If borders are to be open for capital, why not for labour?

India should demand opening up of the labour markets in the interest of globalisation                    

When the regulators impose restrictions on foreign holdings in insurance or banking industries, it is suggested that India is not fully geared to a globalised world. In other words, the level of globalisation is measured by the incremental dollar or euro flow into our domestic markets.But, restrictions imposed on inflow of Mexicans to work in the carpet industry at Georgia, USA or of Somalians to clean plates in Parisian restaurants are considered as normal sovereign behaviour and not anti-globalisation.

The West is realising that globalisation is not a one-way street. As long as it suited them, they thought it was fine and propagated its virtues. But now, they are running scared.
As of now, there is no outsourcing the brown-collar work; you need people to clean the plates and remove garbage and keep the cities from stinking. That creates issues since the brown and black need to be present in the western countries. There is a significant resistance to labour flows.Also, the loss of jobs by the whites due to outsourcing of white-collar and blue-collar jobs has altered the attitude to globalisation.

Now, it is Asian globalisation — on Asian terms — and that is causing concerns in the western capitals. Suddenly, the driver owns the car and is driving it.Throughout the seventies and eighties, it was globalisation of product markets and manufacturing facilities. The anecdotal evidence often presented in many a business school classroom used to be something like this: the doors of the Ford car are made in Barcelona; the seat cushions near Budapest; gearbox in the suburbs of Paris; music system in Osaka; the assembly is done at Kula Lumpur; and the car is sold in Shanghai. So, what was American about it?

The nineties saw the globalisation of the financial markets. If you wanted to set up a facility in Mumbai, you could think of raising funds from New York stock exchange. Funds were looking for markets and “geographical diversification” became the buzzword. But, an important dimension of globalisation — labour – continues to be hindered by western sovereign regulations.There is a spectre haunting the West. It is the spectre of uncleared garbage, clogged drains and overflowing sewerage. The West is facing an acute crisis in the area of brown-collar labour — to clear the garbage, remove plates in restaurants, clean the sewerages and treat the municipal and industrial waste.

It cannot be outsourced as easily as white-collar work.

In the fifties and the sixties, millions of Turks and Kurds and Iraqis went to Germany when that economy was booming and they were called guest workers. Even today, they are not given the rights of citizens and continue to be guest workers.The Algerians and Moroccans went to France and continue to be a significant minority there, and are even active in their soccer teams. Still, many of them are guest workers since France has this interesting idea of French blood as a parameter for grant of citizenship.

Similarly, more than a million Mexicans in the USA are called “undocumented,” an euphemism for “illegal.”

These workers in France Germany USA were mainly in the blue and brown-collar jobs, more so in the lower skill categories such as cleaning rest rooms and restaurants meat-cutting grape-picking domestic help road laying garbage processing plumbing handyman jobs, etc. There was a mass of literature on the “social cost” of having these migrants.Then came the economic slump in the nineties and these European countries erected fences and reject visas, etc for third-world labour. Between England and France, there is a huge camp (Sangatte camp) near the starting of the tunnel tube train on the French side and the main job of thousands of migrants held there is to attempt to get into England and sometimes they get killed in the tube rails. But, that is fine, since they are after all from lower forms of civilisation.

The declining birth rate creates its own crisis. The population of Europe, which was 25% of the world in the beginning of last century, is expected to be around 10% in another 10 years. Substantial numbers will be over 60. This is mainly because of low fertility rates in most of the West and longevity due to improved healthcare. Hence, demand for coloured labour will be significantly higher and like I said earlier, there is no outsourcing these jobs as of now.Currently, we find labour from many Asian African and South American countries risking their lives and travelling by boats and under the carriage of trucks to reach the West to take up brown-collar work. In international negotiations including Doha, this is not considered a main item.

The business houses in India should form global corporations, which will provide on-shore human resources at a heavy price. This will provide enormous opportunities for our brown-collar workers to access the global markets. When we can act as clerks of the West in outsourcing and call centres, we can also demand to act as sweepers on our terms.The legal barriers for entering western countries should be eliminated if true globalisation has to happen in the decades to come.

It is imperative on the part of emerging markets like India to demand opening up of the labour markets through provision of unrestricted access to our labourers in the interest of globalisation. A single-point agenda should be to close down the visa sections of the embassies of these countries, since that is the imperative of globalisation. In fact, vast stretches of Australia and USA should be allowed for Indians and the Chinese to settle. This will also reduce global warming issues – by spreading populations.

The West will not be enthusiastic given that private militia is already sitting on the Texan border to shoot down Mexicans trying to enter and the Italian army is employed to stop people sneaking in by boat from Africa. And of course, there will be a hue and cry from the West regarding sovereign borders and independent countries. If borders are sovereign for labour, it is equally sovereign for financial flows. If financial markets want a borderless world, so be it for the labour markets, too.

It is often suggested that we should be careful in the international arena and not play the game as per rules set by others. But, the time has come for countries like India to play a different game altogether, since the current WTO negotiations, as colourfully articulated by commerce minister Kamal Nath, are between the ICU and the mortuary.


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