FREE MOVEMENT OF LABOUR
From the beginning of time, many societies relied on foreign labour to build their infrastructure and their economies. The magnificence of the pyramids of Gizah is said to have been built with the sweat of Hebrew labour. Hebrew labour in ancient Egypt is said to have been vital to the stability of their economy. During the reign of Ramses the Great, Pharaoh of Egypt in the year 1323 B.C, Egypt was considered the dominating super power of the world. It was the source of all economic activity for the entire known world because of the bounty of the Nile. Yet, the cornerstone of their economy was foreign labour.
It was no surprise that the Minister of Labour and Immigration at that time resisted Moses’ plea to let his people go. Moses’ demands were harsh, he wanted Pharaoh to let go his entire workforce. No wonder they had that seven day stand off. Well we all know how that story ended.
Another society that understood the significance of foreign labour was ancient Israel. Just as foreign labour was used to build great pyramids in Egypt it was also used to build the Holy temple of the Lord, called the Solomon’s Temple. In 1 Chronicles 22 1 Then David said, "The house of the LORD God is to be here, and also the altar of burnt offering for Israel." 2 So David gave orders to assemble the aliens living in Israel, and from among them he appointed stonecutters to prepare dressed stone for building the house of God.
The concept of free movement of professional labour is not a new one. After the death of King David, Solomon his son, ascended to the throne of Israel. Being charged with the actual building of the temple, Solomon also looked to foreign labour to build Israel’s most sacred building. In his request from the King Hiram of Tyer in 2 Chronicles 5-7, Solomon said “ 5 "The temple I am going to build will be great, because our God is greater than all other gods. 6 But who is able to build a temple for him, since the heavens, even the highest heavens, cannot contain him? Who then am I to build a temple for him, except as a place to burn sacrifices before him? 7 "Send me, therefore, a man skilled to work in gold and silver, bronze and iron, and in purple, crimson and blue yarn, and experienced in the art of engraving, to work in Judah and Jerusalem with my skilled craftsmen, whom my father David provided.
Hiram king of Tyre replied by letter to Solomon:
13 "I am sending you Huram-Abi, a man of great skill, 14 whose mother was from Dan and whose father was from Tyre. He is trained to work in gold and silver, bronze and iron, stone and wood, and with purple and blue and crimson yarn and fine linen. He is experienced in all kinds of engraving and can execute any design given to him. He will work with your craftsmen and with those of my Lord , David your father.
17 Solomon took a census of all the aliens who were in Israel, after the census his father David had taken; and they were found to be 153,600. 18 He assigned 70,000 of them to be carriers and 80,000 to be stonecutters in the hills, with 3,600 foremen over them to keep the people working.
It was not until the third century, with the rise of modern alphabet under the Greeks did we see the foundation for our modern democratic society. With the help of Alexandrine Greek knowledge became the rise of the Roman Empire the first European Union. Rome ran everything from Scotland to the Sudan and from Portugal to Iran.
The largest single market economy the world had ever seen existed and survived because of the science and technology of their clever Greek subjects who built and maintained their massive bureaucracy, unparalleled in its influence and extent. Rome was the first to implement the single currency within its empire which consists of different cultures, tribes and languages.
After the fall of the Roman Empire in the forth century, the next emergence of global trade and movement of labour came under the discovery of the New World. This discovery came in 1492 with the famous explorer Christopher Columbus and his discovery of New Worlds outside of Europe. The gateway to the new world, which brought a new form of trade and movement of labour is none other than the beautiful isles of The Bahamas.
It wasn’t until 1507 that the phrase “The New World” became famous by the discovery of a continent in the middle of the Atlantic and another one beyond. Amerigo Vespucci maps of these new continents took Europe by storm. It was published in twenty three Latin additions and thirty three vernacular versions in every major language. By then the continents were already being referred to by Vespucci first name, America. By 1620 the first mass migration of boat people was born, all looking for new opportunities and a new way of life.
Plymouth Rock was the beginning of a new civilization that thrived on migrant labour and the free movement of people. From 102 passengers on that first voyage in search of a new life, became the second largest movement of labour across the Atlantic; second only to the African slave trade. By 1776 this new continent became a new nation and this new nation became the center of global trade.
Between the fifteenth and nineteenth century the world witnessed the largest migration of human labour in its history. Fifty million men, women, and children were enslaved and brought to plantations in the west by European slave traders. The steady flow of African’s to plantations in the Americas and the West Indies provided not only the greatest migration of labour, it also provided free labour to plantation.
All the economies of the New World were sustained by the constant imports of cheap migrant Labour. Migrant labour was so important to Southern States in America in the production of cotton, that it caused a rift in the union, which led to the American Civil War. Agrarian economies were the dominant economy around the world; most if not all the labour was migrant labour.
