by Paul Garver
Some 200 million workers across the globe migrate across national borders searching for work.
At least 40 million migrants do not have documents allowing them to live or work in their host countries, while millions of others are “guest workers” bound to their employers and subject to expulsion if they are fired.
In the neoliberal global economic order, capital flows freely across the borders that constrain workers. Whether “guest workers” or undocumented, migrants are among the most vulnerable and exploited people who do the indispensable tasks of feeding and caring for other people.
Like refugees, migrants are often blamed for a host of economic and social ills in the countries that depend on their agricultural, construction or domestic labor. Politicians looking to score political points from their own xenophobic domestic constituencies find migrants and refugees tempting prey for vicious slanders. Donald Trump is a notorious perpetrator but is far from being the first chauvinist demagogue in the world.
Mexican native Diego Reyes, Sr. works the tobacco and vegetable fields in Sanford, NC. He is a member of a relatively successful migrant worker organization, the Farm Labor Organizing Committee [FLOC]. As translated by his son Diego Reyes, Jr., a seminarian working for FLOC, he describes a reality all too often experienced by migrant workers in the USA and around the world.
It’s not only in Sanford [N.C.} but everywhere, all this propaganda against immigrants. People feel they’re stealing their jobs, that immigrants are bad people, drug mules, and criminals. It dehumanizes people. It’s not the stealing of jobs. The people came here because of the policies the U.S. implemented in the world.”
The Strangers Among Us: Tales from a Global Migrant Worker Movement documents the harsh conditions faced by migrant workers in Asia, Europe and North America. Editor Joseph Atkins, a professor at the University of Mississippi, traveled with his wife to such far-flung locales as Singapore, Taipei, Hong Kong, Beijing, and Buenos Aires, where he interviewed key activists supporting migrant worker organizing. He also solicited contributing chapters from activists and scholars in the UK, Israel, China, Japan and India. The result is a moving and kaleidoscopic survey of the social justice movements that are helping migrant workers organize throughout the world.
Here are a few examples of the innovative approaches taken by migrant workers and their supporters in various world regions illustrated in this compact and compelling book.
North and Central America
Author-photographer David Bacon conducts a fascinating interview with Eulogio Solanoa, a Mixteco migrant from Oaxaca, a migrant farmworkers in California for many years. After leading strikes and community protests, he went to work as an organizer for the United Farm Workers.
Auburn University professor Silvia Giagnoni contributes a detailed chapter entitled “The Coalition of Immokalee Workers: Grassroots Politics in the Age of Corporate Media.” In this chapter she succinctly summarizes the reasons for the CIW’s successes [good advice for any social movement!]
“If you are to create a large “rainbow” movement, you need to create consensus around a just cause, start small and simple, deconstruct and expose those corporate messages that are meant to deny the reality of injustice. You need to re-conquer language and, with it, you may also reconquer politics. And you do it with a smile, colorfully.”
Europe and Israel
Robin Blackburn reports on the relatively successful campaign supported by the ICTUR [International Centre for Trade Union Rights] to improve the conditions of Moroccan migrant workers in Gibraltar.
Angie Kav describes her work in South Tel Aviv at LaOved – Worker’s Hotline, the most recognized organization promoting and protecting the labor rights of all workers in Israel, including those of Palestinians, migrant workers and asylum seekers/refugees.
Atkins himself reports in succinct but telling detail on Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore, where hundreds of thousands of migrant workers from poorer countries in Asia are often stranded by exploitative employers and governments that collaborate in denying them essential rights to organize.
Takehiko Kambayashi analyzes the hostility that ethnic Korean migrant workers face in Japan, including little-reported historical mass killings.
Chapters by Sindhu Menon [India] and Nancy Yan Xu [China] address the conditions of hundreds of millions of “internal migrants” in India and China, who do not cross national borders but travel far from their native provinces and lack fundamental social benefits and political rights in the provinces they work in.
There is a lyrical and moving forward by Bill Chandler, a veteran labor activist and executive director of the internationally recognized Mississippi Immigrants’ Rights Alliance, [which has been instrumental in supporting abused South Indian migrant workers in Texas and Mississippi shipyards]:
While butterflies, swallows and flamingos flow across borders, and capital flows as equally unimpaired as the butterflies, workers are contained by borders and only released as necessary as guest workers or the undocumented to better exploit and serve the wealthy.
Weaving these contributions into a rich harmony are the work of Editor Joseph Atkins himself. Not only is he extremely knowledgeable about migrant worker organizing throughout the world– his moral and intellectual passion shines throughout the book. His introductory chapter “ An Under-the-Radar Labor Movement Taking Root in the Global South” provides a superb frame for the book’s contents.
Eric Lee, the founding editor of LabourStart which publishes this book, contributes his own chapter describing how LabourStart has contributed to the development of a genuine movement for international worker rights for all workers, of whom migrant workers are among the most exploited.
This book can be ordered directly for less than $10 from http://www.labourstart.org/strangers.html for the electronic edition. Any proceeds go directly into supporting the work of LabourStart.