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MOST Conference 2012


Organised by The Institute for Research on Migration, Ethnicity and Society (REMESO),
Linköping University, in collaboration with The International Network for Migration and
Development (INMD), Norrköping, May 30
June 1st, 2012

Introductory Address:

Stephen Castles
, University of Sydney

Migration, Precarious Work and Rights: Historical and

Current Perspectives


The development of the capitalist world market has always been linked to differentiation of
workers and the use of migration to create various forms of ‘unfree labour’: slavery,
indentured workers, guestworkers, forced labo
urers, undocumented workers and so on. The
differential denial of equal rights has been based on gender, race, ethnicity, legal status,
national origins and on the ideology of human capital. This paper will briefly address
historical antecedents, and then
focus on changing modes of differentiation, contrasting the
labour recruitment systems of the 1945
1970s period with the epoch of globalization and the
creation of a global labour market. Various forms of labour differentiation and denial of
rights will be

examined. The paper will conclude with a discussion of the acceleration of
trends to the feminisation of labour and the growth of precarious temporary and casual
employment arising through the global economic crisis


[Draft 2 16
/5/12, text about

rds, references about 1000].


My central theme in this paper is the
history of inequality

in capitalist labour markets, and


in different epochs of capitalist development. In other words, the
focus is on
changing modes

of differentiation

of workers that give them unequal chances in
market competition. Some people have used the term
unfree labour

for this phenomenon;
others speak of
denial of human and labour rights
, while more recently analysts have spoken
precarious work.
All these terms are useful. For me the main issue is the
mechanisms that lead to differentiation and the ideologies used to legitimate them
, in view of
the fact that they go against a central principle of liberal capitalism: namely t
he principle of
which means that all
individuals may

seek to maximise their benefits and that as
market participants they
should have equal rights and opportunities.

Such equality has
been achieved in practice

But let me start with some puz
zles thrown up by the global economic crisis (GEC) since



of foreign




increased twice as fast
as that of natives
born workers

in 2008

ut the



per cent

from 2008
10, while the e
mployment of
born declined
by 2.2 per cent

(OECD, 2011
, 74
How can we explain the simultaneous increase of
born employment and unemployment? What does it mean?


Migrant men in OECD countries were far worse affected by unemployment than migrant
women. Migrant women increased their labour force part
icipation and had lower
unemployment rates
(OECD, 2011, 78
. Why was that? Does it reflect an
ovement in migrant women’s labour market position?


On the whole, the
GEC affected old industrial economies

notably the OECD countries

more than emerging ones

in Asia and Latin America
(Phillips, 2011)

does this mean a
shift in global migration patterns?

I will return to these


later in the paper. The reason for mentioning them here is to
show the complexity of labour differentiation, which can lead to unexpected results. It seems
surprising that both migrant unemployment and employment increased at the same time.
Similarly, we

tend to think that women (especially migrant women) are worse off at work


do these findings undermine that view? Why were the richest economies more affected by the
GEC than intermediate ones? Many of you know th
e reasons for these shifts
, but we

need a

theory of labour differentiation and its role in
legitimating and managing the contradictions of
capitalism to fully understand such trends.

abour differentiation

in the history of cap

Individual liberty is often seen as one of the great moral ac
hievements of capitalism, in
contrast with earlier societies where liberty was restricted by traditional bondage, as well as
with more recent socialist societies, where workers are controlled by powerful bureaucracies.
But as Robin Cohen showed in his book

The New Helots
(Cohen, 1987)

alism has made
use of both



in every phase of its development. Labour migrants

be classified as

unfree workers, either because they are taken by force to the place
where their labour is needed, or because they are deni
ed rights enjoyed by other workers, and
cannot therefore compete under equal conditions. Even where migration is voluntary,
institutional and informal discrimination may limit the freedom and equality of the workers

Freedom and equality are clea
rly not either/or categories: there are degrees of
unfreedom and inequality.
The differentiation of labour has been crucial at every phase of
capital development.

In the period of merchant capitalism and colonialism (15


centuries), several
forms o
f differentiation of migrant labour were used. The sailors, soldiers and

went out from Europe to the colonies were often far from privileged. Some were fleeing
religious persecution, while others were indentured workers, bound to a certain
mpany or
. Jan Lucassen
(Lucassen, 1995)

has shown that around half the soldiers and sailors of
the Dutch East India Company in the


centuries were not Dutch but
‘transmigrants’, mainly from poor areas of Germany. The mortality of these migrant w
through shipwreck, warfare and tropical illnesses was very high, but service in the colonies
was often the only chance to escape from poverty.

Some of them served out their periods of
indenture and became settlers, often prospering in the long run.

