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“The right to be in Ireland is a gift of the state’:

Migration regime, labor unions, and neoliberal


governmentality

By

___________________

A Senior Thesis submitted for partial completion of a Bachelor’s of Art, summa cum laude
degree in Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies

Honors Thesis
University of Minnesota
College of Liberal Arts
May 16th, 2009

Faculty Committee:
Advisor: David Karjanen, American Studies
Pashmina Murthy, Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies
Sabrina Ovan, French and Italian

“The right to be in Ireland is a gift of the state”1:


Migration regime, labor unions, and neoliberal
governmentality

Abstract

1
Mark Maguire. Interview by author. Tape recording. Dublin, Ireland, 15th January, 2009.

2
This paper will provide an overview of and engage with debates about the
labor migration to Ireland2 which both resulted in response to, as well
facilitated, unprecedented economic growth. The analysis will focus on ways
that labor unions have responded to the immigration and will argue that
unions, although they have made some positive developments in trying to
include immigrants, their overall efforts remained marginal and inefficient
because: a) business-state-unions power nexus called Social Partnership
contributed to union depoliticization and establishment of ‘non-ideological’
neoliberal space; b) lack of the grassroots organizing practices and
deployment of neoliberal governmentality in dealing with their membership;
c) neoliberal union rationalities that avert both the analysis and adoption of
innovative tactics that would be able to address the mobile migrant
workforce and the global economy. Therefore, despite the dominant views
about the (until recently) booming economy, social welfare state, and
tolerant, pro-immigration society, Ireland can be analyzed as an experiment
in which Social Partnership serves as central element to the emergence of
neoliberal governmentality.

INTRODUCTION

Why talk about Ireland? Because Ireland can serve as a space of


particularity to reveal something quite universal about social, political, and
economic developments that often are subsumed under the umbrella term
of “neoliberalism.”3 Ireland turned itself into a test site – a laboratory of
neoliberal experimentation – and the results astounded critics and
enthusiasts alike. Ireland is an interesting case-study because of the rapid
pace of demographic and economic change. For example, while in 1994
immigrant workers constituted 2% of the labor in 2006 it was 17%.4 For the
2
Throughout this paper “Ireland” will be used to refer to Republic of Ireland even if some
politics, policies, and union sphere of influence extend to Northern Ireland.
3
While being aware of how the term has been overused and is increasingly becoming an
abstraction, I still find a utility in using this term and hopefully throughout this paper it will
become evident what are some of the specificities of Irish neoliberalism.
4
Thomas Turner, Daryl D'Art, and Christine Cross, “Polish Workers in Ireland: A Contented
Proletariat?” Labor Studies Journal, Mar 2009; vol. 34: pp. 112 – 126

3
most part, the immigration was fueled by the economic growth of Ireland’s
economy, dubbed the Celtic Tiger. While there were a significant amount of
refugees and asylum seekers, the vast majority of migrants could be
characterized as labor migrants.5 Although low-skill labor immigration to
wealthy western countries is often talked about either as a social and
economic problem or as demographic solution to aging populations, Ireland
has often been invoked as a country which is quite exceptional for its
genuine efforts in integration and lack of outright racist sentiments, such as
those expressed in other parts of western Europe.6 However, as this paper
will argue, such a view is quite limited for a number of reasons.

In this paper,7 I examine the situation of immigrant workers and labor


unions’ participation in Social Partnership as the central lens to argue that
Ireland is far from being an exceptional or a desirable model to emulate, and
that analyzing it through traditional theoretical frameworks of political
economy, neoliberalism, or governmentality in isolation is inadequate.
Ireland’s case provides an opportunity to get a glimpse at contemporary
forms of social organization through the deployment of neoliberal
governmentality. This paper contributes to neoliberal governmentality
literature by arguing that labor unions, as a “non-governmental” body, not
only facilitate capital and the nation-state’s interests, but also actively shape
larger biopolitical management of “local” and migrant population.

