On 1 April 2005, around 100 people occupied the office of the International Organisation for Migration in Paris, in protest at the oppression of migrants and against ‘Fortress Europe’ (Noborder 2005). This was just one of many demonstrations, part of the second European Day of Action for the Freedom of Movement and Right to Stay, which saw anti-capitalist networks, faith associations, migrant support groups, organisations for asylum seekers and refugees, and anti-racist groups demonstrate in cities across the continent. One of many organisations participating in the 1,000-strong London march on 2 April 2005, as the No border network, which campaigns for ‘freedom of movement, for the freedom for all to stay in the place which they have chosen, against repression and the many controls which multiply the borders everywhere in all countries’ (Noborder URL).
In wealthy industrialised countries, civil society campaigns for open borders have been much less vocal than those lobbying against migration. Typical of the latter is CitizensLobby.com (URL), a US-based grass-roots organisation, which campaigns for stronger border security, revamped immigration controls and the scaling back of guest worker quotas, arguing that migrants, whether legal or illegal, risk Americans’ jobs and threaten national security and ‘traditional values’.
Attitudes towards migration are polarised in sending countries too, with diverse responses by civil society. For many years Mexicans living in the US have maintained links and invested in development projects in their home country via hundreds of hometown associations, a trend that has inspired the Mexican government to facilitate remittance flows through initiatives such as the Programme for Mexican Communities Living Abroad (see Box 4.1). By contrast, civil society in some African countries has been become increasingly alarmed by the exodus of massive numbers of medical staff to countries that can afford to pay higher wages and that offer professional development opportunities. The outflow means that, for example, Ghana has nine doctors for every 100,000 patients. In response, the Ghana Medical Association has lobbied its government to improve conditions of service and professional training in order to encourage doctors and nurses to remain at home (IRIN 2003).
These diverse responses indicate the complex causes and effects of the movement of labour, an increasingly significant feature of globalisation, the extent and impact of which civil society, nation states and institutions of regional and global governance have begun to consider in recent years (Klein Solomon and Bartsch 2003; Aleinikoff 2002).
Globalisation is often thought of in predominantly economic terms – the movement of goods, services and capital around the world – but it also involves other flows, of culture, crime, ideas and people. However, the globalisation of trade and finance has not been matched by the free movement of labour.
This chapter focuses on legal voluntary migration, which involves both skilled and unskilled labour, typically from South to North. Migration can be within national boundaries – rural-urban migration, for example – or across national boundaries. The focus here is on international migration. The chapter explores economists’ argument for the freer movement of labour which, unlike the freer movement capital, has found few champions. Unlike flows of other resources, such as goods and finance, labour migration is not only about economics but encompasses human rights, issues of identity and concerns about security. The post 9/11 context has injected a new dimension into the debate about migration, encouraged the emergence of new civil society groups, polarised political parties, and seen immigration rise on the political agenda in developed countries. This chapter outlines the ways in which these different arguments are represented by organisations and groups within global civil society.
There has been large-scale migration throughout human history. The many forms migration takes comprise rural-urban migration within a country, country-to-country migration and, one must add, some collectivities such as the Roma, who are perennially moving and have no fixed territory. In war-torn countries there are also displaced persons who have been moved involuntarily. Much of the literature and in contemporary politics focuses on inter-country migration and especially migration from the poor countries to the rich countries.
Of course, the very notion of a country with settled borders is a recent one; and, in the past, land-based empires such as the Ottoman or Hapsburg comprised large territories which subsequently broke up into separate countries. What was intra-empire migration then became inter-country migration. To some extent the same was true of maritime empires, but they straddled what we now call the First World and the Third World. All people living in these empires were treated as subjects (the British Empire) or citizens (the French Empire from the Third Republic onwards), and they had the right to move across the empire, although there was a racial distinction between the white and the non-white subjects/citizens despite the rhetoric of equal treatment.
After the First World War, economic migration was much reduced compared with the previous hundred years. Trans-border movements were most often involuntary movements of political refugees displaced by war or persecution. Legal movements of voluntary migrants faced new difficulties. National boundaries became fixed and a system of passports and visas came into being. But since the resurgence of globalisation in the late 20th century, migration has again become a topic of debate.
Migrations in the modern era
In the modern era starting from the Iberian expansion in late 15th century, migrations became much faster and took place over longer distances. There were three waves of such migration:
- The first wave took black slaves from Africa to the Americas from the 16th to mid-19th centuries.