From the late 17th to the mid
19th century


the main labour source for the

plantations and mines of the New World

(Blackburn, 1988)

as perhaps the first


system of labour recruitment for capital accumulation. In the ‘triangular trade’:
ships laden with manufactured goods, such as guns or household implements, sailed from
Bristol and Liverpool, Bordeaux and Le Havre, to the

coasts of West Africa. There Africans
were either forcibly abducted or were pur
chased from local chiefs or traders in return for the
goods. Then the ships sailed to the Caribbean or

North or South America, where the slaves
were sold for cash. This was

used to purchase the products of the plantations, which were
brought back for sale in Europe.
An estimated 15 million slaves were taken to the Americas
before 1850
(Appleyard, 1991, 11)
. In 1807, slave trafficking was abolished within the
British Empire, yet slavery itself was not abolished until 1834 in British colonies, 1863 in
Dutch colonies and 1865 in the southe
rn states of the USA
(Cohen, 1991, 9)

In the latter half of the 19th century, slaves were replaced by
indentured workers

as the
main source of plantation labour. British colonial authorities recruited workers from the
Indian subcontinent for the s
ugar plantations of
Caribbean. Others were employed in
plantations, mines and railway construction in Malaya, East Africa and Fiji. The British also
recruited Chinese ‘coolies’ for Malaya and other colonies. Dutch colonial authorities used
Chinese labo
ur on construction projects in the Dutch East Indies. Up to 1 million indentured
workers were recruited in Japan, mainly for work in Hawaii, the USA, Brazil and Peru
(Shimpo, 1995)

Indentured work
ers were
bound by strict contracts for several years. Wages
and conditions were generally very poor, workers were subject to rigid dis
cipline and
breaches of contract were severely punished. Indentured workers were often cheaper for their
employers than slaves


the other hand, work overseas offered an opportunity to escape
poverty and repressive situations, such as the Indian caste system. Many workers remained as
free settlers in East Africa, the Caribbean, Fiji and elsewhere, where they could obtain land or
t up businesses
(Cohen, 1995)

The sugar and tobacco barons brought much of the wealth accumulated through the
profits of slavery and

indenture back to Western Europe
, providing

much of the capital
which was to unleash the industrial revolutions of the 18th and 19th centuries. In Britain,
profits from the colonies were invested in new forms of manufacture, as well as

commercial farmi
ng and the enclosure of arable land for pasture. The displaced tenant
farmers swelled the impoverished urban masses available as labour for the new factories.
This emerging class of wage
labourers was soon joined by destitute artisans, such as hand
loom we
avers, who had lost their livelihood through competition from the new

manufacturers. Herein lay the basis of the new class which was crucial for the British
industrial economy: the ‘free proletariat’, which was free of traditional bonds, but also of
hip of the means of production
. In his account of the ‘primitive accumulation
’ which
provided the labour force for the industrial revolution,
Marx emphasised the processes
of dispossession of formerly independent farmers and artisans in Britain

(Marx, 1976, 873

But it is important to realis
e that use of unfree labour in the colonies was also crucial to
capital accumulation in Britain and elsewhere in Europe.

Soon though, new forms of labour differentiation emerged in the industrial economies, as
internal rural
urban migration dried up and th
e reproduction of the urban working class was
endangered by appalling living and working conditions. Britain’s closest colony, Ireland,
became a
n important

labour sou
The devastation of Irish peasant agriculture through
absentee landlords and enclosure
s, combined with the ruin of domestic industry through
British competition, had led to widespread poverty. The famines of 1822 and 1846

triggered massive migrations to Britain, the USA and Australia. By 1851 there were

700,000 Irish in Britain

(Jackson, 1963)
They were concentrated in the industrial cities,
especially in the textile factori
es and the building trades.

described the
appalling situation of Irish workers,
and argued that Irish immigration was a ‘cause for
abasement to which the English worker is exposed, a cause permanently active in forcing the
whole class down

(Engels, 1962, 123)

This historical example is important for several reasons. First, it demonstrates that
differentiation does not have to be based on a discriminatory legal status, as
it was in

and indenture. A combi
nation of economic vulnerability and ethnic or racial prejudice can
also lead to
. Secondly, it shows that discrimination against one part of the working
class can help drag down the conditions of the rest. Marx believed that the working class
uld become more homogeneous,
and would have common

interests in the struggle against
capital, but the history of labour relations shows a different picture: differentiation and
exclusion of certain groups has o
ften been ac
cepted by others, leading to the e
mergence of
what Lenin was later to call a ‘labour aristocracy’
(Lenin, 1968)
Karl Polanyi
argued that a

liberal model, based on the fiction of contractual freedom for individual workers, would
inevitably destroy the conditions that made capitalist industry possible, by degra
ding workers
to the point where future labour power could not be reproduced. The ‘double movement’ of
working class mobilisation, trade unionism and legislation to protect workers was actually a

precondition for the survival of the capitalist system
nyi, 2001)

The willingness of
privileged workers to accept inferior conditions for others

whether the criteria are gender,
race, ethnicity, nationality, legal status, origins or vulnerability

has been and remains a
crucial stabilising factors for the

capitalist order.

The USA, which received 30 million immigrants between 1861 and 1920, is usually seen
as the epitome of free migration
(Borjas, 1990)
. In fact, immigration was racially selective
with laws to keep out Asians and Africans. Patterns of settlement were closely linked to the
g industrial economy. Labour recruitment by canal and railway companies led to
settlements of Irish and Italians along the construction routes. Some groups of Irish, Italians
and Jews settled in the East coast ports of arrival, where work was available in
transport and factories. Chinese immigrants settled initially on the West coast, but moved
inland following recruitment by railway construction companies. Similarly, early Mexican
migrants were concentrated in the South
west, close to the Mex
ican border, but many moved
northwards in response to recruitment by the railroads. Some Cent
ral and Eastern Europeans

became concentrated in the Midwest, where the development of heavy industry provided
work opportunities
(Portes and Rumbaut, 2006, 38
. The American working class thus
developed through processes

of chain migration which led to ethnic segmentation. However,
differentiation between white ethnic groups has proved far less enduring than the
fundamental divide between whites and African

During industrialization from about 1850 to 1914, Germ
any, France and other European
countries made extensive use of migrant labour. The main differenti
ating factors were legal

and nationality
. Germany made extensive use of Polish workers, using a
special police force to discipline them, and

insisting that they leave the country each year for
a period, to prevent settlement. France, by contrast, sought to turn migrants into citizens, so
that they could serve as soldiers in the forthcoming wars with Germany.