LITERATURE REVIEW

5
For example, in 1992 there were 39 asylum seeking applications; in 2002 it peaked to
11,634 and been declining ever since. Asylum is being granted only to a very small fraction
of applicants. Crowley, Una, Mary Gilmartin and Rob Kitchin, 2008, “Race and immigration in
contemporary Ireland,” in New Geographies of Race and Racism, (Eds) Claire Dwyer and
Caroline Bressey (Burlington, VT: Ashgate): 141-155.
6
O'Malley, Eoin. 2008. “Why There is No Radical Right Party in Ireland?” West European
Politics 31, no. 5: 960-977.
7
This paper was written by researching and reviewing relevant literature. It also involved
visiting Ireland (January 2009) and conducting interviews with nine people, including union
officials, NGO representatives, and academics researching immigration to Ireland. I also had
informal conversations with a dozen of Eastern European workers about their experiences in
Ireland. The stay in Ireland also involved reviewing immigrant newspapers in English,
Russian, Polish, and Lithuanian.

4
Up until recently, Ireland has been showcased as an economic miracle,
the so-called Celtic Tiger8. Ireland’s success made it into a model for other
countries, one that could be followed and should be emulated by less-
developed countries (such as the Baltic Tigers). Even for wealthy Western
European countries, Ireland provided a new flexible and “competitive
corporatist” model.9 Significantly, Ireland’s success provided the ultimate
proof that neoliberal reforms actually work as suggested by appraisals in
various pro-neoliberal institutions from the EU, OECD, and top rankings in
The Heritage Foundation’s “Index of Economic Freedom”.10 The enthusiasm
surrounding Ireland’s success has been voiced by global institutions such as
the World Bank, which places Ireland as #5 (out of 181 countries) on their
index for starting a business and protecting investors. 11

However, the changes that dramatically transformed Ireland’s position


as an underdeveloped periphery to a country that matched the living
standards of ‘Old Europe’ were also enabled by mass immigration. By the
mid 1990s, economic growth reversed the century and a half long trend of
emigration and for the first time in its history, Ireland became a country of
net immigration.12 Immigration especially intensified when Ireland, along
8
The term, dubbed by Morgan Stanley Bank economist, suggests an enormous economic
growth and refers to the economies of the Asian Tigers. For example, about a quarter of the
US investments in Europe were in Ireland (Kieran Allen, 2007: 231).
9
Allen, Kieran, 2003, “Neither Berlin nor Boston: Class polarization, and neo-liberalism in
Irish Republic,” in The end of Irish history?: Critical reflections on the Celtic Tiger, eds. Colin
Coultier and Steve Coleman, Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, pg. 62.
10
For example, John Bruton, ex-prime minister of Ireland, serves as ambassador of
Delegation of the European Commission to the United States and appears to be actively
promoting “Celtic Tiger” and Ireland’s entrepreneurial spirit combined with flexible
institutional arrangements. John Bruton, “The economic model that transformed Ireland can
succeed in Arizona” http://eurunion.org/eu/index.php?
option=com_content&task=view&id=1232&Itemid=26; The Heritage Foundation/Wall Street
Journal, “2009 Index of Economic Freedom,” http://www.heritage.org/index/Ranking.aspx
11
World Bank Group. “Ease of Doing Business.” University of Minnesota Libraries,
http://www.doingbusiness.org/ExploreEconomies/?economyid=93 (Accessed February 13th,
2009)
12
Grabowska, Izabel. 2005. Changes in the international mobility of labour: job migration of
Polish nationals to Ireland. Irish Journal of Sociology 14, no. 1:27-44; Hughes, Gerard,
McGinnity, Frances, O'Connell, Phillip, and Quinn, Emma. 2007. The impact of immigration.
In Best of Times? The Social impact of the Celtic Tiger, edited by Tony Fahey, Helen Russel
and Christopher Whelan T. Dublin, Ireland: Institute of Public Administration.; Barret, Alan,

5
with UK and Sweden, opened its labor market to the 10 new EU member
states in 2004.13Thus, economic prosperity was mirrored by dramatic
demographic changes.

