Commonwealth / migration


The third major trend of the technical composition of labor is the result of new patterns of migration and processes of social and racial mixture. A l l levels of capitalist enterprises in the dominant countries, from huge corporations to small businesses, from agribusiness to manufacturing, from domestic labor to construction, need constant flows of both legal and illegal migrants to supplement the local labor force—and this continually generates ideological conflicts within the capitalist classes, as we will see later, constrained as they are by their pocketbooks to favor migrant flows but opposed to them i n their moral, nationalist, and often racist consciousnesses. There are also enormous south-to-south international flows of labor and massive migrations within single countries, often in very specific sectors of production. These migrations transform labor markets in quantitative terms, making them properly global, even though, of course, movements of labor are not free but highly constrained to specific routes, often entailing extreme dangers.

At the same time, labor markets are also qualitatively transformed. On theone hand, the gender of labor migration is shifting such that women are constituting an increasing portion of the flows, both to take jobs traditionally designated for women—such as domestic work, sex work, elder care, and nursing—and also to occupy low-skill, labor intensive positions in manufacturing sectors, such as electronics, textiles, footwear, and toys, where young female workers are now predominant. This shift goes hand in hand with the ”feminization” of work, often combined with the racial stereotype of the ”nimble fingers” of women in the global South. ”Ideas of flexibility, temporality, invisibility, and domesticity i n the naturalization of categories of work,” writes Chandra Mohanty, ”are crucial i n the construction of Third-World women as an appropriate cheap labor force.”6 On the other hand, labor migration is (and has always been) characterized by racial division and conflict. Migrations sometimes highlight the global racial divisions o f labor by crossing their boundaries, and at other times, especially i n the dominant countries, racial hierarchies become flashpoints for conflict. Migration, however, even when it creates conditions of extraordinary hardship and suffering, always holds the potential to subvert and transform racial division, in both economic and social terms, through exodus and confrontation.



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