After WWI, France
recruited large n
umber of migrant workers from Italy and Poland to make up for war losses,
only to try to expel them again when the G
reat Depression struck in the 19
30s. Later, Nazi
Germany recruited millions of foreign workers

mainly by force

to replace the 11 million

German workers conscripted for military service. Workers were housed in barracks under
military control, had very low wages and appalling social conditions. Many foreign workers
died through harsh treatment and cruel punishments. The Nazis took exploitati
on of rightless
migrants to an extreme which can only be compared with slavery, yet its legal core


sharp division between the status of national and foreigner

was to be found in both earlier
and later foreign labour systems
(Castles and Miller, 2009, 87

Guestworker systems and colonial migrants 1945

After 1945, the experiences of the Great Depression and the defeat of Nazism opened the way
to new forms of welfare capitalism, based on full employment, strong labour movements and
redistibutives social po
Andersen, 1990; Schierup

et al.
, 2006)
. Inequality
declined in many count
ries while the situation of work
ers improved.

governments of core
capitalist states in We
stern Europe and North America encouraged immigration to provide
labour for jobs rejected by local workers, and to reduce upward pressure on wages.

pursued a policy of racially
selective, permanent immigration mainly from Europe until
1965, while r
ecruiting wokrers from Mexico to fill low
skilled jobs in agriculture and
increasingly also in construction and manaufacturing. The 1965 amendments to the
Immigration and Nationality Act led to a new system of worldwide immigration. However,
for reasons of

space, this will not be discussed further here. I will focus on

Western Europe, which

was of two main types
(Castles and Kosack, 1973)

First, virtually all Western European countries employed foreign workers

many o
f whom
were recruited

by governments or employers

as temporary labour (or ‘guestworkers’). Some
countries, like France, Britain, and Sweden, were relatively open to family reunion and long
term stay. Others, such as the Federal Republic of Germany, Austri
a, and Switzerland, went
to great lengths to prevent settlement, through ‘rotation’ of workers, that is, a constant
circulation of short
term migrants. Germany established the most sophisticated guest worker
system, with a high degree of state control of t
he recruitment, working conditions and rights
of the migrants. Southern Europe, North Africa, Turkey, Finland, and Ireland served as
labour reserves for the industrial core countries, while Eastern and Central Europe were
members of the Soviet Bloc, and im
posed strict exit restrictions.

mperial pow

used labour from former or existing
: the Caribbean
and the Indian sub
continent for Britain, North and West Africa for France, and the
Caribbean and Indonesia for the Netherlands. Generally t
here was no official recruitment:
knowledge of work opportunities in the former metropolis, together with the legal right of

entry, was sufficient to start migratory chains. In the colonial period certain colonised peoples
had been granted citizenship (or,

in the British case, the status of ‘subjects’ of the Crown) as
a form of ideological integration. This now facilitated the entry of much
needed labour, but it
also meant that the colonial workers could bring in dependants and settle.

In these labour recru
itment practices, we can see

modes of differentiation. The
importing countries used the distinction between national and foreigner as their
mechanism for

migrant labour

and imposing inferior rights. In some countries

pecially in the early years of recruitment

workers were bound to a specific employer
and occupation, had very limited welfare rights,
were not permitted to bring in dependents
and could be deported if they breached their contract conditions. These were p
disciplinary instruments, that forced mi

even those with educati
on and qualifications

to accept low
skilled jobs, poor wages and inferior conditions.

By contrast, colonial migrants

possessed citizenship

of the immigration
ry and had full reside
ntial and labour market rights.

Here the key
mechanism of
differentiation was racism
: cultures of racism based on centuries of colonialism were
effective ways of ensuring that migrants entered the labour market at low le
els, and fou
nd it
very hard to secure promotion. A disadvantaged labour market pos
tion often

led in turn to
residential concentration in poor neighboourhoods with

amenities and sub
standard educational facilities.

Differentiation by national status and thr
ough racial discrimination had the same effect of
creating a disadvantaged lower stratum of the working class. Of course, the distinction was
not rigid. Foreign workers and their families in Western Europe
experienced racism or
xenophobia, while
r imp
erial power

soon began to strip colonial subjects of their
citizenship status.

By the 1960s, in the light of economic decline and growing community
relations problems, the authorities of the three former colonial powers
began introducing

laws (such as Britain’s 1962 Commonwealth Immigrants Act) to stop immigration
from former colonies. From then on, there was a convergence in status between guest
workers and immigrants from former colonies.