In this paper, by bringing different theoretical approaches together, I


will demonstrate that neoliberal governmentality is neither a universal nor
uncontestable process and that understanding how unions succeed or fail in
reaching out to migrant workers is crucial for envisioning politics and
practices that would go beyond the hegemony of neoliberalism. Articulating
migrants as only self-interested or stake-less in the larger society and in
need of mere services from the unions or the state closes possibilities of new
politics and reproduces neoliberal rationalities.

The extensive literature review below is meant to situate this paper


within existing debates about how Ireland dealt with immigration and point
out that there are significant gaps in scholarship, especially when it comes to
migrant labor and the role of Social Partnership in politics of migration
management. Typically, the literature on labor migration to Ireland often
focuses on migrant integration14 into the Irish labor market, and migrant
worker experiences and adaptability.15 Still, the labor market literature
appears to be much smaller in comparison to, for example, research on
refugees and asylum seekers. Up until recently, refugee and asylum
literature quantitatively dominated scholarship on immigration.16 While it is

and David Duffy. 2008. Are Ireland's Immigrants Integrating into Its Labor Market?
International Migration Review 42, no. 3:597-619.; Krings, Torben. 2007. 'Equal rights for all
workers': Irish trade unions and the challenge of labour migration. Irish Journal of Sociology
16, no. 1:43-61.
13
Fanning, Bryan J. with Roland Erne. 2009. New Guests of the Irish Nation. Dublin, Ireland:
Irish Academic Press, pg.137.
14
Barret, Alan, and David Duffy. 2008. Are Ireland's Immigrants Integrating into Its Labor
Market? International Migration Review 42, no. 3:597-619.
15
O'Connell, Phillip, and McGinnity, Frances. 2008. Immigrants at work: Ethnicity and
nationality in the Irish labor market. Dublin, Ireland: The Equality Authority and Economic
and Social Research Institute.
16
The peak of literature was in the period of late 1990s to early 2000s, coinciding with the
numbers of asylum seekers and refugees granted residence in Ireland. Mac Einri, Piaras and
Allen White. 2008. “Immigration into the Republic of Ireland: a bibliography of recent

6
an important topic, it is illustrative of the shared state and scholarly
preoccupation with the most “troubling” of migrant categories and their
over-representation in discourses on immigration. In addition to this
literature, there is an increasing amount of literature on immigration to
Ireland which focuses on racism, nationalism, and citizenship. However, a
significant proportion of it is in the domain of public policy analysis, focusing
on providing suggestions for successful integration. Scholars appear to be
quite often17 producing policy advice on their own or in collaboration with
various NGOs with titles such as “Racist attitudes in Ireland: baseline
research for the anti-racism awareness-raising programme.”18

Another significant portion of migrant labor literature could be


described as taking a standard economic approach. It focuses on
macroeconomic and microeconomic impacts on the national economy and
immigrants, their earnings, and labor market integration. The labor
literature also tends to focus on integration and ethnicity, for example, how
Polish migrants adapt to market conditions;19 migrant workers in particular
sectors of the economy – e.g. low-wage, high-tech, or health-care – and
whether reliance on unlimited immigration is a sustainable economic
strategy.20

research.” Irish Geography, 41, no.2: 159.


17
One exception to the policy-oriented literature includes the work by Ronit Lentin and
Steve Loyal. These scholars employ a critical analysis of the state as an agent of racism
through its institutional exclusion, and discourses and practices of biopolitics. However their
approach is in a minority, as it centers the state as a problem rather than a solution to
regulate local racisms. Lentin, Ronit. 2007. Ireland: Racial state and crisis racism. Ethnic and
Racial Studies 30, no. 4:610-627; Loyal, S., 2003. Welcome to the Celtic tiger: racism,
immigration and the state. In: C. Coulter and S. Coleman, eds. The end of Irish history?
Critical reflections on the Celtic tiger. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 74-94.
18
Garner, Steve and Allen White, 2001, “Racist attitudes in Ireland: baseline research for
anti-racism awareness-raising programme,” Dublin: Department of Justice, Equality and Law
Reform.
19
Grabowska, Izabel. 2005. Changes in the international mobility of labour: job migration of
Polish nationals to Ireland. Irish Journal of Sociology 14, no. 1:27-44.
20
Bruff, Ian, 2007. The role of I.T. migrants working in Ireland: the uneasy and unstable
relationship between skills shortages and career choices. Migrationonline.cz, Theme:
Political Economy of Migration and Mobility in the EU, Prague: Multicultural Centre; Yeates,
Nicola. 2004. A dialogue with 'global care chain' analysis: nurse migration in the Irish