- A second wave took Indian migrants to Africa, south-east Asia and the Americas, especially the Caribbean, and the Chinese to America and Australia, in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
- A third wave took poor white people from Europe to North America and the Antipodes, also in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Of course, there were other migrations; slaves also travelled within Africa and from Africa to Asia. Wars often led to captive populations being displaced over long distances. There was slavery across Asia when slaves travelled within and between countries. Since national boundaries were not yet fixed and sanctioned by international law, the distinction between within-country or between-country migration is a later systemisation of the data we have on human movement. There have also been seasonal migrations: for example, transhumance, where large groups moved back and forth in search of livelihoods every year (Braudel 1972/1996).
The most notable of these migrations were the involuntary slave migrations from Africa to North and South America. Angus Maddison (2001) estimates that between 1500 and 1870 9 million African slaves crossed the Atlantic, the bulk of those going to South America and the Caribbean, and about 400,000 to North America. After slavery was made illegal across the British Empire, the Royal Navy policed the seas to prevent the slave trade, whereupon labour migrations took other forms. Imports of slaves stopped in North America; and, after the American civil war, slaves attained the status of free labourers. Their condition remained one of near servitude, with few rights and opportunities to improve their position. Most of them worked as sharecroppers (see, for example, Blackburn 1997).
In the British territories of South America and the Caribbean islands, indentured labourers from the Indian subcontinent were recruited to replace slaves who used to work in sugar cane fields. They had contracts to work for fixed periods in conditions of near slavery, after which they could settle down or return to their homes. Most chose to stay. A lot of Indian workers went also to South Africa and to the rubber plantations of Malaya. This migration was quasi-voluntary and the conditions of work were more akin to servitude than free labour. The movement was from one part of the periphery of the metropolitan empire to other peripheral parts. The practice of indenture was abolished within the British Empire in 1920 (Tinker 1974).
A big wave of European migration to North America and the Antipodes took place in the 19th century. This was migration within the First World or from the Second World to the First World. England alone lost 12 million people between 1820 and 1913. A third of Europe’s population migrated to the US, which received 21 million people between 1820 and 1913. These migration waves were voluntary, although a result of the push factor of poverty and often pogroms in Europe and the pull of the promise of prosperity in the US. This third type of migration was the largest in the four centuries up to the beginning of the 20th century.
It was during the years following the First World War and even more so after 1945 that migration became difficult. The reason was the rise of the nation (territorial) state in Europe and later Asia and Africa (the Americas remained open to migration). As a result partly of the war effort and partly of the growth of the mass franchise, the state had to promise to look after the well-being of its citizens (in return for the obligation to be conscripted). This historical shift in the nature of the international system set up obstacles to the free movement of people. Passports were not usual for international travel until then, and much of the British Empire allowed free movement. (South Africa, especially after the Boer War, was an exception; Australia also switched to a whites-only immigration policy when the federation was set up at the beginning of the 20th century). Territorial states made distinctions between citizens and aliens. Citizens were entitled to the benefits that the state accorded them, had the right to vote, and could reside in the country. But resident aliens were not entitled to benefits, although they had to pay taxes and abide by the law. They had also no franchise. Immigrants and refugees became legal categories denoting people with restricted right of abode. The territorial state continues to restrict outmigration as much as in-migration, although here again the US is an exception in having a half-open door to immigrants (Harris 1995).
In the quarter century following the end of the Second World War, Keynesian policies guaranteed full employment in developed countries, and soon there was a shortage of labour. The old imperial countries attracted labour from their former colonies, and a Third World diaspora began to grow in Britain, France, and the Netherlands. Turkish workers migrated to West Germany as guest workers. Since the OPEC oil shocks of the 1970s, migration has again speeded up but changed its character. Very much as in the case of the sugar colonies of early 19th century, the oil-exporting Arab countries of the Middle East have absorbed migrant labour from South Asia and North Africa, although as temporary workers rather than long-term proto-citizens. A lot of the movement to Europe was of unskilled and semi-skilled workers who took up low-paid, hard and unsafe jobs spurned by native Europeans. Health workers too were imported into the UK by the National Health Service from the New Commonwealth. Middle Eastern countries also absorbed workers at all levels except the top professional categories (Sassen 1998).
Western Europe lost 3.6 million people during 1914–49. Immigration into western Europe resumed in the post-war period; between 1950 and 1975 9.4 million people migrated into western Europe, and 11 million in the next quarter-century (Maddison 2004: 128). If we look further into this trend, it is Europe, North America and Oceania that have experienced the biggest migrant stock as a percentage of population; respectively 7.7 per cent, 13.0 per cent and 19.1 per cent. Asia, Africa and Latin America are all below the global average of 2.9 per cent in 2000. The exception in Asia is, of course, in Middle Eastern oil-exporting countries and the faster growing ‘Asian Tigers’. Thus, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait attracted migrants in the 1990s, so that by 1999 57 per cent of the total labour force in Saudi Arabia was foreign and 82 per cent in Kuwait. By 1999, there were 10 million expatriates in the Gulf region. The proportions were not as high but still noticeable in Singapore (28 per cent), and Malaysia (18 per cent). In terms of growth of the migrant population, South Korea’s was 28 per cent per annum between 1990 and 1999 and Japan’s 9 per cent.
