December 28, 2007

This article in the LA Times about the competition in Georgia between Latino immigrants and local blacks all scrambling for day labor, though not surprising, is still worth reading.

"The unregulated labor market runs on familiar principles. Jobs tend to go to low bidders, to workers with valued skills and to workers who are hungry enough to get to the trucks first. But racial stereotypes also exert an influence. Everyone agrees that it's better to be brown than to be black.

Jose Diaz, 38, an illegal immigrant from Michoacan, Mexico, said he regularly saw employers shun African American workers. "They don't want to pick them up because they don't like to work," he said.

"It's 100% true that we work harder than they do," said Victor Reyes, 45, an illegal immigrant from Guatemala, confident that his comments in Spanish would go unnoticed by the black workers within earshot....

Watching the proceedings but declining to participate was a 57-year-old black man who called himself Jack Smith -- a necessary pseudonym, he said, because he was in violation of his parole. Since his release from state prison in January, Smith had worked off and on renovating houses for a small-scale developer, but he said his record tended to scare off many employers. For the last six months he had been out on the corner with a bag full of tools, extra socks, cigarettes and toilet paper.

Unlike many of the other workers, Smith refused to chase the trucks. He preferred to wait for an employer to seek him out -- although on slow days he would hail the odd truck passing on the street.

"If it was meant for me to have," he said, "God's going to bring it to me."

Trust in providence was not the only thing holding Smith back. He said it also seemed like a bad idea to run toward a stranger's vehicle with a pack of black men in the Deep South. "You get 12 to 14 black guys running up on a car," he said, "some white lady in there is going to be panicked."

Other black workers have devised rules to help them find work -- or simply survive. Steve Jackson, 27, said he always tried to keep his hands in his pockets. Taking them in and out might cause police to suspect he was a drug dealer. The headquarters of the Atlanta Police Department, he noted, is just across the street.

Hiram Evans, 44, said it was important to speak politely and carefully to employers.

"If you talk all alley -- if you can't talk right -- if your vocabulary messed up, they'll probably be like, 'Oh, he's been to prison,' " he said."

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