Thursday, October 17, 2013


A specter haunts the world and it is the specter of migration.
                          ----Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri 

I am late today, but the subject at hand is anything but.  Migrant workers around the world face obstacles like few other workers anywhere...and it ain't like those other workers have it all that great either.

In the news we see ships full of poor workers sinking in the Medeterranian and scores drown.  In the deserts of New Mexico and Arizona, scores more die of thirst and heat.  In the Emirates workers are locked in dorms, cheated, raped, and abused.  Everywhere the story is the same, yet everywhere workers are on the move.  Why?  Is migration a positive or a negative?  Why?  Is migration the future or the past?  Why?  What should the stand of communists, anarchists, Marxists, progressive people be in regard to the international movement of labor across borders, seas, and mountain?  What can be done and what should be done?

I have my own thoughts on all this, but today I am keeping them silent, except for this.  Borders are bullshit and people have the right to move as they please and need.  Movement is one way of fighting the Empire and global capital, with our own form of alter globalization.   The fight against this exploitation and abuse and on behalf of migratory labor is the fight against Capital. The movement of labor across borders is part of the class struggle today.  It is working people who are moving.  It is Capital which is forced to respond once again.  As capital flows across borders and increasingly knows no State, so labor does the same...fleeing from and moving toward. The exploitation of migratory labor is purely the result of global capital struggling to save surplus value, its rate of profit, its accumulation of capital, its power, command, and control.

Anyway, I'll leave it at that and give you two more posts today.  The first is from The South Afreican Civil society Information Service, and can serve as sort of a backgrounder, if you like.  The second is a manifesto written by some folks active in the No Borders UK network. It was written last year, but it is far from dated.


By Glenn Ashton · 15 Oct 2013

The recent tragedy off the Mediterranean island of Lampedusa, in which over 300 migrants were drowned, placed inequality between the developing and developed world into sharp focus. That people are desperate enough to risk their lives for economic opportunities highlights two perceptions of the migrants – how bad things are in some nations and how good they appear to be in others. World leaders must urgently re-examine what drives the ever increasing numbers of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers to leave their homes.

According to the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR), 2013 sees the highest number of refugees for the past 15 years. The estimated number of around 45 million internal and external refugees is similar to the entire population of a medium size country like South Africa or Spain. Yet even these figures fail to tell anything like the full story.

The UN definition of refugees remains narrow and excludes categories such as economic migrants, climate change refugees and slaves. Consequently the global number of migrants and refugees is considerably under-reported, primarily because migrants – political, economic or environmental - are excluded from claiming refugee status, except under extremely limited circumstances. Africa remains a colonial vassal to the first world, isolated behind geographical and political barriers.

Zimbabwe is a prime example of statisticians’ uncertainty regarding numbers of displaced citizens. This regime, with its continued political persecution and ongoing economic precariousness, epitomises instability. However the UNHCR only lists a total of 118 452 Zimbabwean persons of concern, as of January 2013. South African immigration officials have registered around 300 000 Zimbabwean migrants. These figures do not reflect the reality. The International Organisation of Migration (IOM) office in Harare cites figures of between 500 000 to 4 million Zimbabweans living outside the country, most in neighbouring nations, others scattered as far abroad as Canada and Australia.

Besides political instability, Zimbabwean migrants flee primarily because of the lack of economic opportunity, reflecting the larger reasons for African migration to Europe and elsewhere. Failing states without social safety nets and with poor health care, collapsing municipal and state services and a general lack of opportunity to thrive are major drivers of migration. This the underlying reason that Sengalese, Somalians, Chadians or numerous other African nationals seek refuge and opportunity in Europe. They are no different to Salvadoreans, Mexicans or Columbians seeking Elysian fields in the USA or Canada. These millions of migrants assume huge risks on their perilous journeys and are prone to further exploitation and abuse at their eventual destinations.

