Putting the record straight about the 'outsiders'

The European Union and Migrant Labour
October 20, 2000

The impact of migration on the European Union is crucial to our understanding of the political scene at the turn of the new millennium. Pressures from cultural complexities and emerging global labour markets have increased the rate of worker mobility, alongside deep changes in the political and economic order of the world. In a period that has witnessed pan-European concern over the antics of Jorg Haider in Austria, alongside worries over the treatment of the Roma in the Czech Republic, to say nothing of the plight of Kosovar Albanians in Kosovo, there has also been an outbreak of hysteria over the issue of political asylum seekers laced with xenophobic rhetoric.

This book and its wide range of case studies could not have appeared at a better time. It is divided into three sections focusing on migration and European integration, specific country studies, and migrant labour and modern capitalism. Issues such as the hype and moral panic over so-called "floods" of refugees and asylum seekers "swamping" the nation are never far from the text. Gareth Dale and Mike Cole also address the contentious nature of the politics of immigration throughout the European Union, in what Dale describes as the "paranoid discourse of immigration control": the risks of imprisonment, deportation and even the dangers of death en route.

He seeks to put the record straight, explaining that immigrants, far from "scrounging" from the state, actually contribute more to the Treasury than they receive in welfare. Furthermore, since immigrants normally take the jobs that the "indigenous" population rejects, they cannot be blamed for any depression in wages nor for an increase in unemployment. Nigel Harris, in his chapter "Freedom to move", extends this analysis and demonstrates how there are a greater number of highly qualified people in developing countries, so much so that they are becoming major world suppliers of engineers and medical doctors.

Italy and Ireland are the subject of individual essays, as they are now centres of immigration. Kieran Allen explodes the myth that Ireland is about to be "flooded" with refugees, and Agostino Petrillo considers two migrations: from the Mezzogiorno to France, Germany and Belgium between the 1920s and 1970s, and the large-scale migration from the Italian south to north - Piedmont, Lombardy and Liguria - during the postwar period of rapid industrialisation.

Today, migration from the Maghreb, especially Tunisia, the Yugoslav successor states and Albania, fuelled by a demand for irregular labour with concomitant precarious conditions for immigrants, provides a mirror image of the colonial aggrandisement of Italy in the 1930s and during the war.

In Satnam Virdee's chapter on racism and anti-racism in England, the reader is provided with a historical overview of postwar migrant labour. The turning point for Virdee came in the mid-1970s with the formation of a current of "white" anti-racism, as several trade unions began to take standpoints against racism, followed by the role of organisations such as Rock Against Racism and the Anti-Nazi League so that by the end of the decade Britain had a relatively strong anti-racist movement.

As for the EU, far from being supranational in nature, the construction of its migration policy has been built on inter-governmental institutions, while the actual policing and supervision of immigration is carried out by national police forces and welfare agencies. The result is that, despite the promise of a cosmopolitan Europe, EU identity is in essence xenophobic. According to Harris, "virtually all governments cheat on the agreed rules for accepting refugees, and do so with impunity". Such a policy is situated within the political discourse of exclusion and identity, whereby "outsiders" such as refugees and asylum seekers become the excluded.

Robert C. Hudson is senior lecturer in European studies, University of Derby.

The European Union and Migrant Labour

Editor - Gareth Dale and Mike Cole
ISBN - 1 85973 960 1 and 2 0
Publisher - Berg
Price - £42.99 and £14.99
Pages - 323

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