Yet migration in this recent phase of globalisation has not reached the share of the total population that it attained in the 19th century episode, when the global population was smaller, and territorial states were fewer, and did not subscribe to the idea that they could or should manage their economies. Migrants have constituted 2–3 per cent of the total population in the years since 1965 at a global level (World Migration 2003). Today, while capital moves relatively freely, labour movements are restricted by the separate jurisdictions of territorial states. Only movements of refugees and asylum seekers are subject to an international treaty regime. Wars and civil wars, especially in Africa, have also generated massive movements of people but these are distress movements and do not have economic significance. Thus, in 2000 around 175 million migrant workers, permanent immigrants and refugees and their families were living outside their home countries (ILO 2004).
Economic theory of movements in goods and people
In economic theory, both classical and neo-classical, labour is categorised as free labour, that is, free to move about and free to enter into contracts. In classical economics, labour was seen as a class comparable to capitalists and landlords. In neo-classical economics a labourer is anyone willing to supply labour services. Karl Marx added a historical dimension to this definition. He said that under previous modes of production, such as ancient (slavery) and feudalism (serfdom), workers had access to the means of production – land, tools, and so on, but no freedom to move and no right to contract out their labour services. With the advent of capitalism, workers were separated from the means of production and therefore had to sell their labour power, their capacity to work, on a periodic basis. They were thus free in the double sense of being divested of any means of production and free to move and enter into contracts (Marx 1867/1887).
In matters of internal migration, typically from the country to the city, economists have seen migrating labour as a source of surplus transferred from one part of the economy to another. Marx considered the dispossession of farmers due to the enclosure movements in Britain to be the seed from which grew the preconditions for capitalist accumulation by driving labourers into the towns, where they were forced to work for low wages and ready for exploitation by the new machine-owning capitalists. W. Arthur Lewis developed this insight in a seminal article in modern development theory, in which surplus – low-productivity – labour is transferred to urban areas for employment, taking with itself, as it were, its food rations. The employment of the surplus labour in urban areas creates profits, which sets off a development process (Lewis 1954). In neo-classical economics, migration is a matter of choice on the part of the migrant, based on a calculation of costs and benefits, attitudes towards risks and the uncertainties of getting employment.
There is no reason why these insights cannot be transferred to global, inter-country migration. But in economic theory, classical as well as neo-classical, international trade has always been treated differently from internal trade. In international trade, the assumption is that factors of production – labour and capital – do not move, but goods produced by these factors do move (land, the third factor, is of course immobile). Ricardo’s theory of comparative advantage stipulates what each country should specialise in given that it could produce many if not all commodities. The criterion is comparative labour costs, and the theory leads to a policy prescription of specialisation even when a country can make everything more cheaply than its rivals. It still pays it to confine itself to those commodities where its comparative advantage is greatest. This was the theory that economists held to throughout much of the 19th and 20th centuries.
Swedish economists Eli Heckscher (1919/1949) and Bertil Ohlin (1933/1966) refined this theory in the inter-war period by saying that, given that different countries have different endowments of labour and capital while the set of technological possibilities is the same for all, countries will specialise in commodities best suited to their factor intensity. Thus, a capital-rich but labour-scarce country will export capital-intensive products and import labour-intensive ones. Trade in goods then has the effect of compensating for relative factor scarcity and for equalising, or at least leading to a convergence of, the prices of traded goods across the world. Hence, the price of scarce labour in the first country declines relative to what it would have been in the absence of trade, and the price of capital comes down in the scarce capital-abundant labour country that imports capital-intensive goods. Thus, over the long run the differences between factor prices – real wages, for example – will diminish.
Although economists are aware that the ‘long run’ is a conceptual and not a calendar time notion, the prediction of the narrowing of factor price differentials between countries over time is a powerful weapon in the economists’ armour in defending free trade. As yet, this does not allow for factor movements despite the empirical facts known to economists that throughout the 19th and 20th centuries capital as well as labour moved across boundaries. Scholars have used data on the 19th century migrations across the Atlantic to test the predictions of the Heckscher/Ohlin model. The results do not refute their predictions (Hatton and Williamson 1994).
With the transport and telecommunications revolution, two things have happened that enhance the economists’ optimism. First, many goods which were non-tradeable, such as services, have become tradeable. This is what is behind outsourcing. Thus, the standard conclusions of Heckscher/Ohlin are applicable to a larger portion of the economy. Second, migration has speeded up despite many restrictions. Some developed countries – the UK and Germany, for instance – are pursuing a positive policy of attracting skilled workers from abroad. Since travel is cheaper and information about entry restrictions is available on websites, individuals can take their own decision to migrate and bear the risk.
