globalisation, migration and decent work: global issues and

Globalisation, migration and decent work: global issues and perspectives
Ronaldo Munck
Dublin City University, Ireland
“A specter haunts the world and it is the specter of migration” (Hardt and Negri, 2000:
213). This was the somewhat apocalyptic message of Hardt and Negri in their bestselling communist manifesto for the 21st Century. From the other political shore neoliberal guru Milton Friedman is reputed to have said, “The least said about migration
the better.” That attitude is understandable because there is no logical reason within
the free market paradigm why goods, finance and ideas should move across borders
freely but not people. Migration is, certainly, a major issue for the strategists of
global governance and hence we have speculation about the setting up of a World
Migration Organisation along the lines of the World Trade Organisation. Our focus
here, however, is on globalisation and migration from a labour movement perspective,
particularly the prospects for the International Labour Organization’s 'Decent Work'
campaign as a progressive strategy for social reform.
We exist in the era of globalization albeit one where the certainties that there
‘there is no alternative’ have evaporated with the global financial crisis of autumn
2008. Migration symbolises the importance (or the relative weakness) of national
sovereignty as implemented through the control of national borders. The migrant, we
could say, is in a liminal position betwixt and between national borders and in terms
of being part mobile, part settled. Managing migration will be a challenge for the
managers of globalisation and will be a key test case in determining whether
sustainable global governance is achieved or not. We could also argue that migration
is a test case for the contemporary labour movement. Historically trade unions have
been as likely to be hostile towards migrants as not (see Penninx and Roosblad, eds,
2000). The formation of the working class and of the labour movement has been
historically a national, if not nationalist process. Workers may combine to exercise
their collective strength but they may also combine on the basis of gender,
ethnicity/race and national origin.
With globalisation unleashing a new and powerful process of capitalist
restructuring and disembedding of the market there will be a tendency towards just
such a reaction. Solidarity might increasingly be seen as something which starts at
home. However, there are signs – albeit sporadic and isolated – that many labour
movements are orienting towards migrant workers in a unifying and solidaristic way.
Migrants may well provide trade unions with an opportunity for revitalisation after the
long neo-liberal onslaught especially now that the unregulated market model has
imploded. Addressing migration in a democratic and egalitarian manner may also
revive the moral authority of the labour movement in the wider reaches of society. In
terms of building hegemony and articulating a new common sense a radical
democratic labour stance towards migration could form part of a new renaissance.