7
In addition to the more critical analyses focusing on social exclusion of
migrants, there are numerous scholarly accounts that present the Irish case
as a rather positive or even exceptional one in terms of integration,
tolerance, and lack of extreme right politics that are thriving elsewhere in
Western Europe. 21
For example, Bacik, an academic who writes for popular
audience paints a picture of Ireland as evolved from its conservativism and
provincialism into “a progressive and diverse society, a symbol of economic
success for all small states in Europe.”22

A few scholars highlight that numerous NGOs as well as governmental


bodies were established to deal specifically with integration, and probably in
the most notable symbolic gesture by creating the post of the Minister for
Integration. However, often these policy bodies appear to be operating
through the rationalities and language of the “racial state.”23 Mac Einri and
White, the authors of most comprehensive overview of research bibliography
on immigration to Ireland, argue that there is a danger in perpetuating Irish
exceptionalism by academics and NGOs. The problem with this scholarship
appears to be a combination of theoretical and institutional limits.
Institutionally there exists pressures to produce research quickly, justified by
the “newness” of the immigration (a myth that is being increasingly
challenged). Theoretically, scholars tend to analyze Ireland as localized
within its nation-state borders and not “located within globalised systems
and movements of people, capital, and things.”24

context. Feminist Review 77, 79-95;


21
See for example O'Malley, Eoin. 2008. “Why There is No Radical Right Party in Ireland?”
West European Politics 31, no. 5: 960-977.
22
Ivana Bacik, 2004, Kicking and screaming: Dragging Ireland into the 21st century, Dublin:
The O’Brian Press, pg.9.
23
Ronit Lentin and Robbie McVeigh. 2006. After Optimism? Ireland, Racism, and
Globalization. Metro Eireann Publications. Pg. 69-70.
24
Mac Einri, Piaras and Allen White. 2008. “Immigration into the Republic of Ireland: a
bibliography of recent research.” Irish Geography, 41, no.2: 151-179

8
Although there has been increased scholarly focus on migrants in
Ireland, there are still relatively few critical interrogations on migrant labor
organizing (see Arqueros (2006) for an exception), or the establishment and
management of Ireland’s migration regime.25 For example, Dundon et al
(2007) looked at migrant labor integration and asked how unions facilitated
the process, if at all, and what were the obstacles to migrants joining the
unions. However, while they identified some problems with union organizing
and legal obstacles on the part of the state, the paper appeared to be a
largely uncritical and mostly empirical account of union practices.26

With respect to migrant organizing, this lacuna is especially surprising


given the amount of policy-related publications that have addressed this
topic. For example, there have been number of publications dealing with the
mushroom industry, which was showcased as an extreme case of labor
exploitation, as well as a success case of union organizing, state
intervention, and the change of conditions.27 However, there appears to be
relative silence about working conditions in the agricultural sector now since,
generally, new reports focus on urban centers.28 In general, however, there
has been increased scholarly interest in migrant labor organizing, especially
in the US. In Europe, the US experience is seen as “cutting edge” by
providing new and innovative organizing models. Specifically, scholars argue

