Sabina Stan – Global Care Chains and transnational collective action in Europe: The Challenge of East-West migration

Sabina Stan – Global Care Chains and transnational collective action in Europe: The Challenge of East-West migration

One of the most important effects of the current wave of globalization on female labour market participation is the constitution of “global care chains” that bring women from less developed parts of the world into employment in care services of more developed countries. In the last decade, Central and Eastern European (CEE) women have increasingly taken part in this movement, albeit at a mostly European level. CEE care migration traditionally involved low-skilled work (in housekeeping, cleaning, child minding or elderly care), but it also increasingly affects skilled labour (in areas such as nursing or medicine). Thus, CEE European care migrants pose to trade unions in host countries the multiple problem of organising labour that is many times female, sometimes informal, and displaying varying levels of sectorial labour mobilisation.

While care work has historically fed on a combination of internal and external migration, the current phase of globalization has seen a tremendous increase in the scale of transnational care mobility. Looking at transnational care migration from the perspective of “global care chains” allows us to capture both the intrinsic part played by care work in the reproduction of capitalism (by fundamentally contributing to the reproduction of labor); and the way in which care migration links various national and regional care regimes (and therefore processes of capitalist reproduction) across the world. Global care chains can thus be seen as resulting from a complex combination of labour market changes (such as the rise in women labor market participation in more developed countries, and the disruption of traditional work configurations in less developed ones) and changes in welfare regimes (notably the hollowing out of redistributive, state sponsored care arrangements through budget cuts and privatization). The global character of these processes raises the question of the transnational, if not global, character of trade union collective action in relation to transnational care migration. To such global challenges, are trade unions responding in a global manner?

The project will look at the transnational dimensions of trade union collective action in regards to CEE care work migration in Europe, by seeing it as a process directed both towards and by migrant care workers. It will thus seek to approach this question from both of its ends, i.e. trade unions and migrants, by articulating European trade unions’ responses to care work migration with care migrants’ own involvement in labour mobilisation.

Care work is fragmented across various sectors (formal and informal, public and private), as well as along hierarchies of status (national/foreign, EU/non-EU). Despite this fragmentation, care work migration draws its potential unity not only from care work’s common participation in the reproduction of the labour force, but also because care migration is intrinsically linked to healthcare privatization around Europe. Indeed, not only has healthcare privatization been one of the engines that generated both the offer of and demand for care migrants, but pressures towards healthcare privatisation in receiving countries have generally lead to calls to restrict migrant workers’ access to health and social services (and thus diminish their social wage). The question for TU collective action in regards to care work migration is thus not only whether it is transnational, but also whether it is trans-sectorial (i.e linking struggles in different, fragmented sectors as well as across status hierarchies) and holistic (linking local, sector struggles with wider transformations and concerns).