It is not only the well-publicised Mediterranean crossing that experiences particularly high death rates. Crossing the desert to just reach exit points to Europe is equally perilous. Migrants are regularly crowded into superheated containers crossing the Sahara, or simply robbed and abandoned mid-journey, with untold numbers of skeletons whispering their secrets into the sandy ocean.

Migrants using the route from the horn of Africa across the Red Sea to the Sinai Peninsula, Yemen and Saudi Arabia are even more at risk. It appears that the majority of women are raped, often continuously, or condemned into slavery, as are many men. Hundreds have perished on this crossing but their travails are only occasionally covered by the corporate media. Migrants across the Sinai fall victim to Israeli organ smugglers, several gangs of which have been exposed around the world.

Given these horrific realities it is unsurprising that many African migrants choose to head south, instead of north. South Africa now hosts high numbers of migrants besides Zimbabweans. Somali, Ethiopian and Eritrean shopkeepers – often indistinguishable to locals – are fixtures of many township corner shops. Pakistanis, Chinese and Bangladeshis further swell the numbers. These immigrants regularly fall victim to crimes of opportunity, xenophobia or exploitation by authorities and police.

While the UNHCR finds Asia has the largest numbers of refugees, the skewed reporting and relative poverty of Africa arguably places migrants in the African milieu at greater risk. Although the situation in Iraq, Myanmar and Afghanistan is dire, Asian refugees generally have broader opportunity to escape their situation than most Africans, directly into Europe via Asia. African migrants are essentially imprisoned on the continent, isolated by oceans and deserts let alone the ruthless exploitation of human smugglers and corrupt officials.

While nations like Australia have established exclusionary migration policies, the ascendancy of an increasingly racist right wing across Fortress Europe has, in concert with economic stagnation, curtailed the already limited migrant numbers entering the continent. Over 30 000 migrants have reached Europe by sea so far this year. Around one quarter historically receive refugee status, with many others repatriated.

These realities are exacerbated by the fact that Africa remains exploited by colonial and neo-colonial economic policies enforced by the dominant global north. This is further compounded by the immoral exploitation of its economic resources.

Illicit financial outflows through gambits like corporate money laundering, support of kleptocrats and tax avoidance are estimated to have lost Africa between $850 billion and $1.8 trillion between 1970 and 2008, dwarfing aid. Even the so-called aid grudgingly paid to Africa is pathetic. The US pays Israel 6 times more than the entire African continent, which presently supplies around 14% of its oil. During the cold war half of US aid to Africa went to repressive African regimes. US food aid continues to disrupt unsophisticated local agricultural markets. Europe does little better, preferring to arm Africa than deliver on debt reduction or promises of increased trade. EU trade liberalisation alone has cost Africa more than $300 billion since the late 1980’s, let alone ecological costs to marine and forest ecosystems.

The economic balance sheet remains increasingly skewed toward the advantage of the global north. The welfare of most Africans has decreased markedly over the past half century. Resource rich nations like Nigeria, Congo and Angola are openly exploited for their resources while one in four children there will not reach their fifth birthday. In short, double standards prevail between governance in the north and south.

Globalisation sees increasing liberalisation of trade in goods and services to the advantage of the developed north. While immigration of skilled labour is embraced by the north – again exploiting scarce African resources - the same does not apply to unskilled migrants. Africa has effectively been reduced to the role of a captive, continental-scale colony, where its land, resources, environment and people are exploited by the developed world.

When blame is apportioned, the media parses it in tropes of poor leadership and unstable democracy. In reality, the fundamental reasons for African instability can be laid directly at the door of continued exploitation of Africa by neo-colonial policies, enforced by the rich on the poor.

Migrants attempting to escape from Africa are cast as victims of self-imposed poverty and corruption by the dominant media and economic discourse. Instead, each and every single victim should serve as a stark reminder to the developed world that their death reflects the symptoms of an exploitative system made manifest.
Ashton is a writer and researcher working in civil society. Some of his work can be viewed at 

A No Borders manifesto

A manifesto written by some people active in the No Borders UK network. Please note that this manifesto has not been endorsed by everyone in the network. It is simply meant to stimulate thinking and discussion.


