Academic journal article Alternatives: Global, Local, Political

Racial Assumptions in Global Labor Recruitment and Supply

Academic journal article Alternatives: Global, Local, Political

Racial Assumptions in Global Labor Recruitment and Supply

Article excerpt

Randolph B. Persaud (*)

Capitalism has generally found laborers when and where it needed them, and migratory movements have carried labor power to market all across the globe.

--Eric Wolf, Europe and the People Without History

These days, hate crimes occur with alarming frequency. In between these violent outbursts, I receive ominous missives launched with vitriol and resentments against the usual targeted groups, but especially the reviled "illegal alien."

--Austin Gurza, Los Angeles Times

Wherever a Western flag is flying, there's a crowd out there, waiting. Just waiting.

--Jean Raspail, Camp of the Saints

On January 26, 2001, the Virginia Senate passed Bill 925. It was for all practical purposes a routine act. The strategic objective of the legislation, however, was anything but ordinary. For here, in one of the richest counties in the United States, and thus one of the wealthiest localities of the world, the staggering contradictions between citizen and alien, between assumptions of the civilized and the lesser hordes of the world, between the rhetoric of individual freedom and the practices of racialized exclusion, came to the fore. Accompanying Bill 925, were images that have for so long been inscribed on the bodies of the foreigner.

The contents of the bill are quite simple. It states that "spaces such as kitchens, living rooms, dining rooms and family rooms shall not be occupied for sleeping purposes," and permits Fairfax County to take appropriate remedial action. (1) Bill 925 was not the first of its kind: previous legislation in this "immigrant rich" county had made it illegal to have more than four unrelated persons living in the same house.

This development in northern Virginia is hardly local, or for that matter regional or even national. On the contrary, it is merely a particular instantiation of a set of interconnected but contradictory global developments. The most important of these developments are: (1) the rapid transformation of modes of social relations that have been accompanying the movement toward ideas-based value production and, more broadly, the consolidation of service-oriented economies in the Western industrialized states and Japan; (2) the simultaneous immigrantization, racialization, and feminization of the processes of labor-market segmentation, which themselves have been deepening since the onset of global monetarism; (3) the production of a new hegemonized common sense about the "proper place" of diasporic populations in advanced countries; and (4) the extent to which these latter phenomena, when combined, form the basis for a new global culture founded on racio-cultural and marketized notions of worth, value, and identity . An understanding of these phenomena might be fruitfully pursued through analysis of what is clearly an emerging regime of global labor supply. This article demonstrates the ways in which this emerging regime is built upon historically embedded racialized practices of labor exploitation. Specific attention is paid to the forces governing the movement of immigrant labor.

The argument advanced here is that the rise of immigrant labor has as much to do with questions of control of the labor process, as with problems of labor shortage or price (in the form of wages). The labor-control thesis, however, cannot be divorced from the assumption (or probability) that foreign labor of certain national, racial, ethnic, or cultural background are either more accepting, susceptible, or vulnerable to outrageous exploitation. This is a special kind of exploitation, different from the technical definition of extraction of surplus outlined by Marx. It involves extreme economic exploitation and conditions of work that involve forms of dehumanization, near or complete industrial and political disenfranchisement, and racio-cultural quarantine. Quarantine implies a complex of practices that involve the spatial regulation of foreign laborers, as well as debarment from any claims to the privileges of citizenship. …

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