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Global Cities at Work: New Migrant Divisions of Labour available in Hardcover
This book is about the people who always get taken for granted. The people who clean our offices and trains, care for our elders and change the sheets on the bed. Global Cities at Work draws on testimony collected from more than 800 foreign-born workers employed in low-paid jobs in London during the first decade of the 21st century.
The authors break new ground in London's new migrant division of labour to the twin processes of subcontracting and increased international migration. The book calls us to prioritise the issue of working poverty and examines its implications for both unemployment and community cohesion.
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DEREGULATION, MIGRATION AND THE NEW WORLD OF WORK
The metaphors for immigration are usually aquatic: we talk of floods and tides, of being swamped or drowned. We might do better to think of Britain as a lake refreshed by one stream that bubbles in and another that trickles out. The fish might squabble and at times attack one another; conditions sometimes favour the pike, sometimes the minnow. Every so often the incoming stream stirs the still pond, but over time, the lake adapts and develops a new, unexpected ecology. Without the oxygen generated by fresh water, it would stagnate.
Robert Winder (2004: 5)
As Winders implies, the history of the UK cannot be understood without full appreciation of the history of immigration. In this book, we explore the nature of contemporary immigration and its role in labour-market change in the UK through the lens of the capital city. We look at the nature of the low-paid labour market that keeps London working, unpacking the extraordinary story of the city's new migrant division of labour. Although it has gone largely unremarked, London now depends on an army of foreign-born workers to clean its offices, care for its sick, make beds, and serve at its restaurants and bars. Many have arrived outside the official channels of the immigration system, coming to make London their home. While migrants have long populated the lower echelons of the London labour market, supplying the workers who do the dirty, dangerous and difficult jobs, we posit that something new has been going on over the past two decades or so. Most clearly in relation to its rise to global-city status, London has become almost wholly reliant on foreign-born workers to do the city's 'bottom-end' jobs. We suggest that this labour market is a product of the model of economic development that has dominated the global political economy during the same period. In what has become known as neo-liberal economic management, the market – and particularly subcontracting – has been used to push down the wages and conditions of work in jobs like cleaning, care and construction. At the same time, the export of this model of economic development to the rest of the world has helped to create both the necessity and the desire for people to migrate across international borders in search of work. In this chapter, we show how these developments have culminated in a new labour market, and a new migrant division of labour, in London.
This book has been written to illuminate the lives of the foreign-born workers who find themselves part of London's migrant division of labour. We draw on extensive new research material that, for the first time, tells the story of London's changing low-paid labour market and the people who keep the city afloat. While this population necessarily contains settled immigrants as well as newer arrivals, we use the term 'migrant division of labour' to capture the importance of this foreign-born labour supply. However, we also seek to locate these developments in their broader context, and we use this opening chapter and the final sections of the book to explore the wider implications of the migrant division of labour – for the city, the nation, and the rest of the world.
In this chapter we set the scene for the arguments that follow by focusing on the related developments of deregulated employment and increased population mobility. In so doing, we explain why the migrant has become the embodiment of the good worker in so many parts of the world. We look at the ways in which the British state has responded to increased employer demand for low-paid workers and to increased global population mobility, recasting the post-war immigration regime with a new approach to 'manage' migration. We then move on to make some background arguments about the tensions that can exist between migrants and established working-class communities in poorer parts of the country. While this is not the focus of the research we have done, it forms an important part of the story behind developments in a city like London today. In the penultimate section we introduce our study of London, setting out how and why we chose to explore these contemporary developments and their implications for politics and policy through the lens of our capital city. The final section then introduces the rest of the book.
The Necessary Connection: Labour Deregulation and International Migration
During the past 30 years the UK has been responsible for developing and exporting a particular model of the economy to the rest of the world. Much of what is now known as neo-liberalism began – in tandem with developments in the rest of the world (Harvey 2005) – as a series of experiments conducted to do battle with our own working class. When, in 1979, Margaret Thatcher and ministers like Norman Tebbit were elected on the promise of solving 'the British disease', they had their sights on unionised workers in car factories, mines and the docks. Politicians were determined to liberate the labour market for managers who had lost their mettle and abandoned their right to manage. As Norman Tebbit declared in his role as secretary of state for trade and industry at the height of the miners' strike in 1984: 'Unless the ball and chain, the irons and the handcuffs of traditional trades union attitudes are struck off we will continue to be handicapped in the race for markets, customers, orders and jobs.'