25
Exceptions would be Lentin, Ronit. 2007. “Ireland: racial state and crisis racism.” Ethnic
and Racial Studies. 30, no 4: 620-627; Kieran, Allen. “Neo-liberalism and immigration” in
Immigration and social change in the Republic of Ireland, ed. Bryan Fanning, Manchester
and New York, Manchester University Press, 84-96
26
Dundon, Tony, Maria-Alejandra Gonzalez-Perez, and Terrence McDonough. 2007. Bitten by
the Celtic Tiger: Immigrant Workers and Industrial Relations in the New ‘Glocalized’ Ireland.
Economic and Industrial Democracy 28, no. 4:501-522.
27
For example, Arqueros, Fransisco. 2006. Low Wages, Migrant Labour and Politics of Irish
Mushroom Industry. Irish Journal of Anthropology 9, no. 3:45-55.
28
Quite exceptionally Migrants Rights Center Ireland, Dublin based NGO produced series of
reports in industries that are widely considered as particularly exploitative. See for example
“Exploitation in Ireland’s Restaurant Industry,” (2008), “Enabling Equality: Migrant Women in
Rural Ireland”(2008), “Private Homes: A Public Concern: The Experience of Twenty Migrant
Women Employed in the Private Home in Ireland” (2004) MRCI, Dublin Ireland, December
2008.

9
that migrant organizing is the new frontier for union politics that promises to
revive the stagnating labor movement.29 The literature on migrant labor in
Ireland, as well as unions themselves, could benefit from comparative
studies even if there are enormous contextual differences between Ireland
and the US. For example, in a scholarly literature on Ireland there are no
references to migrant labor organizing in a state such as California, which,
similarly to Ireland, experienced dramatic demographic changes, major shifts
in the economy, and had unions and migrants themselves respond in new
and creative ways, including worker centers, student-labor, consumer-labor,
and religious-labor alliances. This points out to limited scholarly
preoccupation with Ireland as confined place mentioned earlier.

Overall, there appears to be several accounts of the Irish state which


utilize theories of neoliberalism, biopolitics, and governmentality, however,
there seems to be no consolidation of those distinct literatures to connect
migrant labor organizing, unions, migration regime, and Social Partnership.
An attempt is made by Breda Gray who utilizes concepts of governmentality
and neoliberalism in deconstructing policy reports that are concerned with
immigrant integration in Ireland and Irish emigrant integration abroad.30
Although various contradictions and neoliberal rationalities of the Partnership
and the nation-state are exposed, the article does not look at how unions
challenge or contribute to neoliberal integration policies. Kieran Allen, for
example, utilizes the concept of neoliberalism to argue that the political left
and labor union movement have been co-opted and workers have been
taking on a disproportionate burden in comparison to capital, which emerged

29
See for example, Ruth Milkman. 2006, L.A. story: Immigrant workers and the future of the
U.S. labor movement. New York: Russell Sage Foundation; Ruth Milkman (Ed.). 2000.
Organizing immigrants: The challenge for unions in contemporary California. Ithaca, NY: ILR
Press; Immanuel Ness. 2005. Immigrants, unions, and the new U.S. labor market.
Philadelphia: Temple University Press; Jayraman, Sarumathi and Immanuel Ness (Eds.).
2005. The new urban immigrant workforce: Innovative models for labor organizing. Armonk,
NY: M.E. Sharpe.
30
Breda Gray, 2006, “Migrant Integration Policy: A Nationalist Fantasy of Management and
Control?” Translocations, Vol. 1(1), pp. 118-138.

10
as a main beneficiary through Social Partnership. However, he does not
deepen his analysis in how labor unions are facilitating the biopolitical
dimension of neoliberal governmentality through their rationalities and
practices. His analytical lens to interrogate Ireland’s transformation does not
go outside the political economy approach to neoliberalism, which, despite
its utility, has certain shortcomings. On the other hand, Lentin, who employs
Foucauldian theories to analyze Ireland’s racial state, overlooks unions and
Social Partnership almost entirely. For example, in the book with McVeigh,
which appears to be one of the most critical accounts of Ireland, unions are
mentioned only in passing. For example, Lentin and MacVeigh state that
unions, along with state and capital, not only came to the consensus that
immigration is inevitable, but also beneficial to Ireland although migrant
workers themselves are valued only for their “human capital.”31

Although there are some appealing theoretical calls to reconsider


migration and “the history of capitalism from the perspective of workers’
mobility,”32 this paper will argue that the migration regime is employed to
encourage certain mobilities and prevent others, largely for the needs of
(global) capital, by utilizing biopolitical state technologies.

