Precarious Migrants: Gender, Race and the Social Reproduction of a Global Working Class

Susan Ferguson, David McNally


Small academic industries have emerged in the study of both migrant labour and maquila factory systems. And recently, economists have paid increased attention to the financial flows attendant on wage remittances. Studies that map out the complex interrelations between cross-border movements of capital, labour and wages in the social reproduction of class relations in all their multi-dimensionality are much less developed. This essay proposes some conceptual guidelines for theorizing those relations. While its frame of reference is global, its focus is on North American movements of capital, people and wages – and the associated regimes governing (gendered and racialized) migrant labour, border security, and financial remittances – as these are paradigmatic of genuinely worldwide social processes. In suggesting pathways toward theorizing the inner connections among these seemingly disparate phenomena, we explore patterns of primitive accumulation, dispossession, capital flows, migration, racialization, work and gender relations in an effort to illuminate crucial dimensions of the social reproduction of capital and labour today.

Our work in this area is inspired by a Marxist-feminist approach that understands social reproduction in terms of the inner connections of household, neighbourhood and community activities with the monetized social activities (predominantly wage-labour) necessary to market-dependent reproduction, wherein food, housing, transportation, clothing and so on must be purchased as commodities. An adequate theorization of the total social reproduction of the capital-labour relation thus requires a multi-dimensional analysis which, while acknowledging the decisive role of waged-work and other monetized practices, situates these within a nexus of practices through which working-class life is produced and reproduced.

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