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A political economy of the dynamics of migrant labour in an enlarged Europe: the case of Polish migration to the UK Jane Hardy (University of Hertfordshire)

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Presentation on theme: "A political economy of the dynamics of migrant labour in an enlarged Europe: the case of Polish migration to the UK Jane Hardy (University of Hertfordshire)"— Presentation transcript:

1 A political economy of the dynamics of migrant labour in an enlarged Europe: the case of Polish migration to the UK Jane Hardy (University of Hertfordshire) To be presented at ESRC seminar series At the University of East Anglia, 17 June 2010 The impact of migrant workers on the functioning of labour markets and industrial relations


3 Conceptual framework Uneven development creates structural conditions of push and pull Specificity of migrant workers at the point of production in the context of an intensification of competition The role of the state in managing competing demands of capital Individual and collective agency of migrant workers

4 Uneven development in an enlarged Europe


6 Country GDP per capita EU 27 = 100 Unemployment (% of working population) 2004200820042010 Slovakia577218.214.1 Czech Republic 76808.37.7 Hungary64 6.110.4 Poland515619.09.9 Ireland1421354.613.2 Latvia465710.422.5 Lithuania516211.417.4 United Kingdom 1241164.77.9 Table 1 GDP per capita and unemployment for selected countries, 2004 and 2008/2010

7 Intensification of competition and drive to flexibility

8 Mobile and immobile capital

9 The role of migrant labour in production Reserve army of labour Extensive accumulation Expendable during downturns Provision of labour under ‘special conditions’ Can obtain labour at lower costs and/or increased flexibility Divide and rule Increase intensity of exploitation

10 Sector registered Number of workers registered Administration, business & management 317,540 Hospitality & catering151,945 Agriculture80,310 Manufacturing58,810 Food/fish/meat processing39,145 Health & medical34,915 Retail35,230 Construction & land33,105 Transport21,425 Table 2: Sectoral profile of A8 registered workers

11 OTTO Uitzend Kracht BV was established in the Netherlands in 2000. Frank van Gool identified a demand for reliable, hard working and motivated personel within the Dutch marketplace, and he saw an opportunity to bring these types of personnel from Poland to the Netherlands. OTTO in the Netherlands is now the market leader in the supply of temporary Polish workers and Eastern European personnel. Why are we different? We only offer our clients recruitment solutions in the form of personnel from Eastern Europe. Our clients are generally companies, who have difficulty finding, and retaining, production / shop floor personnel.. Advert from web page: Specialist Suppliers of Personnel from Eastern Europe The role of employment agencies

12 Migrant workers in the food retailing value chain ‘Picking it, sorting it, moving it, selling it’

13 The UK state: contradictory views, competing discourses

14 Managing tensions and contradictions: the state Maximise the supply, flexibility and skills of labour Minimise the cost of reproducing and maintaining workers Balance the demands of different sections of capital Involves intensive management of labour mobility and hierarchy of status for migrant workers

15 Story 1 UK Home Office ‘ there are obviously enormous benefits of immigration…There is a big positive impact on the economy which is worth £6 billion. (Immigration Minister) ‘The empirical literature from around the world suggests little or no evidence that immigrants have had a major impact on native labour markets outcomes such as wages and unemployment’ (Danny Blanchflower speech to Bank of England)

16 Story 2 UK House of Lords Report Immigration has a positive effect on the wages of higher paid workers There is pressure on the wages of the worst paid workers

17 The Polish State 2004 safety valve for unemployment Emergent labour shortages (geographically specific) Emergence of ‘brain drain’ argument Ran ‘return to Poland’ campaigns

18 Individual and collective agency in the context of supermobility

19 Migrant workers as complex agents: individually and collectively It is their [migrant workers] humanity that causes authorities (and employers) problems. They don’t only migrate to work. The categories – refugee, economic migrant, tourist, family member, business visitor, student, stubbornly merge one into another, and people impose their own wishes on the system. All of them, apart from the very rich, need some means of material support, but this is not necessarily the only reason why they move, or stay. When I asked a (small) sample of people who had settled, none of them planned to, but most of them did because they fell in love. (Nick Clark)

20 Harvey (1982) argues that workers are active agents in trying to manage the differential of uneven development to their own advantage. He describes workers as; creative subjects...perpetually roam the world seeking to escape the depredations of capital, shunning the worst aspects of exploitation, always struggling, often with some success, to better their lot (: 380)

21 Historian James Barrett (2000) found that; ‘the existence of separate racial and ethnic continuities could lead to either unity or fragmentation, depending on the role played by important community leaders or institutions.’

22 Labour organisations and cross border solidarity Inclusion or exclusion Strength of labour in sender and receiver countries Rhetorical or concrete solidarity


24 Migrant workers, crisis and recession

25 World recession widespread job loss UK experience contradictory 2008 Employment of UK nationals 27.12m. to 26.74m. Employment of non-UK nationals 2.29m to 2.35m

26 According to a public policy advisor ‘The idea that migrant workers comprise a marginal segment of the UK workforce that is dispensed of when times are tough is clearly wide of the mark’ (Churchard, 2009). Migrants choosing to stay in adopted countries rather than return home despite high unemployment and lack of jobs.

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