Ever since recruitment started in the mid

German authorities and employers had
called guestworkers a

that is a buffer against economic fluctuations. The
idea was that migrants formed a ’reserve army of labour’
(compare Marx, 1976, 781

which could be brought in when labour was needed and sen
t away in the case of recession.
Unlike guestworker
, colonial migrants did not have a disadvantaged legal stauts, but racial
discrimination and social exclusion had similar effects: non
European workers in Britain,
France and the Netherlands were
ated in industries vulnerable to downturns, and had
high unemployment rates. The recession of the mid
1970s was to show whether the

strategy would work in the long run.

New ethnic minorities

The ’oil crisis’ of 19
73 precipitated a reorientation. All the labour
importing countries of
western Europe stopped recruitment

1974, except Brit
ain, which had done so earlier.
scale immigration to Western Europe seemed to be over, and governments expected
orkers to depart

a convenient way to export unemployment.

Many migrant workers
did leave, but t
hese were mainly from countries

such as Spain, Portugal and Greece, which
were soon to accede to the European Community. Those from more distant and impov
origin countries, like Turkey, Algeria and Morocco, tended to stay. Soon, another type of
immigration became important
: family reunion
, t
he entry of spouses, children

and other
relatives of earlier migrants. The predominance of young men waned, new fami
lies were
formed, and the original immigrants aged. The consciousness of many immigrants changed

temporary sojourners to permanent residents. Social, cultural, and political
associations were established, and ethnic businesses and services emerg

From the early 1980s, a

new form of immigraton became prominent: the inflow of
asylum seekers. Welcoming refugees from the Hungarian Uprising of 1956 or the Prague
Spring of 1968 had been a propaganda coup for the West, with broad public support.

But now
most asylum seekers came from Latin America, Asia and Africa, and they were often fleeing
the proxy wars of the East
West conflict, in which official Europe frequently sided with
authoritarian regimes. In the early 1990s,
the end of the Cold War a

in former
Yugoslvia led to new mass flows of asylum seekers especially

to Germany, which in 1992
ved over 400,000 asylum applications. Popular fears of mass flows
from the East and the

led to a politicisation of asylum and of im


Central governments were slo
w to accept
the reality of
new types of immigration,

settlement and the emergence of new minorities.

The German and French governments both
tried to limit inflows of migrants’ spouses and children, but were forced to
abandon such
efforts: it soon proved that the constitutions and legal systems of democratic countries were a
powerful counter to attempts by governments to restrict migrants’ rights. Moreover, migrant
workers had gained entitlements within European welfare

states: even in the event of
unemployment many were better off remaining in Europe than re
turning home to poor

This experience showed the limitations of the

As Tomas
Hammar p
ointed out, many migrants had become ’deni
zens’: although they had not gained
the legal status of citizens, they had acquired many civil and social rights on the basis of
term residence
(Hammar, 1990)
. They could not simply be sent away at a time of
recession. On the other hand, migrant workers

(whether former g
rkers or colonial
migrant) did lose their jobs more


than native workers, and had higher rates of
unemployment and social disadvantage. This was very visible in Britain, where Indian,
Pakistani and B
deshi workers

ed in the 1950s and
early 1960s for the textile
clothing industries

of Yorkshire and Lancashire

bore the brunt of deindustrialisation. Old mill
towns like Bradford and Oldham became wastelands of joblessness and social decline, with
their inhabitants lacking the re

to move elsewhere. Such towns were to be the focus of
rioting between Asians and whites in 2001.

All over Western Europe and North America, migrants and ethnic minorities were
amongst the groups most affected by deindustrialisation.

Immigration thus prov
ed not to be
the far

originally envisaged, but it did partially cushion majority
groups against unemployment.
Exclusion from full citizenship and
acism proved pow

in legitimating the division of disadvantaged groups
into the ’deserving’ and the
’undeserving’ poor
(Schierup and Castles, 2011)

Even though trade unions and civil society groups waged struggles

often with some

against discrimination, initial incorporation at the lowest levels of the labour market
created path dependence, making it

very hard for migrant
s and their children to achieve

upward mobility.

Migrants and minority members developed a range of individual strategies
to overcome this situation, including setting up small businesses and striving for educational

success. The ques
tion is wh
ther such strategies could be sufficient to overcome entrenched
mechanisms of differentation.

liberalism and the new global labour market

The recession of the mid
1970s was a major economic turning point, marking the end of the
Fordist sys
tem of mass production in the old industrial countries. Migrant labour recruitment
was replaced by capital outflows to new industrial areas in the Global South. These in turn
precipitated large
scale flows of workers, for instance from South Asia to the Gu
lf oil
countries, and somewhat later from less
developed parts of Asia to the new industrial tigers.