The contemporary reification of neo-liberalism has tended to obscure its origins on the battlefield of the British class war. During the 1980s, police and pickets regularly made war across industrial landscapes that have since become part of the heritage industry. Groups of organised workers were picked off one by one, from the steel and car industries to the mines and dockyards. New laws made it harder to organise, and much more difficult to secure the support and resolve needed to mount industrial action. Yet while direct legislation played a key role in the mounting class war, the Conservatives launched a much more deadly weapon against workers in the form of privatisation. As early as 1983, managers in the National Health Service (NHS) were expected to practise 'market testing' to save money by subcontracting their 'non-essential' staff like cleaners, cooks and security guards. The same approach was later applied to local government in the form of compulsory competitive tendering, and many more workers were exposed to the winds of the market. The women cooking and serving meals to school children and the men emptying our bins joined the hospital cleaners on the sharp end of a new form of employment. Alongside the wholesale privatisation of the state-owned utilities (gas, telecommunications and water) and the means of transport (docks, buses and trains), many thousands of workers were transferred from the public to the private sector, with dramatic implications for the nature of work.
Once the genie was out of the bottle, privatisation very quickly took hold. Councils, hospitals, schools and universities could provide services with inbuilt cost deflation. Regular re-tendering and intense competition between contractors meant that wages, conditions and staffing were kept at minimal levels, and managers no longer had the burden of responsibility for employing their staff. New workers could be taken on without the troublesome costs of annual increments, sick pay or overtime rates. Moreover, there was little that trade unions could do to negotiate when their members were now employed by contractors, with no legal access to the managers who really determined the nature of work. While the British disease was being fought front-stage outside the collieries of the country, it was being won back-stage through the deadly assault of the market. Millions of workers were being disciplined through exposure to the pressures of competition. No longer protected by the political opportunity structure of the state, these workers experienced real cuts in their terms and conditions of work, with knockon psychological effects on those watching from behind the parapet walls.
By the time Tony Blair came to power in May 1997, Britain's organised working class had all but vanished, and what was left was easily vanquished by New Labouritself. For example, the latest research shows that as many as 93 per cent of private sector workplaces in Britain are now outsourcing at least one of their activities (White et al. 2004: 25). Driven by the desire to cut costs and shed the risks of employment, all public sector employers are doing the same – including our art galleries, hospitals, schools, swimming pools and universities. Moreover, what started as a series of ad hoc experiments to unleash the market as a force for reform in the UK has become something called 'global neoliberalism', with subcontracting as its favoured form of employment. Indeed, Mrs Thatcher's greatest and deadliest legacy is undoubtedly witnessed in the industrial powerhouses of the developing world. Multinational firms have used subcontracting to expand their activities, developing complex chains of production that involve suppliers in different parts of the world. In what academics have called 'global commodity chains' or 'global production networks', the brand-name companies at the top of these chains employ few, if any, of the workers producing their goods, and corporate elites have been able to liberate themselves from any responsibility for workers employed in the chain (Hale and Wills 2005, Henderson et al. 2002, Gerreffi and Korzeniewicz 1994). Multinational corporations have sought to keep costs down by ensuring that suppliers that get too expensive or troublesome are ditched, with little thought for the impact this has on workers and their communities.
Over the past 30 years, subcontracting has thus become a key part of a booming global economy that has largely evaded the collective power of labour. Indeed, economic growth has occurred alongside a reduction in workers' share of overall wealth. Productivity – and profitability – bargaining are things of the past: quaint relics of the golden age of corporatism. In the global North, many of the low-paid jobs created by subcontracting have been devalued to the point that it is hard to find people to fill them; and in the global South, many millions earn less than they need to survive. Indeed, if London and the UK were one of the first test sites for the development of neo-liberal policies, many countries in the global South were much more deeply affected. Warmly embraced by international financial institutions like the World Bank and IMF, programmes of neo-liberal reform were introduced in many countries in the aftermath of the oil and debt crisis and the so-called 'lost decade of development' of the 1980s. Echoing the political experiments pioneered in the UK during the 1980s, and outlined above, governments in the global South were encouraged to reduce state expenditure, privatise state assets, liberalise markets, reduce import tariffs, and welcome inward investment. In what became known as 'structural adjustment', a model of social and economic 'reform' born in the corridors of the World Bank in Washington was visited upon struggling nation-states in the developing world (Bayart 1993, Beckman 1992, Simon 2008). Finance and debt reduction became dependent upon take-up of these policies, and recipient countries had little choice but to accept the medicine doled out from on high. During the period 1980–89, for example, 171 structural adjustment programmes were introduced in sub-Saharan Africa alone, with a further 57 initiated by the end of 1996 (Simon 2001). The impact of these policies was almost immediately and uniformly severe in countries that lacked welfare systems, with devastating consequences for the poor, vulnerable and marginalised.
