Labour mobility sounds much better than labour immobility – who wants to be immobile? Just as labour flexibility sounds much better than labour inflexibility – who wants to be inflexible? But both are bad for us.
Who backs labour mobility? The World Bank, which tells us we must end “constraints on labour mobility”. The International Monetary Fund. The European Union. The European Roundtable of Industrialists. The Confederation of British Industry.
The employing class wants labour mobility. It wants no restraints whatsoever on its activities. Labour mobility is part of the neo-liberal consensus that has plunged us into this second great depression.
Karl Marx was right. In a address from the First International in 1867, he wrote, “A study of the struggle waged by the English working class reveals that, in order to oppose their workers, the employers either bring in workers from abroad or else transfer manufacture to countries where there is a cheap labour force.”
Unions representing for example lecturers, teachers and journalists all too often back labour mobility. Some even talk about the “right” to work in other countries.
Workers in these unions should reflect. One material condition of their work – an excellent command of English – offers an element of protection unavailable to most workers (although the recent widespread outsourcing of, for example, editing work to India should prompt a pause for thought). Those in agriculture or building who oppose labour mobility do so not out of stupidity or prejudice but because immigrants from Eastern Europe directly compete with them for scarce jobs. ■