The effect of these movements is a rising number of legal and illegal migrants and a growing political debate about the limits of migration in host societies. An influx of labour would obviously impact on the remuneration that labour of all skill levels receives, and hence trade unions are wary of migration flows (as they are of freer commodity trade, as the agitation against China’s entry into the World Trade Organization, WTO, at the Seattle meeting in 1999 showed both inside and outside the conference halls; see Desai and Said 2001). The cultural diversity between locals and incomers has also raised problems of adaptation and assimilation, and of threats to the identities of both. This issue of how to deal with diversity was traditionally treated in a hostile, often racist, way by political fringe groups; lately, even more ‘liberal’ opinion has begun to ask whether a ‘community’ can be preserved if its diversity is too great (Goodhart 2004). This difficulty of social adaptation raises the question of whether the idea of labour as a commodity is too simplistic. Is the ideal of free worldwide movement of labour utopian?
Is labour just a commodity?
In economic theory, labour is just a factor of production along with capital and land. Thus, if free movement of capital is allowed, so free movement of labour should be. Against this is the view of Karl Polanyi in The Great Transformation that labour is more than a factor of production and that the reaction against laissez-faire in late 19th century Britain was an attempt to contain in the market for labour within certain safety nets (Polanyi 1944). Marx (along with classical and neo-classical economists) and Polanyi represent two extremes of attitudes towards labour. One holds that labour power is a commodity and hence should have as much freedom of contract as does capital (though for Marx, but not the classical or the neo-classical economists, it does so in a condition of class inequality). The other holds that protection of workers from the worst effects of commodification defines the essence of the revolt against free markets. These rival perspectives on labour are useful as markers for judging attitudes towards migration.
The classical, Marxian and neo-classical perspective has always been one of ‘cosmopolitical economy’, as Friederich List, a formidable opponent of free trade and of classical economists, recognised (List 1837/56). Polanyi’s perspective is that of a national political economy. He regards free markets in commodities, but especially labour, as a liberal dystopia:
Nineteenth century civilisation has collapsed. The key to the institutional system of the nineteenth century lay in the laws governing market economy. Our thesis is that the idea of a self-adjusting market implied a stark utopia. Such an institution could not exist for any length of time without annihilating the human and natural substance of society; it would have physically destroyed man and transformed his surroundings into a wilderness. Inevitably society took measures to protect itself but whatever measures it took impaired the self-regulation of the market, disorganised industrial life, and thus endangered society in yet another way. (Polanyi 1944: 3–4)
The reform of the British Poor Law in the 1840s was based on the notion that able-bodied workers should be encouraged to move around for jobs and not be granted relief. But the extension of the franchise in the 1860s and 1880s brought the lower-middle and upper-working classes into the political arena. These forces began a programme of intervention in the labour market to correct the imbalance of economic power between labour and capital. Polanyi saw the Great Depression of the 1930s as the final collapse of liberal capitalism. The arrival of Keynes-Beveridge welfare capitalism soon after the Second World War vindicated his thesis in the eyes of many. Yet his argument is very Anglocentric. Thus, the US, despite the New Deal, had a very different trajectory from the UK as far as its welfare state is concerned (Desai 2002: 211–14). What is more, by the final quarter of the 20th century, that is, within 40 years of Polanyi’s The Great Transformation, liberal forces reappeared. Polanyi remains, however, a powerful tool in the armoury of the anti-globalisers. He would of course be hostile to the migration of labour and take a nationalistic view of well-being, much as List did about manufacturing and wealth creation.
Concepts and categories
Two classifications may be useful in theorising about migration. One is the distinction between voluntary and involuntary migration. The other is that between legal and illegal migration. This schema will be helpful in understanding migration. Thus slaves moved involuntarily, although, until the abolition of slavery, legally. Of course, some voluntary migration is illegal as it runs into legal barriers set up by host states. Illegal but voluntary migration constitutes a major problem for many developed countries. The US and Spain announce periodic amnesties for illegal migrants, which ex post facto legalises them. The categories of legal-involuntary and illegal-involuntary migration involve criminal behaviour and are matters for international policing authorities to control. The latter is not the focus of this chapter, which explores the movement of labour that is voluntary and legal. However, this distinction often becomes blurred in public debate and civil society responses to migration, which tend to conflate or ignore the differences between legal migrant worker, asylum seeker, refugee and ‘irregular’ or undocumented migrant. What is also rarely discussed in public debate about migration is the fact that the right to move is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It could be argued that legal barriers to voluntary migration should be progressively removed in a world where capital migration is so prized. This is an extreme liberal viewpoint and remains highly controversial; indeed, barriers to migration are increasing, fuelled by fears about national security and identity in the post-9/11 era, as well as by concerns about jobs, social security and health provision.