The introduction of these reforms also paved the way for the establishment of export processing zones (EPZs) in those countries which had a comparative advantage over their competitors in the form of semi-skilled cheap labour supplies, reasonable infrastructure, and state-level support. These locations became key nodes in global subcontracting chains and were associated with the migration of low-order jobs from the global North to the South, where they attracted a new generation of young, mainly female, labour into factory work (Kelly 2000, Klein 2002). Driven by the needs of the export market and the 'real employers' at the top of the contracting chain, these jobs were often associated with enforced overtime, poor health and safety, and relatively low rates of pay (Chant and McIlwaine 1995, Hale and Wills 2005). Moreover, while EPZs initially fuelled internal migration, they also opened the door for international migration – not only within the global South, but also from the global South to the North.
While the precise details of implementation varied in each case, these policies and practices tended to increase unemployment (particularly in the public sector and in those activities exposed to international competition) and inequality (as those able to exploit the opportunities associated with global subcontracting chains and new sources of investment secured economic advantage). In tandem with the extension of market relations and the development of new communication infrastructure, such policies also tended to increase international migration. As Douglas Massey and colleagues (1998: 277) put it in their overview of migration: 'International migration does not stem from a lack of economic development, but from development itself.' Thus, rates of international migration have grown considerably since the 1980s, such that countries like Ghana have now lost up to one in five of their adults overseas (Mohan et al. 2000, Peil 1995). Since the 1990s, a similar exodus has affected the countries of central and eastern Europe – most notably, Poland, where millions of workers have moved abroad (Iglicka 2005). In many cases, these population movements have been sanctioned and even encouraged by national governments struggling with mass unemployment and shortages of foreign exchange (see alsoChapter 6; and for more detailed arguments in relation to Ghana and Poland, see May et al. 2008).
The economic experiments pioneered in the UK in the 1980s, and which produced a new model of employment, have also provided the engine for economic globalisation and increased rates of national and international migration. Subcontracting has been pivotal in making it easier for multinational corporations to exploit the opportunities associated with new sources of cheap labour in the global South, without the risks of direct employment. These activities have both fuelled economic growth in the global South – extending local markets and the desire for material goods, along with the money and physical infrastructure needed to move – and generated the widening inequalities and impoverishment that have further encouraged international migration. Indeed, although there is a long history of workers moving between the countries of the global South, it is the direction of flows that has shifted during the last 30 years: neo-liberal globalisation has helped to fuel transnational migration from the South to the North. There is a necessary connection between the impact of new forms of global political economy – and subcontracting in particular – and increased rates of global migration (International Organisation for Migration 2008).
Processes of economic globalisation associated with subcontracted employment have thus placed the migrant at the centre of the contemporary labour process. While subcontracting is now the paradigmatic form of employment across the world, the migrant is the world's paradigmatic worker. Moreover, while migrants are drawn into employment for economic reasons, they also have major political advantages as a labour supply. Even those who cross borders legally find themselves politically disenfranchised. Without citizenship, they will likely encounter restrictions on their access to employment, welfare and the political process. In relation to the UK, even those who have been able to secure a job in advance cannot leave this position without securing another; new arrivals from eastern Europe cannot stop working to take up state benefits without working for more than a year; and those who do not have the papers to work have no choice but to do anything in order to live. Migrant workers are attractive to employers precisely because they are migrants.
Excerpted from "Global Cities at Work"
Copyright © 2010 Jane Wills, Kavita Datta, Yara Evans, Joanna Herbert, Jon May and Cathy McIlwaine.
Excerpted by permission of Pluto Press.
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Table of Contents
List of tables vi
List of figures vii
List of photos viii
List of abbreviations and acronyms ix
1 Deregulation, Migration and the New World of Work 1
2 Global City Labour Markets and London's New Migrant Division of Labour 28
3 London's Low-Paid Foreign-Born Workers 59
4 Living and Remaking London's Ethnic and Gender Divisions 94
5 Tactics of Survival among Migrant Workers in London 121
6 Relational Lives: Migrants, London and the Rest of the World 138
7 Remaking the City: Immigration and Post-Secular Politics in London Today 163
8 Just Geographies of (Im)migration 188