Between the mid
1970s and the outbreak of the GEC in 2008, a new global labour
market based on neo



principles were summed up
in the
‘Washington Consensus’


open borders, free markets,
a small state and

Advocates of n





such principles

will lead to faster economic growth in poor countries, and thus, in t
he long run, to poverty
reduction and convergence with richer countries. In fact, the opposite has been the case:
according to a World Bank economist,
global inequality by the mid
2000s was ‘probably the
highest ever recorded’
(Milanovic, 2007, 39)


governments of the ol
d industrial countries
that the outsourcing of
manufacturing and the move to a post
industrial economy would eliminate the need for
labour immigration. The new emphasis in the USA, Canada, Australia and Western Europe
was on facilitating the entry

of highly
skilled personnel and entrepreneurs. For manual
workers, there was a ‘zero
immigration policy’. By the early 21

century, new industrial
countries like S. Korea,
Hong Kong, Singapore and even China were joining the global
competition to attract

skills. But the idea that lower
skilled workers would not be needed was
quite mistaken. As Saskia Sassen

pointed out, post
industrial service economies
needed large number of low
skilled workers to service the needs of the elites
: construction
workers, gardeners, catering workers, domestic workers, care personnel, cleaners and so on.
Such workers could not be provided by local labour forces, first for demographic reasons, as

and the numbers of young people entering
labour markets in rich countries
declined, and second for social reasons, since local young people had good educational

opportunities and rejected low
skilled work. Since governments remain

unwilling to admit
to the enduring need for slow
skilled migrant

, they were recruited (up to the GEC)
either through special temporary labour schemes (as in Germany), through mobility within
the EU (Britain and Ireland), or through irregular migration (USA, Southern Europe and
several Asian countries)

et al.
, 2012)

Using new technologies of transport and control it

possible to

divide up and
outsource the various sta
ges of production and thus to

build global commodity chains
, while
maintaining control and profits within multinational corporations still largely based in the
USA and other major highly
developed countries.
At the same time,


t the removal of restrictions on human mobility

lead to large increases in
global income
(Bhagwati, 2003; Nayar, 1994)

Just like liberal theorists in the 19


portray the

economy as being b
ased on free markets, where employers and
workers encounter each other as free legal subjects, with equal rights to make contracts.
International migration is portrayed as a market in which workers

free choice to
move to the area where they will

receive the highest income (compare Borjas, 1990: 9


But this harmonious picture often fails to match reality

oliticians in labour

aware of popular
hostility to

immigration, and
responded with a rhetoric of

and control.

interplay between market forces demanding freedom
of movement and political forces demanding control

highly effective in creating a global
labour market

not only according to ‘human capital’ (possession of educa
training and work skills), but also according to gender, race, ethnicity, origins and legal

It is important to understand the key forms of differentiation of labour in today’s
global labour market.

Some of these are relatively new, w
hile othe
rs have a long history,
albeit with new aspects

New employment forms: subcontract
ing, temporary work and casuali



neoliberal employment practices has been the drive t
o turn wage
who enjoy

the protection of labour law and co
llective agreements, into independent
‘contractors’, who have no guarantee of work, have to buy their own tools and equipment,
and bear all the risks of accident, sickness or lack of jobs

et al.
, 2006, chapter 9)
The pressure to become independent contractors has affected occupations as diverse as
building tradesmen, truck drivers, graphic designers and archi


Employing migrants on a temporary b
asis is another way of enhancing employer control
and reducing demands for better wages and conditions. In 2007 the OECD found that
migrants were more likely to be employed in temporary jobs than natives in
European immigration countries

In Spa
in 56 per cent of the foreign
born had temporary jobs
compared with less than 30 per cent of locals
(OECD, 2007, 75

which may help explain
the rapid rise in unemployment of migrants in Spain during the GEC. In Europe’s partial
economic recovery of 2010, migrant workers were over
represented in new

hirings, mainly
because of a shift to temporary contracts
(OECD, 2011, 86)

Economic deregulation has l
ed to the removal of legal controls on employment and the
reduction of work
site inspections by labour market authorities. This allowed a big expansion
in hiring by the hour or for specific tasks, especially of migrants, young people and women.


are typical for cleaning, catering, and other service occupations, but also for the
construction, textile and garment industries. Many big firms no longer engage directly in
production, but subcontract it to smaller firms. Through outsourcing they strive
for a
maximum of flexibility. The frequent celebration of the rise of ‘ethnic entrepreneurship’
needs to be seen in the context of such trends.

Migrant women workers

ation based on

remains as important as ever.
s the demand for male labo
has fallen due to declines in manufacturing and construction employment, women have had
to bear an increasing burden. The new growth sectors (such as domestic and care work) are
linked to traditional
female roles, and the informalis
ation of such work ha
s dragged down pay
and conditions, leading to ‘a regrowth of inequalities and insecurities’
(Piper, 2011, 65)

Before the GEC, the OECD fo
und that ‘immigrant women are generally the group with
the least favour
able outcomes in the labour market ..., both in absolute terms and relative to
children of natives of the same gender’
(OECD, 2007, 81
. As noted above, migrant women
were less affected than men by unemployment during the GEC, due

to their concentration in
the sectors less
affected by the downturn. However, they had to make up family
losses when men lost their jobs
(OECD, 2011, 80)
. Since women have pay levels
substantially below those of men, this represented an increase in women’s work burden,
rather than a step towards gender equality.

A US study revealed that ‘women of col
our are
differentially situated in local labour markets compared with White women and co

men, so that economic restructuring affects each group uniquely’ (Browne and Misra, 2003:

Migrant women domestic workers form a c
ategory of gendered and
ed labour that
has expanded remarkably in virtually all advanced industrial economies
(Anderson, 2000;
2007; Cox, 2006)
. Domestic work is marked by a hierarchy of work tasks, of formal and
informal modes of
employment, and of groups with varied statuses. For instance, Filipina
domestic workers are preferred in some places due to their better education and English, but
rejected in others because they are seen as too active in defending their rights. Domestic w
by migrant women can be the result of increased opportunities of professional or white
employment for majority
group women: hiring foreign maids can free women in Italy, the
USA or Singapore from housework and childcare

et al.
, 2012; Huang

et al.
, 2005)
Such transnational care hierarchies somet
imes go a stage further, when migrant domestic
workers hire a maid in the home country to look after their own children.
lobal care chains’
may mean higher living standards and better education, but at a high emotional cost.

