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Guestworkers

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I am really skeptical of guestworker programs doing anything other than providing a structure to exploit vulnerable workers. The history of guestworker programs is basically terrible and the present isn’t much better. The Chamber of Commerce and AFL-CIO came to a deal last weekend on including guestworker programs in immigration reform. Let’s hope the guarantees, mostly around pay rates, mean anything.

Josh Eidelson has a long piece at Dissent on how guestworkers are exploited today and how there are some important examples of standing up and fighting back. It’s a must read for anyone interested in these issues.

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  • c u n d gulag

    I know it’s not politically possible, but it sure would be nice if every guest worker was required to join a Union for their own protection.

  • Aaron B.

    There are large numbers of potential labor migrants who want to come to the US to do seasonal work. Why shouldn’t we have institutional structures that let them do this legally? It seems like a win-win to me.

    • Nothing screams win-win like the bracero program!

      • The bracero program is not the only guest worker program in the world.

        • DrDick

          But it is the only one in the US and thus the best model for how a new one would actually work on the ground. Worth noting that they have not really worked all that well (generally conforming to Erik’s model to varying degrees) anywhere else that I am aware of. Ask the Turks in Germany or North Africans in Italy.

      • Aaron B.

        I’m for expanding all Visa categories, for all levels of laborer, whether they have family in the US or not. But there are clearly a large number of workers interested in coming to the US for seasonal work, and I think these visas should be available easily and in unlimited quantity, which would be the best way to fight the for-profit companies who monopolize them in order to force workers to accept awful conditions, or even pay for the right to work in the US.

        • I think you are way, way too optimistic on how these programs have worked in the past as well as in the present. Have you read Eidelson’s article? The exploitation is rampant.

          • Aaron B.

            Eidelson prescribes some pretty workable solutions to these problems though – make guestworker visas transferable, make blacklists illegal, expand access to U visas, a potential path to citizenship – some of which are included in the new “W visa” proposal. So I think it’s reasonable to be optimistic.

            • cpinva

              “So I think it’s reasonable to be optimistic.”

              i have some shares in bridge to sell you, below par.

      • sparks

        Aw, you beat my bracero joke.

      • tt

        Considering there was still demand for the program on the Mexican side when it ended, presumably yes? Unless you think Mexican workers are delusional and don’t understand their own interests?

        • Murc

          What does “their own interests” mean in this context, though?

          If my choices are “my family starves” or “go be exploited by American agribusiness doing brutal, backbreaking labor” it is in my interests to ensure that I continue to have access to that second option. But what IS needed is a better option than those two.

          • tt

            Yeah. Whether it’s a “win-win” depends on the alternatives. I would suspect a guestworker program is preferable to illegal immigration in most cases, or to tight controls on labor, but not to citizenship or at least equal labor rights as citizens.

            • Aaron B.

              Yes, migrant workers are in a difficult situation because their host nation generally doesn’t extend them equal rights and their nation of origin can’t effectively enforce their rights claims. But that doesn’t mean the only (or best) solution is to try to make all guest workers citizens so their rights can be protected. First, because many guest workers don’t want to become citizens – they want to work and then return home – and second, because we should be protecting everyone’s rights regardless of their status.

    • UserGoogol

      In principle, guest worker programs are a fine idea. It seems just that people should be able to work in a country without intending to permanently reside there, and it seems fine to document such people differently from people who are just here for vacation. But in practice, guest worker programs have enough of a spotty track record that it’s quite understandable to be wary.

      • Aaron B.

        I understand wariness about programs that have given rise to serious abuses in the past, but the new compromise includes measures that are likely to stem abuses like this, in particular, making W visas valid even if workers switch companies (which undermines the near-unlimited power employers have in the status quo) and creating a path to citizenship for those who want it.

  • Bruce Vail

    I too am skeptical. Who was speaking for the best interests of the guestworkers during this negotiation? Certainly wasn’t the AFL-CO or CoC.

    • Fighting for higher pay was a good thing. I think the AFL-CIO is operating for the most part in the best interests of the workers, or at least closer than any other non-Latino organization. Given that the federation sees Latino workers as one of its only hopes for the future, I see what they got involved. On the other hand, the building trades making sure guestworkers don’t get the better jobs in construction was very much not in the interests of immigrants, but it makes sense why those unions would fight so hard over it.

  • trollhattan

    Am very wary of the no-qualified-applicants rubric WRT tech visas. I work in an engineering organization and our last two civil openings attracted over a hundred applications, each.