1. Freedom of movement is not a right; it is a real living force. Despite all the obstacles that states put in people’s way — all the barriers of barbed wire, money, laws, ID cards, surveillance and so on — millions
cross borders every day. For every migrant stopped or deported, many more get through and stay, whether legally or clandestinely. Don’t overestimate the strength of the state and its borders. Don’t underestimate the strength of everyday resistance.

2. In the 19th century, militants fighting against slavery in the US
created an ‘underground railroad’ that smuggled many thousand runaway slaves to safety, as well as enabling acts of sabotage and rebellion. In the 20th century, the term was used again by the anti-Nazi resistance in Europe. Can No Borders become a 21st century underground railroad across Europe and beyond?

3. The most successful and inspiring No Borders work has been just about this: creating strong networks to support free movement across Europe’s borders. This is the infrastructure of a growing movement of resistance: contacts, information, resources, meeting points, public drop-ins, safe houses, and so on. A pool of formal and informal connections, a web of solidarity, working on both public and clandestine levels.

4. People manage to move, live, and evade state control because they are part of communities and networks. Migration happens because of millions of connections between millions of people. Our No Borders networks are one small part of this. Yet, as a movement, we can play an active role in bringing such connections together across national and cultural boundaries. Our struggle is one and the same.

5. People move for many different reasons. Many of the causes of global
migration can be traced back to the West’s imperial and capitalist
ventures: western-manufactured weapons and armed conflicts, wars of
aggression in pursuit of oil and other natural resources, repressive
regimes backed by Western governments, climate change and land grabs, and so on. But this is not the whole story. We shouldn’t overemphasise the role of western powers and fall into the trap of seeing people who migrate as helpless victims. People have always travelled in search of better living conditions, or simply to pursue their dreams and desires.

6. Modern states try to turn movement into a right that is granted or
denied according to economic and political power. Elites and ‘first world’
citizens with purchasing power can travel and settle where they want,
while the poor are controlled and criminalised. Some may be let through
because they are deemed to be useful to the economy, or because they are classed as ‘genuine refugees’. Categories like refugee, asylum seeker, economic migrant and illegal immigrant are used to divide and control. This is why we use the term ‘migrant’ for all.

7. There are many fronts to fight on against this rotten economic and
political system. We do not want to make No Borders some kind of model or metaphor for every fight against domination and repression. We are drawn to this struggle for our own reasons and out of our own passions and histories – for example, many of us are migrants or the children of migrants. However, there are some specific reasons why we think free movement is right at the heart of struggles in Europe at this moment.

7.1. Migrants from poor countries are the first line of attack for
retrenching European governments and economies in a time of crisis. With limited rights and no visibility, migrants are often the first workers to lose their jobs when the recession bites; the first to be targeted by increased repression and new surveillance technologies; the first to be
blamed and scapegoated for capitalism’s crises; and the first to be dispensed with when their labour is no longer needed.

7.2. But migrants are often also the first to resist, and to develop
alternative infrastructures outside the reach of the state. In 17th
century England, travelling workers and beggars thrown off their land by
the enclosures started early revolutionary movements like the Levellers,
Diggers and Ranters. In the 19th century, anarchism grew up among
dispossessed migrant communities in Barcelona, Buenos Aires, Chicago or the East End of London. In the 20th century, the anti-Nazi resistance in France was begun by exiles from Spain and Eastern Europe. The
precariousness of migrant groups means they would always need to develop new ways of organising in order to survive. The loss of old ties and certainties encourages new ways of thinking and acting.

7.3. Migrants may be the first under attack, but they won’t be the last.
The conditions faced by clandestine migrants show what we can all look
forward to in austerity Europe: mass unemployment, less employment rights and more exploitation, less welfare, repression more brutal and naked. This is what the crisis really means: the so-called first world turning into a third world, with widespread poverty and a stark class divide. The old compromise of the welfare state, which kept workers in the West quiet by guaranteeing basic living standards, is crumbling. As illusions and disguises are shattered, we see the return of open confrontation between the elites and the rest of us.