The growth of the informal ec

One of the most dramatic trends of the last 30 years has been the growth of informal
economies in advanced industrial countries. In the past, informal employment practices were
associated with less devel
oped countries, where lack of regular employm
ent forced people to
scratch a living through petty produc
tion and trading. Neo
liberalism and economic
deregulation have led to a burgeoning of informal work in formerly highly regulated labour
markets. All the trends already mentioned

temporary work, casu
and gendered and raciali
ed work situations

can be summed up th
rough the concept of

that is ‘
a redistribution of work from regulated sectors of the economy to
new unregu
lated sectors of the underground or

informal economy’
(Ness, 2005, 22)

Although informal employment can affect natives as well as migrants, irregular
ation has been crucial to its growth. This is particularly obvious in the USA, with its
officially estimated irregular population of about 11 million
(Passel and Cohn, 2011)
. Most of
them are Mexican and other Central American and Caribbean migrants in low
skilled jobs. In
Europe, the most reliable estimates for irregular residents
in the EU15 (the EU countries prior
to the 2004 and 2007 extensions) ranged from 1.8 to 3.3 million in 2008

(Clandestino, 2009,
. Some politicians argue that irregular immigr
ation is the cause of informalis

research shows

that the causality is the other way round: economic deregulation and
employer practices have created informal sector jobs, forming a pull factor for
(Reyneri, 2003)
. Informal work is a crucial part of th
e new global economy, a
Ness points out:

ation does not represent industrial decl
ine but
horizontal restructuring, often done to maintain and increase flexibility and competitiveness
in regional, nati
onal and international markets’
(Ness, 2005, 23)

From labour market segmentation to precarious work

Taken together, the various forms of labour force restructuring add up to a process labelled as
labour market segmentation
by economists
. This means that p
eople’s chances of getting jobs
depend not only on their human cap

also on gender, race, ethnicity,
legal status
, age,
location and other non
economic criteria
. More recently, social scientists have begun to talk
precarious work

and to analyz
e the processes which push certain categories of workers

particularly migrants

into insecure and exploitative jobs.
Guy Standing argues

that the
is a new socio
economic category of global significance

Clearly, it is important to understand the relationship between precariou
s workers and
the wider class hierarchy.

Labour market segmentation is not new.

war labour migration to Western Europe,
Australia and the USA led to segmentation, class fragmentation

new forms of social and
economic stratification
(Castles and Kosack, 1973; Collins, 1991; US Department of Labor,

However, labour market segmentation is changing in complex ways, linked to a new
global social geography.
In the 1
Sassen (1988)

how foreig
n investment
and displacement of manufacturing jobs abroad
fostered new migratory streams to the
USA. Linkages between global cities and distant hinterlands created
situation in which

remunerated professional employment uneasily coexisted with g
rowing unskilled service
industry employment and Third
like employment conditions in unde
Considerable illegal employment of migrants often coincided with high
unemployment of citizens and legally resident aliens. The latter were l
ikely to belong to
minorities and had often been victims of job losses in industries that had shifted
manufacturing operations abroad.

Twenty years on,
Ness examined the transformation of the social geography
of New York City
(Ness, 2005, chapter 2)
. In the early

century, immigrant labour from

Southern and Eastern Europe had been crucial to the emergenc
e of the garment, printing,
meatpacking, construc
tion and transportation industries. Industry was concentrated in ‘ethnic
neighbourhoods’ and immigrants came to form the backbone of the city’s strong labour
movement. In the late

century, these tradit
ional industries were restructured, with most
n jobs being moved to non
ed ‘sunbelt’ states or offshore to the Caribbean,
Latin America and Asia. Many new jobs were created in retailing, personal
services, and
business services, and t
he new

economy was heavily stratified on the basis of ethnicity:

Parallels can be found
elsewhere. F
ollowing German reunification in 1990, Berlin
experienced an unprecedented building boom. Yet, by 1996, 25 per cent of unemployed
persons in Berlin were building
workers. Some employers took on workers from Poland, who
came through temporary labour schemes. Another option was to subcontract work to
Portuguese firms, which could bring their own workers (at lower wages) through EU free
movement provisions. Other work
ers came as daily commuters from the former East German
hinterland of Brandenburg. This competi
n had adverse effects on unionis
ed building
workers, many of whom were established foreign residents of Berlin. In the old German
model of long
term employme
nt, the firm and the trade union had been sites of interethnic
communication and integration. The decline of this model and its replacement with contract
workers had negative effects on social integration and intergroup relations. This was one
factor behin
d the increase in racism and racist violence following German reunification
(Hunger and Thränhardt, 2001)

The garment industry provides many examples of hierarchies based on race and gender
(Rath, 2002)
. In Britain, ethnic and gend
based divisions allowed the revival of clothing
production after it seemed doomed to extinction through outsourcing to low
wage economies