    IMO the h1b fans are simply casting about for cheap, compliant labor. Where’s the burden of proof?

    • JL

      Same here (CS grad student who previously worked for tech companies, has dozens of friends working in tech companies). Maybe if companies (often intentionally so that they can push for H1B) confuse having a dozen specific techno-buzzwords on your resume with being qualified for the job, they would have an easier time finding qualified workers.

      They just want people who have to stick with them no matter how badly they treat them. Different industries have different situations, but I don’t trust tech companies as far as I can throw them on this one. They “can’t” find qualified workers because they don’t want to.

  • Pococurante

    Whoa, hopefully whoever just got a face full of bathwater managed to catch the baby.

    There are worse things than a guest worker plan that can be monitored, reported upon, regulated, and perhaps even improved.

    • cpinva

      “There are worse things than a guest worker plan that can be monitored, reported upon, regulated, and perhaps even improved.”

      no doubt there are, and when you find one, let us all know. since i can almost 100% guarantee that the agency responsible for doing all this will face massive cuts to their budget, such that their ability to accomplish all of the above will be, if not completely eliminated, certainly constrained to the point of near uselessness.

      the best thing that could happen, is for countries (such as mexico) to improve their own economies, so their citizens didn’t feel like the only way to survive is to trek north, and put themselves at the tender mercies of american ag businesses.

  • jon

    Given that current holders of Green Cards and H1B visas are readily exploited, I can’t see a lesser grade of immigrant status to be any improvement. You might also look at Germany’s guest worker program, which has resulted in generations of fish-out-of-water Turks: it’s almost impossible to naturalize and German society is highly resistant to integrating them, but returning to Turkey is no longer an option as they are so westernized. and have broken family ties.

    • NonyNony

      The example of Turkish labor in Germany is one of the basic examples of why any guest worker program needs an actual path to citizenship baked into it for workers (or the children of workers) who want it.

      The idea of having a second tier of workers who will never have a chance to become voters and participate in the political process is a frightening one if you think that the democratic process is the best way to govern a country.

      • Wouldn’t the 14th Amendment guarantee of birthright citizenship prevent the US from going the same route as Germany?

      • cpinva

        “The idea of having a second tier of workers who will never have a chance to become voters and participate in the political process is a frightening one if you think that the democratic process is the best way to govern a country.”

        it’s a great deal for businesses though. they have a class of workers who have zero say in the laws regulating how those businesses can treat them. the next best thing to outright slavery.

  • dollared

    Wow, the folks here really don’t give a shit about US born, high school educated workers in the industries that endure heavy immigrant influx – farm, restaurant, retail, construction.

    It is fundamental to reducing inequality that these industries pay living wages. And we have 20 million unemployed people. We need to incent corporations to 1) train more people and 2) pay people more. Labor’s share of national income has not been this low since 1900. And we want to make it worse? Why?

    All the guest worker programs are exploitive as designed. Add an underfunded bureaucracy with virtually no enforcement capability and you have today’s mess. Making it bigger is a massively bad idea. It is just horrible, horrible public policy. Someone please tell me why any of these are good ideas – something better than “I don’t object because it doesn’t screw any of my friends – at least, not until we all turn 50 and we’re unemployable.”

    • njorl

      Guest workers, having marginally more rights than illegal immigrants, depress wages marginally less.

  • pickin’

    Last fall when apple growers were complaining about how they could not find any workers for the harvest, an ag econ guy at UC Davis dryly noted “You would think that wages would go up” if workers were in short supply.

    The same story appears about every six years going back to at least 1993. In the 80s growers recruited hundreds of surplus laborers who never worked and therefore did not have to be paid.

  • There is really no such thing as a “temporary worker”, as Max Frisch said, “We asked for workers. We got people instead.” The Bracero program’s legacy was one of abuse. It’s not one we should replicate, even if it’s not the worst guest-worker program out there.

    Any program that ties a workers immigration status to their employer gives the employer undue leverage over the immigrant.

    What exactly is a labor “shortage”? Is a “shortage” actually U.S. workers refuse to work for the craptastic wage U.S. employers are paying?

    • firefall

      Is a “shortage” actually U.S. workers refuse to work for the craptastic wage U.S. employers are paying?

      Pretty much. You have to be desparate, and have practice in making do with 3/5ths of bugger-all in the way of creature comforts, to take on this sort of job, with the result that american workers (including most children of immigrants of any status) are unable to endure the conditions AND consider the payrate so derisory as to be literally not worth the effort. Nor are they wrong, by & large.

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