With the rise of the Industrial Revolution, came a diversification of world economies. European economies became less dependent on agriculture and its focus was now shifting to the production of steel and other commodities; as a result, came the abolition of slavery by England in 1807. Now Europe’s focus was more targeted towards skilled labour. Professional labourers were sought after to build the massive steam ships, locomotive trains, automobiles and the airplanes. Factories in Europe and America were booming with activity. The free movement of professional labour was at its peek, changing the world for the first time in centuries.
The Industrial Revolution brought new and efficient ways of production and services. As a result, a new workforce was required. Specialize labour was in demand all over the world. This cross cultural labour brought a new standard of living in Europe and America and as a result their economies were catapulted in the front of other economies and thus called themselves “The First World”. Everyone else who didn’t benefit from the Industrial Revolution was called “Third World”.
The newly established first world countries benefited greatly from the labour of third world countries. America, when building its railroads, imported thousands of Chinese labour to get the job done. Indians were used to build their skyscrapers and it was Bahamians too who worked on the contract during World War Two and kept their farms going.
In the 1940’s the Bahamas itself looked to its Caribbean neighbour for immigrant labour. Hundreds of Police offices were imported from Barbados to help train and build what we now call our modern Police Force. These labourers were brought in as skilled and professional labour. As a result, The Bahamas benefited greatly and we now boast of having the best police force in the region.
In the 1960’s a new revolution was brewing, this revolution would further change the dynamics of world economies. The Technological Revolution was here. Industries scrambled to integrate technology in their business and first world countries were the first to embrace the change head on. This change however, required a new form of labour, a Techno-Savvy labour. Europe and America once again turned their eyes to the Third World for this new techno-savvy labour. Indians were imported by the thousands to meet this new demand.
The computerization of industries means more efficient ways of doing business and more productivity. More productivity brings more stability to an economy; therefore, first world immigration policies were relaxed and encouraged to include the movement of skilled professional labour. The Strength and the power of the first world countries were built by the sweat of third world labour.
Today we see the second emergence of the European Community, The European Union. The Union has agreed to allow the free movement of labour within its 15 original member states. However, because of the enlargement of 10 new member states, measures were put in place to address the flow of labour from large members like Turkey, which has a population of 70 million. In an attempt to address their complex implications of the EU's recent enlargement, several of its Member States from the EU-15 have introduced 'transitional restrictions' on the movement of the labour force from the new Member States.
The central argument behind the introduction of these measures is the desire by the Member States of the EU-15 to protect their national labour markets against the projected influx of job-seekers from the East. Several EU-15 states have explicitly identified the protection of their welfare system as being the main motive behind their moves.
However, According to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) the migratory impact of enlargement is likely to be "less dramatic" than projected. In fact, IOM believes that the new and poorer Member States themselves are bound to become the main targets for immigrants, considering these countries' "increased economic convergence, growth and improved living standards".
In our region, we in The Bahamas are facing a similar challenge of regionalism. CSME and FTAA are knocking at our doors harder that ever. Both agreements are asking us to do one of two things, either remove barriers on trade or barriers on labour. Economic regionalism usually takes one of two forms. A free trade area is where two or more countries agree to allow domestically produced goods to flow freely between each other, but all customs posts are retained and tariff levels on imports from non-members can differ between countries.
A deeper form of co-operation is a common market, which involves the free movement of factors of production (labour and capital) as well as goods. The CERTA between Australia and New Zealand incorporates some features of a common market, as it allows labour to move between the two countries.
It is apparent from my discourse in history that there is great benefit to nations which allow the free movement of labour. It is also clear that first world countries have always embraced happily the concept of migrant labour in their workforce. Just recently President George Bush said that he intends to grant work permits to Mexican workers who are willing to fill jobs American wouldn’t do.
However, The Bahamas is seemingly at a cross road, we can’t move forward nor can we move backward and that is probably because we don’t know where we are going. The three successive governments since independence have never implemented any long term economic plan for our beloved country. So, we resort to running a government like a tuck shop, without any foreseeable growth in our labour force. The free movement of labour will only work in the Bahamas if there is some form of the European Union restriction, a restrictive movement of professional labour.
In order for us to expand our economy, we must diversify. Diversification means allowing the movement of skill labour in manufacturing, textiles, and crafts and other such industries. We cannot continue to have a blind fold approach to national development. History has taught us that we must be willing to embrace change. Sometimes these changes may require us to make tough decisions. The world has embraced a new way of operation in the form of free trade. It is important that we remain relevant and embrace regional trade if we are to survive, putting in place parameters and the framework for such trade.
The realities of global trade, trading blocks and the movement of labour has always been with us, the difference between First World countries and Third World countries is that First World Countries understand and appreciate the importance of Third World migrant labour, while Third World Countries generally don’t understand themselves.
Remember it was Albert Einstein who said “you cannot solve today’s problems with yesterdays solution”. The new world order requires new world thinking.