One consequence of the growing gap between the numbers of migrants and their ability to enter countries of employment lawfully is an increase in irregular migration and trafficking, and heightened vulnerability of all migrants to human rights abuses. This situation has stimulated efforts to create an effective international framework to protect the rights of migrants and better manage the flow of people around the world. The International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Their Families (ICMW), which was established in 1990, brings together in a single treaty the jigsaw of rights and responsibilities that governments had already agreed to via various international laws and treaties (see Box 4.2). As Stefanie Grant argues, in addition to uniting these rights and duties, the significance of the Convention lies in the set of principles it enshrines, which should guide policy making at national and international levels. The fact that relatively few host governments have ratified the Convention illustrates a wariness about adopting a rights-based approach to migration, discussed further below.
The debate about labour migration within global civil society
The issue of freer – voluntary, legal – migration remains controversial. Just as people differ about the benefits of freer trade or freer movement of capital, they disagree about the benefits of freer movement of labour. It is helpful to think of the various NGOs distributed among the four cells of the matrix presented in Figure 4.1. The vertical axis represents the distinction between cosmopolitan and nationalist perspectives. The horizontal axis represents more a spectrum of views on capitalism, from pro-capitalist through reformist but pro-capitalist to anti-capitalist. The matrix contains the vital distinction between anti-capitalist and pro-capitalist nationalists. The former are at the bottom xenophobic, if not racist, while the latter are liberal-minded but may still have reservations about immigration. This particular division is not an easy one to draw and lines of demarcation can become fuzzy.
Thus, to use the language of previous yearbooks, Supporters are those who favour the free movement of labour, while Reformers favour fewer restrictions on the movement of labour (Kaldor, Anheier and Glasius 2003). They include pro-capitalists who are pro-economic liberalisation, such as free-market think tanks and economists who support the free movement of labour in order to promote economic development and who view labour as a commodity. And they include those in the anti-capitalist movement who believe in the free movement of labour as a basic human right. Rejectionists are against the free movement of labour, while Regressives favour controlled immigration to meet domestic economic needs but are wary of wider migration (or asylum seekers), who are perceived as a threat to both the social security and the culture or identity of a nation. The former favour domestic labour over foreign labour, while the latter are more fearful about national security. Both Rejectionists and Regressive globalisers share the notion of what Ulrich Beck (2004) describes as a ‘container culture’, which is bounded by, in this case, national boundaries, and not influenced by ‘external’ influences.
A broad range of civil society actors are involved in the debate about migration, from business lobbies, trade unions, think tanks, migrant support groups and anti-capitalist networks. Academics, the media and research institutions also play a role in framing perceptions and influencing policy. As discussed, the focus of this chapter is legal/voluntary migration, and so the civil society organisations and individuals whose attitudes and impacts we analyse tend to focus on this flow. However, there is a tendency among all groups to blur the distinctions between different legal categories of migrant.
The mobility of qualified workers, and to a lesser extent unskilled workers, which has increased since the 1990s in the wake of the end of communism, the expansion of the EU and continued effects of economic globalisation, has thrown the spotlight on laws and policies regulating the national, regional and global flow of migrants. However, as illustrated below, policy-makers are still grappling with the contradictions of nation states attempting to regulate a phenomenon that is global or at least regional.
The perspectives of civil society groups on migration stretch the boundaries of these positions on globalisation and throw up some interesting paradoxes (see Table 4.1). In exploring the movement of labour, which currently flows from South to North, the focus of this chapter is on civil society actors in the industrialised countries and, to a lesser extent, those in developing countries.
Supporters and Reformers
Supporters and reformers tend to share the belief that in a globalised world, where information, goods, currency and cultures are mobile, the movement of people and labour is increasingly difficult to resist. Supporters and reformers encompass a very broad range of civil society actors, from trade unions and migrant support groups to think tanks and anti-capitalist networks, which favour varying degrees of control over migration flows they advocate.
