Research Handbooks in International Law series
Edited by Adelle Blackett and Anne Trebilcock
Chapter 9: Racism and the regulation of migrant labour
Labour law scholars, in their attempts to revitalize the practice and study of their discipline, have recently turned toward the study of development. This chapter interrogates this turn, drawing on Amartya Sen’s human freedoms or capability approach, as well as on the political economic foundations of labour migration, understood through an anti-racist, historical materialist lens. Sen provides a means to address the regulation of temporary international labour migration, which has re-emerged in the early twenty-first century, representing a serious challenge for labour law and development enthusiasts. The development project has also faced trenchant criticisms for its unwillingness to deploy the concepts of ‘race,’ racialization and racism to explain power, privilege, exclusion, differential inclusion and inequality. The production of ‘migrant labour,’ in particular, cannot be explained without a consideration of how these socio-historical processes and practices of differentiated belonging are informed by racialization and racism. The chapter constructs a Polanyi-esque account of the efforts to dis-embed and re-embed development theory within wider ethical, equity and socio-historical considerations. It discusses transnational labour regulation, focusing on the project of ‘migration management.’. Through a case study on south-north labour migration to Canada, it turns attention to the global racialized class differentiations reproduced through migrant labour regulatory regimes. Foreign labour is rendered racialized, unfree and migrant, productive labouring bodies with a deep reliance on transnationalized production. The chapter’s underlying premise is that the racialized nature of temporary labour migration to Canada and elsewhere is not an historical accident, coincidence or twist of fate. The trajectory of these racialized class dynamics extends back at least to the commencement of new world enslavement and yet it also invites the possibilities of collective resistance struggles of which the Haitian Revolution provides the paradigmatic example.
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