8. No Borders has its roots in anarchism. There is plenty to criticise in
the recent history of European anarchism. Too often anarchists have
retreated into their own identity, forming a subculture and cutting
themselves off from the wider struggles around them. But there are also
many positive things we should retain, including the Do It Yourself (DIY)
culture of recent decades. Social centres, activist kitchens, independent
media, housing and workers’ co-operatives, secure communication networks and other DIY projects are valuable resources – so long as we recognise that, like migration, activism is not an identity but something we do. For example, No Borders squats in Calais and in big cities across Europe are not lifestyle choices but essential shelters and resource points. And as the safety blanket of European welfare systems is pulled away, more and more of us will have to find new ways to do things ourselves. All our know-how on the streets, at the barricades, in practical support and mobility, will become precious. The point is to make our skills and resources part of wider movements of resistance.

9. No Borders needs to be an open and diverse movement. Many different people, with and without papers, have contributions to make. To make this a reality we have to tackle the borders within our movement too. We need to constantly address different forms of privilege, whether based on people’s legal status, language, education, gender, race, class, or simply people’s other commitments and abilities to face different levels of risk.

10. This is not a game. We are fed up with shit actions. We need to
distance ourselves from the symbolic stunt activism that has come to
dominate many activist scenes. Stunt activism seeks to grab the attention of the mainstream media and, through them, to win over so-called public opinion. It can make sense to pay attention to the media, but not to make them our main focus. We need to scrap the idea – pushed by the state and media corporations – that there is one unified, homogeneous mass of ‘normal people’ called the public. There is no such public; only lots of different people and groups with different, often conflicting, interests and desires. And the mainstream media don’t speak for any such public anyway – they speak for the media corporations and advertisers who set the agenda.

11. We therefore propose a few principles for No Borders activities:

11.1. Number one: our actions should be direct actions in the true sense.
They should have direct material outcomes, even if these are only small – if we stop one person being deported, if one migration prisoner manages to escape, if one person gets a safe roof over their heads, if we stop one eviction, win one asylum case, help one person trapped in the system to find strength to get through the days, win one workplace struggle, cause some real damage to a company’s profits, this is a material gain. When we do meaningless symbolic actions that fail to achieve anything, we only get discouraged, while the system gets stronger. When we achieve direct successes, these reverberate in our communities, encouraging those already taking part and inspiring others to get involved, thereby strengthening the network as a whole.

11.2. Number two: every action should also have a broader aim: to build
the infrastructure of resistance and rebellion. This means developing and strengthening our networks, making new alliances, acquiring useful skills and material resources. The audience of our actions is not ‘public
opinion’; it is all those we want fighting beside us. Our aim is not to convince the majority of the European population of the No Borders
argument. The people we most need to work with already know very well what borders mean.

11.3. Number three: pick tactics strategically. We should think carefully,
and seriously, about our strengths and weaknesses. We should be clear
about what our actions can actually achieve, and where we need to improve and be better prepared. Dogmas, fantasies, and ingrained habits should be questioned all the time. We must acknowledge the valuable work to be done by people who, for various reasons, cannot take on certain risks. But we must also recognise that, if our movement is to begin to really challenge the border regime, many of us will face serious risks and far more serious repression. Our defence against repression and fear is to create a strong culture of solidarity.

12. Radical grassroots movements are the groundwork for the new world we carry in our hearts. At first they start as essential support lines for escape and small-scale resistance, and for the small hidden acts of counter-attack and sabotage that are available to the weak. At the same time, resistance and struggle are not separate from the rest of life – these networks and communities are the same ones in which we live, learn, play, work, invent and build alternative social and political structures. As a movement’s strength grows, and as crises expose weaknesses in its enemies, these networks become the infrastructure for open rebellion. So the 19th century underground railroad was the basis for slave revolts during the US civil war. The underground railroad of the 1940s broke out into partisan uprisings. What new forms might struggle take in the 21st century? We don’t know, but let’s find out.

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