Friday, June 25, 2010

Exporting Labor

A new typology in an era of transnationalized "flexible" labor is emerging in literatures as varied as sociology, anthropology, economics, international studies and political science. Scholars have called it the "labor-exporting state." Robyn Magalit Rodriguez calls it the "labor brokerage state."

In Migrants for Export she writes:
"Labor brokerage is a neoliberal strategy that is comprised of institutional and discursive practices through which the Philippine state mobilizes its citizens and sends them abroad to work for employers throughout the world while generating a profit from the remittances that migrants send back to their families and loved ones in the Philippines. The Philippine state negotiates with labor-receiving states to formalize outflows of migrant workers and thereby enables employers around the globe to avail themselves of temporary workers who can be summoned to work for finite periods of time and then returned to their homeland at the conclusion of their employment contracts."

It may well be that the period of migration-for-settlement is coming to an end. In the United States, by far the world's largest migrant-receiving nation, the debate rages whether they should expand their "guest-worker" programs. This would allow flexible labor in but would deny citizenship."Guest-worker" or contractual labor programs have long been the practice in the Middle East, the Asia Pacific and recently in Europe. Citizenship confers political rights. Temporary worker status does not. Should this trend continue, increased precariousness of immigrant workers should be expected.

In the literature on international migration the Philippines is considered the most organized labor-exporting state in the world. And there is evidence that our state institutions and practices are being copied elsewhere. As yet, there is no global regime that would oversee "trade in workers" as the WTO does trade in commodities and investments. But it is not improbable. As the Doha Round finds the WTO regime at an impasse, a spate of bilateral and multilateral trade agreements have been inked. In some cases they include provisions for worker mobility, as with the recently inked Australia-ASEAN-New Zealand Free Trade Agreement.

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