Political Economy of International Crisis

Economics 357L



The international movement of people has always been an integral and essential feature of the capitalist world. From the point of view of business this is essentially a question of the international organization and reorganization of labor --people seen as human capital. From the point of view of the people themselves international movement has mostly involved the use of international mobility to improve their lives. Although there are many cases of refugees, who have fled oppression, even this movement has the character of seeking out better terrains for life and struggle. Because of this, their movement across the artificial barriers of nationstate borders has a subjectivity which defies their categorization as "factors of production" being shifted around within the global factory. In this subjectivity we discover the figure of the "multinational worker," a being demanding and taking the same kind of global freedom of movement as the more widely heralded multinational corporation.

Throughout the Keynesian era of growth immigration was managed by business and nation state governments in such a way as to pit lower waged foreign workers against higher waged local workers and to use the conflict between the two groups to control both. In Europe this involved the management of a diverse flow of multinational workers from the Third World into Northern Europe: Turks to Germany; Algerians to France; Indians, Pakistanis and West Indians to England, and so on. In North America this involved primarily controling the movement of Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Columbians and others from Latin America into the United States and of Italians and Carribean workers into Canada. Given the large number of these workers in a variety of industrial and service sectors, their control provided business with a powerful weapon in its management of the labor force.

It was against the background of these conditions, that the struggles of these workers proved so important in the disruption of accumulation that precipitated the crisis of the Keynesian system. Their struggles broke the molds of control into which they had been fitted, partly by overcoming their differences with local workers and partly by carving out and rigidifying their own space, on the job and in communities. Both movements undermined their roll as maleable labor and established the solidity of their own subjectivity against the demands of investment and profit.

Against the disruption of production, labor markets and reproduction brought on by these struggles, business and the state launched a wide ranging attack which combined violence and intimidation with legal changes designed to undercut what strength the multinational workers had been able to mobilize. In Europe and in the United States round ups, harassement and deportations were complemented by a rising propaganda campaign against the suddenly "alien" labor which was stealing jobs from real citizens. Unleashed by the shift in official rhetoric, the frustrations of historically high unemployment that has characterized the last 20 years of crisis have taken the form of a violent racism which has been nurtured by Right Wing politicians on both sides of the Atlantic.

Resistance to these attacks by multinational workers has been staunch and has involved not only physical and legal battles, but also the building of ever greater rhizomatic networks of struggle linking immigrant communities and a variety of supporters, both within and across national borders.

The material which follows includes a small sampling of an enormous literature that has been produced within this framework of social conflict.

Songs: Woody Gutherie, Plane Wreck at Los Gatos.; Gil Scott Heron, Alien (Hold on To Your Dreams)

Films: Bread and Chocolate, great film about Italian workers in Switzerland. Racism in Britain, about racism against immigrant workers in England.

I. Multinational Workers and the Crisis of the Keynesian World Order

II. The Capitalist Counterattack and Problems of Reorganizing Global Labor Power

III. Multinational Worker Resistance and Continued Struggles

IV. Critical Theories of Immigration

V.The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 and Resistance to It.

The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 was signed into law on November 6, 1986. It became unlawful to hire illegal immigrants in the U.S. after this date. The Amnesty provisions of the bill went into effect May 5, 1987 at which time the INS began accepting applications. Penalization of employers began, in principle on June 1, 1987 and May 4 is the deadline for amnesty applications from non-farm workers. The deadline for farm workers will be November 30, 1988.

VI. Recent Immigration Reform and its consequences