Making a Living in the Streets of Los Angeles: An Ethnographic Study of Day Laborers

Daniel Melero Malpica



This article examines the social organization of Latino migrants who openly sell their labor at the street-corner, labor markets in the Los Angeles metropolitan area. In contrast to the characterization of day-labor sites as competitive or unstructured, this study demonstrates that these markets have a variety of structural forms that provide the organizational basis for bringing together prospective employers and seekers of work, the esquineros. Like all other markets, the day-labor market has customs and rules that apply as participants seek efficiency in dealing with each other and with their clients. The rules are unwritten and based largely on practice or precedent, but they govern many aspects of the work relationships, including the wage relationship. This study found that day-labor markets respond less to competition and more to informal work rules and to the role of customary relationships.


Este artículo examina la organización social de migrantes latinos que abiertamente venden su fuerza laboral en los mercados de trabajo de las esquinas del área metropolitana de Los Ángeles. En contraste con la caracterización de los sitios de trabajo de los jornaleros urbanos como competitivos o desestructurados, este estudio demuestra que estos mercados tienen una variedad de formas estructurales que proveen la base organizativa para reunir a empleadores potenciales y a quienes buscan trabajo, los esquineros. Como todos los demás, este mercado de trabajo tiene costumbres y reglas que se aplican cuando los participantes buscan eficiencia en su trato entre ellos y con sus clientes. Estas reglas no están escritas y se basan en gran medida en la práctica y el precedente, pero gobiernan muchos aspectos de las relaciones de trabajo, incluyendo la relación de salario. Este estudio encontró que el mercado de trabajo de los jornaleros urbanos responde menos a la competencia y más a las reglas de trabajo informal y al papel de las relaciones de costumbre.

Keywords: international migration; undocumented migration; day laborers; labor markets; Los Angeles

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