Borders, Labour Impacts, and Union Responses: Case of Spain

By Stobart, Luke | Refuge, Fall 2009 | Go to article overview
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Borders, Labour Impacts, and Union Responses: Case of Spain

Stobart, Luke, Refuge


Spain is an acute example of severe yet permissive border control where institutional frameworks ensure that migrant labour inexpensively fills existing labour shortages and highly exploitative "niches," while aiding a broader flexibilization strategy. Through a review of mainly Spanish research by trade union, industrial relations, and immigration specialists on three major migrant employment sectors, the article shows that impacts on employment and wage levels have been limited, despite claims to the contrary, although they have been deeper in those employment sectors with reduced legal protection and union organization. It concludes that while the Spanish case gives support to the No Borders position, it also exposes the need for greater engagement with migrant workers by the trade unions and rejects the major Spanish union federations' recent advocacy of "controlled immigration."


L'Espagne est un exemple aigu d'un controle rigoureux quoique permissif des frontieres ou les cadres institutionnels font en sorte que les travailleurs migrants comblent a peu de frais les penuries de main-d'oeuvre existantes et les creneaux susceptibles d'une forte exploitation, tout en facilitant une strategie de d'assouplissement etendue. A travers un examen de la recherche principalement espagnole sur les trois principaux secteurs de l'emploi des migrants par des experts en syndicalisme, relations industrielles et immigration, l'auteur montre qu'en depit d'affirmations a contrario les effets sur les niveaux d'emploi et les salaires ont ete limites, bien qu'ils se soient fait sentir plus profondement dans les secteurs de l'emploi ou la protection juridique et l'organisation syndicale demeurent insuffisantes. En guise de conclusion, l'auteur soutient que si le cas de l'Espagne conforte la position du mouvement No Border, il fait neanmoins ressortir la necessite d'un plus grand engagement aupres des travailleurs migrants de la part des syndicats et va a l'encontre du plaidoyer recent des grandes federations syndicales espagnoles en faveur de << l'immigration controlee >>.


In this article I will attempt to add to the debate on the validity of the No Borders thesis by analyzing a polemical area among progressive analysts: the impact of controlled migration on labour conditions--of both migrant and non-migrant workers. (1) My contribution will take the form of a national case study, that of the Spanish State, (2) in which a combination of strictness and permissiveness in border control has combined with specific legislative constraints to shape the labour and self-organization of migrants, inserted into an unfavourable context of extensive informal employment and precarious labour relations. This, as we shall explore, has been a factor contributing to growing anti-immigrant attitudes in Spanish society and even large-scale racist attacks. In response, a significant level of debate has emerged within the trade unions and the mainstream and radical left about the effects of migration on the poorer classes.

My method shall be to contextualize the subject within the actuality of migrant employment and policy and then critically interpret several recent Spanish studies dealing with impacts on pay and employment. These include a study on the trade unions and migration, "Los sindicatos ante la inmigracion," directed by Carmen Gonzalez-Enriquez for the government-attached Observatorio Permanente de la Inmigracion (Permanent Observatory of Immigration, OPI) which concludes with a negative assessment of the effect of migrants on the employment and conditions of non-migrants and supports the two main union federations' current defence of "controlled immigration." (3) I also explore research by Miguel Pajares, the ex-coordinator for migrant services (CITE) at the Catalan Comisiones Obreras (CCOO) federation, which, in contrast, identified a negligible negative effect.

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Borders, Labour Impacts, and Union Responses: Case of Spain


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