School for Liberal Arts. Her ongoing research project, Sweatshop City, examines the urban geography of migration, industry, and neighborhood change in New York City. The contemporary global city is a “sweatshop city,” dominated by a spatial hierarchy of work that is unevenly visible and intentionally obscures relations of power and accountability. Based on ethnographic fieldwork on immigrant community organizing at workers’ centers in New York City, the study demonstrates the extent to which sweatshop labor – hyper-exploitative work performed in highly segmented and segregated labor markets embedded within structures of subcontracting – remains a constitutive feature of New York City’s urban economy.
In her paper for the GIDEST seminar, Laura examines how immigrant labor organizers deploy the sweatshop not only as a set of conditions around which they organize, but also as an organizing analytic. Rather than representing conditions of the past, or of outsourced labor “elsewhere,” the sweatshop has current significance across a range of urban industries, from existing and new spaces of manufacturing, to the locally fixed sectors and spaces of the “service sweatshop.”