(see Phiz
acklea, 1990)
. From the 1970s, management, design, and marketing of clothing
became heavily concentrated in a few big and highly capitalized British retail clothing
companies. During the 1960s and 1970s the immigrant workforce in the garment industry had
mainly been first
generation male immigrants: Pakistanis, Indians, Bangladeshis and others.
Many of these workers lost their jobs, and then became contractors to the big clothing houses,
setting up small formally independent sweat
shops based on cheap ethn
ic minority or
immigrant family labour. The industry’s informality suited both the economic interests of the
big retailers and the male ethnic middlemen contractors, who controlled their

workforce through bonds of family and ethnic community

et al.
, 2006,


The term

precarious work
increasingly being used to
characterise the
restructuring of labour markets.
(2011, 90)

points out that: ‘Migrants makes up a
large share of the world’s precariat’. Recent comparative research in Europe reveals the
‘labour market penalties of new immigrants’ and shows how
these are

linked to a range of
factors, including legal status on arriv

the effects of regularis
ation processes, different
types of labour demand in various countries, and the trade
off between unemployment and
(Reyneri and Fullin, 2010)

A study of the Toronto labour market by Goldring and Landolt

links work status
and citizenship rights through a ‘work
citizenship matrix’. This valuable tool for empirical
research lists indicators of
ecarious work, such as level of unionis
ation, contract type, terms
of employment, and payment in cash, and proposes a three
step scale for each indicator. The
level of precariousness can then be linked through regression analysis to a range of
factors based on individual and human capital, households and networks,
contextual and policy factors, and macro
economic and labour market conditions. Golding
and Landolt found that a transition from irregular to legal status did not lead to significantly

improved labour market outcomes. Labour markets were becoming stratified according to
migratory status, and precarious status became ‘a source of vulnerability in the short run as
well as a long
term trap because low
wage and precarious jobs become a “sti
cky” web for
people with precarious status’
(Goldring and Landolt, 2011)

e global economic crisis

How has the GEC affected the global labour market, and the patterns of differentiation
through which it is structured? It is still too early for a comprehensive answer, and in any
case, there is no time and space for it here. Inste
ad I will focus on the three puzzles I raised at
the beginning of this paper.



of foreign
born workers in OECD countries increased twice as fast as
that of natives
born workers in 2008
9. But the

of the foreign
born increased
5 per cent from 2008
10, while the employment of native
born declined by 2.2 per

(OECD, 2011, 74
. How can we explain the simultaneous increase of foreign
employment and unemployment? What does it mean?

On average in
Western Europe
, the unemployment rate for the foreign
increased by 3.4 percentage points from 2008 to 2009

e as much as for the native
The largest increase was in Ireland (8 percentage points) and Spain (11 percentage points). In
the USA, the unemployment rate for immigrants more than doubled from 4.3 per cent to 9.7
per cent. The crisis was marked by sha
rp declines in construction, manufacturing, the
financial sector, and wholesale and retail trade. Immigrants were over
represented in these
sectors, which is one reason why they were most affected by the crisis.
This demonstrates the
importance of the path

dependence discussed earlier: because migrant workers were mainly
incorporated into certain occupations and industries, they were hardest hit when such
‘rustbelt jobs’ declined.
Yet foreign employment in European OECD countries actually
increased by 5 per

cent from early 2008 to the third quarter of 2010, while the employment of
born persons declined by 2.2 per cent
(OECD, 2011, 74
This was the result

of the

factors already mentioned above

demographic shifts leading to a decline in the
entry of
young people into the labour force and social shifts like better education opportu
nities for

The increase in migrant employment therefore continued
, even during the GEC.


Migrant men in OECD countries were far worse affected by unemployment than migrant
women. Migrant women increased their labour force participation and had lower
unemployment rat
(OECD, 2011, 78
. Why was that? Does it reflect an
improvement in migrant women’s labour market


This happened

mainly because migrant men tended to be employed in the sectors hardest
hit by the downturn, especially manufacturing and construction, while migrant women were
more concentrated in less
affected sectors, notably social services, c
are work and domestic
work. At the same time, the GEC reinforced the trend towards part
time, temporary and
causal employment, with women more likely to enter such employment relationships than
(OECD, 2011, 78
So relatively lower unemployment than men has not meant an
improved situation for migrant women

rather they are often

pushed into precar
ious jobs and

forced to work even longer hours

than before

to allow their family to make ends meet.

Another disturbing effect of the GEC in European OECD countries has been much
higher rates of youth unemployment for young migrants than native
born perso

unemployment was also a major problem: over half of all unemployed migrants had been
jobless for over a year in Germany, while the figure in most other countries was 30 per cent
or more
(OECD, 2011, 85)
. Unemployment

rates varied by area of origin, with

worst affected


On the whole, the
GEC affected old industrial economies

notably t
he OECD countries
more than emerging ones in Asia and Latin America
(Phillips, 2011)

does this mean a
shift in global migration patterns?

As new economic powers arise

like the BRICS countries

patterns of work and
migration seem to be changing.

