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The global economic crisis and East Asian labour migration: a crisis of migration or struggles of labour?

Chang, Dae-Oup (2014) 'The global economic crisis and East Asian labour migration: a crisis of migration or struggles of labour?' In: Lindley, Anna, (ed.), Crisis and Migration: Critical perspectives. London: Routledge, pp. 93-114. (Routledge Studies in Development, Mobilities and Migration)

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Abstract

This chapter aims to identify the impact of the on-going global recession on migrant workers in East Asia whose movement and mobility are deeply embedded in East Asia’s regional development today. The current global crisis of neoliberalism has overshadowed the East Asian region as stagnating economic growth in its major export destinations slowed its growth. The severe downturn between 2008 and 2009 precipitated a tightening of international migration controls as well as interruptions to rural-urban movements in various countries. It was widely anticipated that the further development of the recession would generate a full-blown crisis of migration in East Asia. On initial examination, this would seem to fit the common assumption by policy-makers that labour migration is a temporary feature which in the event of an economic crisis can be simply ‘turned off’, mitigating the effect on the national population and institutions. However, drawing on secondary sources as well as the author’s extensive primary research on labour issues in East Asia, spanning two economic crises, this chapter shows that migration is an essential aspect of the regional integration of East Asia and its emergence as a centre of global capitalism. While the global economic crisis has indeed been met with nationalistic government rhetoric and migration restrictions, there is on-going demand for migrant labour among East Asian employers, indeed migrant labour is key to the intensification of labour and wage cuts deemed necessary to survive the recession. As a result, migration indicators have not been as deeply affected as initial warnings anticipated. Meanwhile, the tighter integration of migrant labour since the Asian economic crisis created a new context through which migrants’ political subjectivity has been formed. In China, Hong Kong, South Korea and Thailand, both stricter migration controls (whether genuine and effective or not) and employers’ attempts to squeeze migrant workers have faced a wave of protests from politically maturing migrants who have been increasingly developing their bargaining power within the expanding circuit of capital in integrating East Asia. Rather than leading to a crisis of migration, then, the current global economic crisis has intensified the struggles of labour which are a key feature of contemporary East Asian development. This chapter first discusses how the global economic crisis has affected East Asia, and triggered warnings of an impending crisis of migration. The second section puts this situation in historical context, highlighting the central role of migration in East Asian development over the last century, across a range of sectors and national economies. The third section demonstrates that the impact of the global economic crisis on migration, showing that the less significant or prolonged than one might expect, or government rhetoric suggests. The final section outlines the role of the global economic crisis in the development of migrant workers’ activism.

Item Type: Book Chapters
Keywords: migration, labour, crisis, mobility
SOAS Departments & Centres: Faculty of Law and Social Sciences > Department of Development Studies
ISBN: 9780415645027
Depositing User: Dae-Oup Chang
Date Deposited: 08 Sep 2014 13:14
URI: http://eprints.soas.ac.uk/id/eprint/18934

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