Migration, refugees and labour
In depth analysis of EU migration and the ‘refugee crisis’ in relation to labour market restructuring and working class composition
(translated from: wildcat no.99 – winter 2015/16)
The ‘summer of migration’ has ended. While numerous initiatives still support the ‘new citizens’, through organising day-to-day support, festivals, language courses and much more, the political class wants to invert this dynamic: they try to erect new borders, enforce deterioration of social standards and to use the refugees to politically divide the working class – as a catalyst for a very far-reaching social re-formation.
Within the political left, views on this development can be divided roughly into two sorts: some conceptualise the impressive self-organisation of refugees and the tearing down of border fences as ‘autonomy of migration’. Others see Merkel’s policies from a solely functionalist perspective: migration is beneficial for capital’s interest in cheap, qualified and motivated labour power and in additional contribution payers for the pension funds.
In reality these two aspects come together. By migrating towards the northern European centres many people try to become active subjects again. Capital wants to make use of their social energy for the restructuring of labour markets and to put pressure on local class relations. Furthermore, mass migration can have similar effects, like an economic stimulus program, by creating employment in job centres, in teaching, in construction, in the welfare and security sectors… in addition it lowers the reproduction costs of labour power (maintenance and education of a human being during the first two decades of their life costs around 200,000 Euro – Germany is a country of ‘old age’ and desperately needs young people!).
To have this impact proletarian migration must be controlled, something which those in power have increasingly been unable to do in recent years. The most recent stages of this loss of control were the escalation of the ‘refugee crisis’ in Greece in early 2015, the demolition of the border fences in Turkey in Mid-July 2015 in the aftermath of the fights over Tal Abjad in Syria and finally the trek of refugees from the main station in Budapest towards the Austrian border. In early September the arriving refugees were welcomed with applause in Vienna, Munich and other cities. Apart from the actual border-crisis, this reaction of the local population is the second aspect of the state’s loss of control and would have been unthinkable in the early 1990s. Thirdly, the ruling class has no strategy of how to ‘fight the underlying reasons for migration’. In fact, the opposite is true: the ever more brutal and destructive repression of oppositional movements in an increasing number of regions around the globe aggravates the social antagonism; crisis and wars result in the collapse of entire regions.
The about-turn of the Merkel government in summer was both an acknowledgement of this reality and an effort to re-claim control. The proclamation of a ‘culture of welcoming’ is part and parcel of this effort. Only by transforming the patient long-term work of refugee initiatives into a public event would the political class subsequently be able to invert it.
In the following we want to elaborate on the relation between the migration of refugees and labour migration into Germany within the European context. Initially, the distinction between ‘refugees’ and ‘labour migrants’ was a purely legal one: Greek workers who escaped the military junta and came to Germany in 1967 were categorised as ‘guest workers’. After the official recruitment ban of 1973, Turkish workers, who were trying to escape from the military coup in 1980, had to claim asylum. Senegalese migrants who risked their lives while crossing the Mediterranean were treated as illegal agriculture workers in Spain and as asylum seekers in Germany.