The GEC disrupted migratory patterns wo
rldwide for a while,
but such effects were more severe and long
lasting in Western Europe and the USA than
Global patterns are everywhere influenced by specific local factors. For example
departures from Mexico to the USA fell from 369,000 in 20
06 to just 114,000 in 2009

the hesitant return to growth in 2010
11, inflows of lower
illed migrants
remained stagnant and Mexican immigration showed no sign of recovery in 2010
and Cohn, 2011)
. In Latin America, the picture is mixed. In view of relative stagnation of
labour demand in the USA, migratory flows to the North have been much reduced.
Emigration to Spain from Ecuador and other Latin American cou
ntries, and to Japan from
Brazil and Peru has also fallen, and there has been significant return migration. However,
uneven economic growth and the emergence of new migration poles (such as Brazil, Chile
and Argentina) within Latin America have led to a gr
owth of mobility within the continent.

In early 2009, the economic downturn was causing some governments in Southeast and
East Asia to close their borders to new migrant workers
But it soon became clear that the
effects of the GEC on Asian migration were
moderate and short
(IOM, 2011, 68)
Migrant departures from Bangladesh, which had fallen by 20 per cent in 2010, grew by 37
per cent in the first three quarters of
Outflows of migrant workers

from the Philippines
grew by 20 per cent from 2008
10, and by a further 7 per cent in the first three quarters of
2011. This growth was due to the high demand for labour in the Gulf Cooperation Council
(GCC) countries are
well as in Russia, which in turn was linked to the high price of oil.
Recruitment of Filipino seafarers, who sail the oceans under many flags, also increased

et al.
, 2011)


High labour d
emand in the oil
producing countries reversed the trend of 2008
9, when
some such economies

notably Dubai

were struggling.

Similarly, in 2008
9 there
had been

sharp falls in
migration within

Confederation of Independent States. Before the crisis,
igration played a major role, with between 10 and 25 per cent of the population of many

living abroad. Russia was a major pole of attraction, especially for workers
from Central Asian states like Tajikistan and Kazakhstan.
(Canagarajah and Kholmatov,
. But in 2011, flows recovered considerably, as labour demand increased again in
Russia and other destination countries.

Irregular migration proved particularly sensitive to labour market dem
and in destination
countries as diverse as the USA, Spain, the Gulf States and Malaysia. Several Asian
governments tightened up entry controls
(Abella and Ducanes, 2009)
. Since irregular
migrants tend to rely on information and support from networks of previous migrants,
potential migrants quickly learn of the lack of work opportunities in recessions. Moreover,
rregular migrants generally lack entitlements to welfare support, and have little motivation to
come to a destination country or to stay there if work is not available.

An important emerging effect of the GEC is the growth of

from the worst
of Europe
to places that still offer jobs and opportunities.
In early

there were
reports of Greeks,


and Irish

moving to Australia, Portuguese seeking their fortunes in
Brazil and
, and Spaniards, Italians and Britons
trying their
luck in

Such migrants were treading paths established

50 or even 100 years ago, but with the
difference that
many are highly
qualified y
oung people moving from depressed
to seek

opportunities in emerging economic centres.
Rather than a resumption of
past imperial patterns, this reflects the changing constellations of a global economy no longer
dominated by a single superpower.

erall, t
he patterns of labour market disadvantage and differentiation established in
earlier years have had profound effects during the GEC. Migrants have been particularly hard
hit by unemployment and decline

in earnings. Moreover the new jobs that were
created as
economic conditions improved in some places were overwhelmingly temporary or casual,
reducing job security yet more. Yet the
most important

lesson of the GEC was that migrant
workers were essential to the economies of industrial countries, espec
ially in Europe and
some Asian countries, where demographic change is leading to a declining local labour force.

Overall, migrant stocks have not fallen, and
new migratory patterns are emerging, in response
to major changes in the structure of the world ec


There has never been an homogenous working class in capitalism. Workers have always
come from diverse cultural and social backgrounds, and have had varying aspirations and life
strategies. In the workplace, employers have treated human b
eings as bearers of labour
power, yet at the same time they have divided up the workforce according to such criteria as
gender, race, ethnicity, age, origins and legal status. In various epochs such terms as unfree
labour, sexism, racism, discrimination, p
recarity, and denial of human and worker rights have
been used by critics to characterise these processes. We should not argue about terminology:
the key point is the mechanisms of differentiation that lead to inequality and divisions among
working people.

These mechanisms have been crucial in every phase of capitalist
development, including the most recent phase: the emergence of a neo
liberal global labour

This paper has

for reasons of space

been silent on one key issue. In conclusion
I want to draw attention to the importance of human agency and resistance against
differentiation and division

(see the excellent and detailed examination of this in Taran,
. We can see this at the individual

level, for example in the refusal of migrants to leave
Europe after 1973 or in decisions to undertake irregular migration, despite the enormous
risks. We can also see it at a collective level in the struggles by migrant workers against
appalling labour co
nditions in Dubai and other Gulf states since the mid
2000s, in the
mobilisation of migrants in the USA against repressive legislation in 2006, or in the fight for
rights by migrant domestic workers in Hong Kong. There are many other examples. Trade
, which should have taken the lead in claiming equal rights for all workers, have been
ambivalent: some unions have taken up this fight, while others seem to function as closed
circles of more privileged groups that exclude disadvantaged workers. In respon
se to this
ambivalence, migrants everywhere have formed their own associations, and a global civil
society movement for worker rights is emerging. These important trends cannot be explored
here, but we should never assume that the mechanisms of differentia
tion that are so crucial
for neo
liberalism will go unchallenged.



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