Opening the borders
Just as previous research revealed few out and out supporters of globalisation, so very few people or organisations support entirely open borders. A few exceptions – for example, the economist Jagdish Bhagwati and the British think tank Demos (URL) – have proposed radical alternatives to the current and, they argue, futile attempts by nation states to curtail immigration via passports, border controls and quota systems. But even their proposals include mechanisms and institutions to manage the flow of migrants. According to Bhagwati:
The reality is that borders are beyond control and little can be done to really cut down on immigration. The societies of developed countries will simply not allow it. The less developed countries also seem overwhelmed by forces propelling emigration. Thus, there must be a seismic shift in the way migration is addressed: governments must reorient their policies from attempting to curtail migration to coping and working with it to seek benefits for all. (Bhagwati 2003)
Bhagwati proposes a ‘diaspora model’ that captures the benefits of migration for sending and receiving countries via remittance schemes, the facilitation of dual nationality, and loyalty schemes. His proposed World Migration Organisation would highlight best practice in managing migration among member nations and fill the gap in the international institutional framework with regard to flows of people across the borders. Unlike the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for finance, World Health Organization (WHO) for health, and World Bank for aid, responsibility for migration is splintered between various bodies, including the International Labour Organization (ILO) for workers, the WTO for service flows, and the International Organization for Migration, which lacks authority in the international arena (Bhagwati 2003). More radical is the approach of Demos, which is based on the concept of people flow management. In this system, outlined in the 2003 report People Flow, all migrants would be treated equally, removing the incentive for false asylum claims. International transit centres and mobility service points would be established to offer shelter and services to migrants, including visas allowing travel throughout Europe (Bentley, Buonfino and Veenkamp 2003).
Think tanks, research institutes and trade unions such as the Global Commission on International Migration (GCIM), the ILO and Britain’s Trades Union Congress (TUC) and Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) support migration (which they see as simply another facet of globalisation) because it benefits migrants, their countries and host nations – if it is properly managed. These organisations believe that the benefits of migration have not been sufficiently promoted and are often subsumed by the disadvantages aired in the media by politicians and civil society. The Global Commission on International Migration sees migration as a major global policy issue that is likely to become increasingly important as globalisation accelerates. It says:
…while the issue of international migration receives extensive media coverage, it is often discussed in an unsatisfactory manner. Distorted images of migrants and migration are often conveyed in the popular press and other media. And the important linkages between international migration and other global issues are not adequately explored. (GCIM 2004)
Established with the support of the UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to review the extent and implications of migration flows and policies for better managing them, the GCIM will publish its report in October 2005.
The benefits of migrant workers
However, very few civil society groups grapple with the fundamental human right to move, which is often overlooked in the debate about migration. Yet a section of anti-capitalist and anti-racist civil society is active, vocal and dynamic on the issue. For example, the No border network, No One Is Illegal Group UK, and Abolishing the Borders from Below campaign for freedom of movement, arguing that to move is a human right and that global immigration controls are inherently racist, authoritarian, and therefore unjust. Such groups ignore the distinction between legal workers, undocumented migrants, refugees and asylum seekers, arguing that these are the constructed and meaningless concepts of an unjust capitalist system. Freedom of movement is at the heart of other issues on which these groups campaign, including for housing, women’s emancipation and workers’ rights, and against racism.
If freedom of movement is a human right, there should be no management of migration; accordingly, these groups campaign against the organisations, structures, and practices that they see as inherent in the neo-liberal economic system. No border network (URL), a European coalition of grass-roots organisations and activists established in 1999, is against the International Migration Organisation, which it argues is fundamentally flawed:
Their basic policy is not concerned with the well being of people but the well being of economies. Secondly, their ideology is based on racist principles of homogeneous ethnic states and xenophobic concepts of ‘home’…In an era of globalisation migration appears as a major social movement against the imperialist concept of zones of differentiated reproduction cost. The IOM has been best prepared to implement concepts of enforcing the borders necessary to uphold such a regime and to conform to new forms of neoliberal migration management.
Airlines that fly deported people home are also targeted by the No border network, via its spoof discount airline website www.deportation-class.com. No One is Illegal UK (URL) campaigns against what it calls the ‘new gulag archipelago’ – detention camps on EU borders – which it sees as part of the managed migration system it abhors: ‘We support the unfettered right of entry of the feckless, the unemployable and the uncultured. We assert No One is Illegal.’ The groups cited above were among those taking part in the European Day of Action on 2 April 2005, which saw demonstrations in several cities, including London, Athens, Vienna, Paris and Helsinki (Global Project URL).
Some groups have sprung up to defend migrants from voluntary forces patrolling borders, described below. And, as a consequence of the demonisation of some minorities, particularly post-9/11, community representatives have become more vocal. These individuals and groups tend to be reformers. For example, in the US the Border Action Network (URL) was formed to protect the rights of people living along the Arizona-Mexico border. Representing ‘mostly people of colour, women and young people under the age of 30’, the grass-roots organisation campaigns against what it sees as racist vigilante border patrols.
Regressives and Rejectionists
The arguments used by Rejectionists and Regressives against migration are based on economic considerations and concerns about identity, culture and security. Often these two strands are interwoven. Just as Reformers argue that the public debate about migration is skewed by selective and partial use of information (IPPR 2005), so too Rejectionists and Regressives decry misinformation and failure to debate the issue openly (Migrationwatch UK URL).
