Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Migrant Labour

In a globalised neo-liberal capitalist economy we have free movement of capital and increasingly in the last 25 years this has been de-regulated. Governments are now (allegedly) thinking up ways of reversing this trend because of the financial crisis it has caused (Xorg's Law of Unintended Consequences strikes again). But they face an uphill battle as it will inevitably limit the financial whizz-kids' scope for making 'money' out of nothing. So we'll see what happens. But it strikes me that if we allow free movement of capital we should also allow free movement of labour - why restrict one sector and not the other? After all, it was the arch-capitalist free-market Thatcher government who told the unemployed to 'get on your bikes' and look for work.
But apparently it's not as simple as that. The election campaign in the UK has revealed that there seems to be a considerable amount of opposition to migrant labour. 'British jobs for British people' and so forth, not to mention the infamous Mrs Duffy who harangued Gordon Brown about 'East Europeans'.
I'm sorry to say this phenomenon is occurring in Cyprus as well these days, which is bizarre considering how mobile Cypriots have been in the labour market since the Second World War. It is strange to see a people who are renowned for their hospitality be so xenophobic, and downright racist, towards 'foreigners'. People from the middle-east are all called 'Arabs', much like the English call anyone from the Asian sub-continent a 'Paki'. Anyone with a darker skin than a Cypriot who is not an 'Arab' is a 'Black' - this includes Sri-Lankans. And so forth. Of course, the migrant workers can only get the jobs the Greek Cypriots don't want and they have to settle for lower wages. Foreigners are not welcome to engage in the professions or skilled trades.
It's all very contradictory. The builder is a Greek Cypriot refugee from the North who has worked on several jobs in the middle-east in places like Dubai. He employs some Syrians as his labourers but treats them like dirt - he calls them 'animals' to their faces - and meanwhile he moans to us that Cyprus should be for Cypriots. The drains men are Australian Greeks; drainman senior emigrated to Australia where his sons were born and they've all moved back to Cyprus where they now work in the drains business. The plumber is a North London Greek - the perjorative term for his ilk is 'Charlie'. Turkish Cypriots are alright, apparently, but Turks are the lowest form of life. And everyone seems to resent the presence of the Russians who all, so I'm told, have too much money and a blatant disregard for the Law as well as Cypriot customs.
Despite our colonial past, however, the English are pretty much regarded as acceptable if slightly bonkers. Mid-day sun and all that, what?

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