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  • Author or Editor: Tom Vickers x
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Producing Workers and Immigrants
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This book responds to global tendencies toward increasingly restrictive border controls and populist movements targeting migrants for violence and exclusion. Informed by Marxist theory, it challenges standard narratives about immigration and problematises commonplace distinctions between ‘migrants’ and ‘workers’. Using Britain as a case study, the book examines how these categories have been constructed and mobilised within representations of a ‘migrant crisis’ and a ‘welfare crisis’ to facilitate capitalist exploitation. It uses ideas from grassroots activism to propose alternative understandings of the relationship between borders, migration and class that provide a basis for solidarity.

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This chapter situates Britain within contemporary capitalism, to lay the foundation for the analysis of migration, welfare and precarity that follows. The chapter begins by arguing that the economic crisis has arisen from fundamental contradictions within capitalism and has far-reaching consequences for society. This is followed by three main sections: the first uses ‘imperialism’ to describe capitalism’s contemporary form, as a distinctive organisation of the global space of capital and labour; the second considers migration, focusing on the role of borders and racism in structuring human mobility within imperialism; the third discusses class, shaped by borders and racism within imperialist Britain.

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This chapter concludes the book, arguing that on the basis of the analysis presented here there seem to be two trajectories possible for Britain: remaining within capitalism, contributing to an increasingly fractioned working class, with living standards driven down for the majority and antagonistic relations around the migrant/native divide that are enforced with increasing violence, legally, physically and discursively; or, a radical break from capitalism, to find a social form that can move beyond the contradictions of capitalism and its attendant crises and divisions. Pursuing the second course might be supported by retrieving the concept of the general interest of the working class, arising from a position of exploitation that manifests in a multitude of forms.

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This chapter traces the emergence of a ‘hostile environment’ and the rise of anti-immigrant populism, through the shifting immigration policies and categories employed by recent British governments. This is understood as an internalisation of border controls within Britain. The chapter then moves to a wider spatial scale, to consider the externalisation of Britain’s borders through the so-called ‘migrant crisis’ in Europe. The last part of the chapter considers the potential for social movements and campaigns to both reinforce and contest these bordering practices. The chapter concludes by considering the potential for such rearticulations to provide a basis to deconstruct hegemonic categories and form new subjectivities as a basis for resistance, and also the challenges of realising this potential.

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This chapter draws together the discussion in the previous chapters, by arguing that increasing restrictions on migration and on state welfare are part of the same process, in which the movement of workers is placed under increasingly strict discipline through differential regimes that fraction the working class, to increase exploitation and contain the contradictions of the imperialist crisis. Marx’s concept of the ‘reserve army of labour’ is reinterpreted, together with insights from the autonomy of migration tradition, as a way of exploring differential forms of movement under constraint that are not necessarily limited to particular individuals. This analysis is tested and developed drawing on empirical research with new migrants in North East England, to conceptualise three ‘dynamics of precarity’.

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This chapter connects the crisis of state welfare in Britain to the capitalist crisis. Changes to the character of British state welfare are considered, with particular attention to the growth of outsourcing and the presentation of austerity as an economic necessity. This is followed by an examination of policy, discourse and practice relating to three key fields of welfare that have been presented as sites of crisis in recent years: the National Health Service (NHS) and social care, housing, and the benefits system. The last section of the chapter explores the rearticulation of welfare crises as an attack on the working class, through a discussion of social movements and campaigns organising around demands for decent housing and against cuts to local state services. Competing discourses within these campaigns are discussed, for the insights they provide about alternative understandings of the nature and causes of welfare crises and their relation to migration and borders.

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This chapter discusses the ways in which state-endorsed divisions within the working class are reflected and reinforced at a discursive level through processes of ‘othering’. It argues that ideological categories position workers in multiple, shifting and often contradictory ways within ‘common sense’ hegemonic narratives that justify and reinforce capitalist exploitation. Such narratives are constantly changing and the divisions they help to structure are taking increasingly sharp and aggressive forms in the context of the imperialist crisis. This is illustrated through a detailed empirical analysis of three British television documentaries that were broadcast in early 2014, within weeks of changes to state restrictions affecting migrants from Bulgaria and Romania. Other academic literature is used to contextualise the analysis of these documentaries, suggesting they are representative of wider trends.

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This chapter introduces the aim of the book: to consider the role of borders and border struggles in structuring global capitalism and producing categories of labour, focusing on changes following the global capitalist crisis that has been widely acknowledged since 2007. The book’s central arguments are introduced: that the proliferation of borders and austerity are part of the same process, in which the British state is reorganising itself to manage exploitation more effectively. Consequently, workers have connected interested in uniting to resist. Marxism is presented as a useful tool to understand how inequalities and relationships of exploitation between and within countries are inextricably connected, to explain both the rise of exclusionary policies and ideologies and the necessity for internationalist solidarity. Marxist theorisation within social movements is connected to contemporary discussions about ‘public sociology’.

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