Identity and security concerns
The perceived threat posed by immigration to notions of national identity and historical continuity is increasingly commonly voiced in industrialised societies. For example, while accepting that ‘immigration on a modest scale brings benefits in the form of diversity and new ideas’, Professor Robert Rowthorn of Cambridge University argues that ‘the pace of the present transformation in Europe worries me. I believe it to be a recipe for conflict.’ This is related not to the personal qualities of immigrants, he stresses, but to the sheer numbers. ‘Rapid changes in the ethnic or cultural composition of a society may cause widespread disorientation, resentment and conflict’ (Rowthorn 2003: 71).
The rise of Regressive and Rejectionist civil society groups may have been influenced by right-wing political parties in Europe that are strident in their nationalism and anti-immigration stance. During the 1990s some parties, such as Le Pen’s National Front, the British National Party and Pim Fortuyn’s LPF, achieved electoral success (Kaldor and Muro 2003). Civil society groups and political parties that are anti-immigration deny they are racist. However, emboldened by the post-9/11 context, their rhetoric has hardened and their public profile has been enhanced. Rowthorn (2003: 63) argues that these concerns should not be dismissed lightly:
It is not surprising that the political parties most hostile to immigration are normally the most hostile to economic globalisation and to supra-national institutions. They are raising, albeit in xenophobic form, issues of community, identity and self-determination that should be of concern to all democrats.
A common refrain among Regressives is that they are not opposed to immigration in principle, but few give many arguments in favour. Migrationwatch UK, a think tank chaired by Sir Andrew Green, former Ambassador to Saudia Arabia, is ‘not opposed to immigration that is moderate or managed’ but argues that ‘such massive immigration [to Britain] is contrary to the interests of all sections of our community’. Apart from arguing that the economic benefits of immigration have been exaggerated, Migrationwatch has concerns about the social impact, citing statistics about the age profile of immigrants, the birth rate of foreign-born mothers and the ethnic mix of particular British cities.
The very high proportion of births to foreign-born mothers in some English cities together with the outflow of city dwellers to the regions explains the very rapid changes taking place in parts of our cities. It again raises the question of how satisfactory integration can be achieved in areas where British culture itself is already diminishing. (Migrationwatch UK 2005)
David Goodhart, editor of Britain’s Prospect magazine, makes an explicit link between the extent of ethnic diversity – or what he calls ‘de-homogenisation’ as a result of the many impacts of globalisation (including immigration) – and people’s willingness to pay taxes and faith in government efforts to combat inequality (Goodhart 2005). Government must take seriously people’s concerns about ‘security and identity issues’, he says, arguing that the diversity of British society is so great that shared values are no longer a unifying force. Instead, what is needed is a ‘progressive nationalism’ based on ‘a new myth of Britishness’ that would counter social fragmentation.
The Rejectionists and Regressives base their position on the argument that citizenship in any country should be awarded only if the citizen behaves responsibly (this requires cooperating and cohering with one’s neighbours, doing more than just earning money and remitting it back home); that communities are defined by a number of shared values and that too much disparity in a country, although a sign of openness, can undermine tolerance. The contention is not an economic one about jobs, social security or housing. The position is basically liberal but points to the conflict between a liberal society and the degree to which it can uncritically admit people who do not share the values of the liberal society.
Another argument, very much post-9/11, has been made by Samuel Huntington (2004) to the effect that one can be never sure of the immigrant’s loyalty to the culture he or she has decided to co-habit with. Even an immigrant country like America has limits to its capacity to assimilate, and thus cohesion requires limits on immigration. There is a tension here between tolerance of other cultures and the dangers of leaving the door open for citizens of countries who may harbour feelings of enmity towards the host country. This is the argument about national security and the fear of ‘the enemy within’ (see Box 4.4 ) A plethora of civil society groups in the US unite concerns about immigration (both legal and illegal) for job security, social cohesion and security of Americans. CitizensLobby.com (URL) campaigns for troops on the border, an end to amnesties for illegal immigrants and a scaling back of guest worker quotas. Its ‘America first foreign and trade policy’ also lobbies for a boycott of Chinese-made products and the abolition of ‘wasteful government programs like foreign aid’.
While previously the dominant concern of many of these groups was the threat immigration posed to American jobs, fear of terrorism and other forms of criminality has become a key strand in their rhetoric. Immigrationshumancosts.org (URL), CitizensLobby.com, Deport Aliens (URL) and Americans for Immigration Control (URL) are vocal in their belief that immigration to the US, whether legal or illegal, is increasingly out of control and threatens to have serious consequences. According to CitizensLobby.com (URL):
Our weak borders and lax immigration laws allowed thousands of terrorists, suspected terrorists and ‘sleeper agents’ to sneak into our country to commit acts of war against US citizens.
