Campus News

Published by Communications and Public Affairs 519 824-4120, Ext. 56982 or 53338

News Release

August 31, 2006

Remember Immigrant Workers on Labour Day, Prof Urges

Many Canadians will have the day off Monday for Labour Day in honour of working people everywhere. A University of Guelph professor says it’s the perfect time to reflect on the vital role immigrants play in the nation’s labour force.

“Immigration is a structural necessity to our economy,” said Harald Bauder, a Guelph geography professor who studies immigration and labour markets.

“It regulates Canada’s labour markets from the bottom up. Contrary to the romanticized image of the immigrant dishwasher who ends up becoming a millionaire, immigrants tend to fill the lower ranks of the labour market and remain there. They assume a vital economic function for immigrant receiving economies — not as economic leaders but as vulnerable and exploitable labour.”

Bauder added that various legal, social and cultural mechanisms keep immigrants in their subordinated positions. Nevertheless, they are a necessary component of the economy. “The nation depends on the disciplined labour that immigrants provide,” he said.

In his 2006 book, Labour Movement: How Migration Regulates Labour Markets, Bauder takes on the conventional view of international migration. He writes that migration regulates labour markets, rather than labour markets shaping migration flows. He also argues that migration regulates labour markets through processes of social distinction, cultural judgment and the strategic deployment of citizenship.

“The reality is that immigration policy is really labour market policy,” Bauder said. Throughout Canada’s history, immigration policy served economic objectives. As early as the 17th century, immigration was driven by “manpower” needs, facilitating the colonization and settlement of Canadian territory, he said.

Later, in the 19th century, immigrants were needed to build the Canadian Pacific Railway, settle the Prairies and facilitate Canada’s economic development. For most of the 20th century, immigration gates were opened when the economy needed workers, but closed when economic recessions loomed, he said.

“Contemporary immigration policy maintains this economic objective,” Bauder said, pointing to the 2001 Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. It states that the aim of Canada’s immigration policy is “to support the development of a strong and prosperous Canadian economy.”

Recognizing and understanding the history and intricacies of immigration and Canada’s labour force are important steps toward building effective activist strategies and for envisioning new roles for immigrant and migrant workers, he said.

Taking some time on Monday for some reflection is a start, said Bauder. “If all immigrants decided one day to return to their places of origin, Ontario’s construction industry would lose its most diligent labourers, the office towers on Bay Street would be without cleaning crews, Vancouver’s hotels would be without room maids and Leamington’s tomatoes would rot unpicked in the greenhouses. Some of the most vital sectors of the global economy would come to a standstill.”

Prof. Harald Bauder
Department of Geography
(519) 824-4120, Ext. 53498

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt, 519 824-4120, Ext. 53338, or Rachelle Cooper, Ext. 56039.

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