In response to the perceived failure of US government border patrols, a group of citizens has even established a volunteer border watch. The Official Minuteman Civil Defense Corps (URL) deploys volunteers to ‘observe, report and protect the US from illegal immigration in all southern border states’.
Our effort will be tangibly effective in supporting the defenders of our border, the patriotic men and women of the U.S. Border Patrol. You will offer your assistance and become force-multipliers to assist their monumental task of turning back the tidal wave of people entering our country illegally.
For some civil society organisations that fall into the Rejectionist and Regressive category, threats to identity and security are more important than threats to jobs (see Box 4.4). Post-9/11, the antagonism is directed towards not only new arrivals but established ethnic communities, diasporas that may already have experienced discrimination decades earlier.
One half-way house in this difficult area has been to suggest that immigrants who arrive to work should be given a temporary status short of full citizenship (similar to the American Green Card). With this status the immigrant will not qualify for welfare benefits, although an exception has to be made for children and for acute health care. After a period of, say, five years, the immigrant could qualify for full citizenship. This passage of time softens the (often false) claim that immigrants who have not paid taxes are claiming benefits, and it also allows time for families to assimilate. In this assimilation, civil society groups such as churches, schools and residents associations can be of immense help.
Economic arguments against migration
Where Regressives differ from Rejectionists is in their readiness to accept some immigration where it is beneficial for the domestic economy. The typical Regressive globaliser on migration is a pro-capitalist business lobby or sector-specific organisation with the interests of employers in mind. The Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA URL), a British free-market think tank, argues for more flexible, managed migration that would take account of Britain’s changing skill needs. While the IEA and similar lobbies in the industrialised world stress the need for more skilled migrants, business or sector-specific organisations, such as the Western Growers Association (WGA) in the US, lobby for unskilled migrants to meet seasonal needs for farm labour. According to its President, Tom Nassif, of the top ten issues that matter to WGA’s 3,000 members in 2005, farm labour is number one. The organisation made the headlines in March 2005 when it said that, because of the clampdown on legal seasonal labour, its members could not survive without illegal immigrants to work in the fields. Nassif went as far as saying that US Border Patrol should stop manning highway checkpoints during the lettuce season, when thousands of ‘lechugeros’ (lettuce people) descend on the region, dubbed the ‘winter salad bowl’. While many labourers migrate from California to Arizona, others illegally cross the border at the beginning of the season and leave when it ends (Wall Street Journal 2005).
The pensions pot debate
Shortage of skills and prevention of a ‘pensions crisis’ are often cited by Reformers and Supporters in support of freer migration. For example, think tanks such as the National Foundation for American Policy (NFAP URL) believes the movement of goods and people is key to prosperity and warns that reducing legal migration ‘would worsen the solvency of Social Security, harm taxpayers, and increase the size of the long-range actuarial deficit of the Social Security trust fun’. Leading newspapers, including The Economist and the Financial Times, also cite pension provision in their support of controlled migration. But the idea that taxes paid by skilled migrants can contribute to the pensions pot of developed countries, many of which have a declining ratio of workers to retired people, is disputed. Migrationwatch UK (URL) says the pensions crisis will be fuelled, not solved, by migrants, who like everyone else grow old, an argument with which economists such as Professor David Coleman (2003) concur.
The debate about migration is currently dominated by Regressive and Rejectionist groups. Supporters of migration are very few in number – largely a handful of anarchist, anti-racist and human rights groups that believe in the right to move. Reformers, who have a powerful economic case, often find themselves on the defensive. Moreover, most of the anti-capitalist groups described in previous editions of the yearbook are uncharacteristically quiet when it comes to the issue of migration. The free movement of labour tends to be opposed not on economic but on security and identity grounds. Although some fear the loss of jobs to lower-paid workers and the erosion of welfare benefits, the hue and cry over immigration is largely the result of perceived fears about the dilution of an imagined idea of nation, and the spread of terrorism and organised crime, especially after 9/11.
But it can be argued that the benefits to the global economy and to global emancipation that would flow from the freer movement of labour could negate security fears. Free movement of labour would contribute to prosperity and welfare in both rich and poor countries. The former would benefit from the increased availability of young skilled workers, in terms of both pensions and economic growth. The latter would benefit from remittances and, hopefully, compensation for the brain drain. Just as both Europe and America benefited from migration in the 19th century, so both North and South could benefit today. Such a virtuous circle could turn out to be the best way to minimise security fears. Criminals and terrorists can always circumvent borders. Indeed, the more that borders are fortified, the more this encourages illegal trafficking. The best way to deal with criminals and terrorists is to marginalise the informal economy and the economic sources of insecurity in which they thrive.
As for the argument about the dilution of national culture, this has to be answered head-on. Do we celebrate the cultural diversity that accompanies globalisation? Or do we retreat into insecure, imaginary concepts of cultural containment?
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