*****

The first section of this paper entitled ”Local/national/global Ireland”


locates Ireland within larger global processes and debates about the
economic and political changes. It reviews the concept of neoliberalism and
its relation to capitalism and advices attention to local specificities. Then, it
describes Social Partnership and situates its role in Ireland’s economic
growth and “success.” It will argue that Social Partnership appeared to be
one of the central elements in facilitating the emergence of “non-ideological”

31
Ronit Lentin and Robbie McVeigh. 2006:
32
The concept is attributed to Antonio Negri in Papadopoulos, Dimitris, Stephenson, Niamh, and Vassilis Tsianos.
2008. Escape routes: Control and subversion in the 21st century. Ann Arbor: Pluto Press, pg.203.

11
space in which the direction of the globalized national development became
institutionalized. In the section “State of economy and economy of the
state,” the theories of neo-Foucauldian governmentality and state will be
discussed followed by the examples of how they apply to Ireland. “On the
‘non-ideological’ space of Irish politics’” examines how unions contribute to
the creation and maintenance of neoliberal spaces – from workplace to
national politics. The section entitled “Productive immigrant bodies as
neoliberal subjects” will analyze how immigrants are constructed as
neoliberal subjects. However, while the migration regime attempts to
facilitate neoliberal migrant docility and value as mere human capital, the
process is far from effective or uncontested. The last section, “Migrant
workers, labor unions, and the limits of solidarity” will elaborate on union
organizing practices, alternative models, and will point out limits and
possibilities for re-envisioning different labor politics.

LOCAL/NATIONAL/GLOBAL IRELAND

I suppose, we are open economy, operating in a global system. (David Joyce,


representative from Irish Congress of Trade Unions)33

Since the late 1970s, the Western world has been taking an
increasingly neoliberal direction. The fall of the Soviet Union in particular
allowed for pronouncements of “the end of history,” and neoliberalism
became the de facto most effective and “non-ideological” way to govern
societies. There have been various approaches to the study of
neoliberalism, which attempt to explain why and how it emerged. This
section links the growing dominance of neoliberal capitalism with the
emergence of Ireland’s Social Partnership, and points to the applicability and
limits of the political economy approach to neoliberalism. Neoliberalism
usually refers to a combination of economic, social, and political practices
and institutional rearrangements. It dates back to late 1970s and early

33
David Joyce.

12
1980s, emblematized by the governments of Thatcher in the UK and Reagan
in the US. A typical definition of neoliberalism often looks like this:

…the attempt to restructure global capitalism by moving towards a greater


degree of market liberalization, deregulation, privatization, competitivity,
productivity and profitability. It involves breaking down barriers to trade and
competition, remoulding the state and reorganizing its functions to serve
those purposes. It fosters individualism, ‘economic man’ and inequality, at
the expense of collectivism, solidarity and egalitarianism. It aims at the
extension of the market and the entrepreneurial ethic to all corners of the
globe and the commodification of all aspects of contemporary life.34

While neoliberal reforms caused economic and social turmoil in other


countries, Ireland was able to successfully take advantage of the
restructuring of global capitalism largely through the establishment of Social
Partnership. Ireland’s subsequent economic growth can be attributed to the
combination of state-facilitated foreign direct investment, EU funds, and a
focus on social capital (e.g. education). However, Social Partnership,
established in 1987, was critical because it provided a permanent forum to
bring together and foster agreement between usually conflicting parties: the
government, businesses, and the labor unions.35 Social Partnership was first
proposed by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU), an umbrella
organization of Irish unions, during a severe economic downturn. The first
Social Partnership agreement entailed a restrain on wage increases for
workers and various government incentives to stimulate employment,
investment, and economic growth. The basic goal of the Partnership was the
creation of “an active relationship based on recognition of common interest
to secure the competitiveness, viability and prosperity of the enterprise.”36
Thus, the Partnership was an essential tool in Ireland’s rapid
neoliberalization.
34
Daniels, Gary and John McIIroy. 2009. Trade Unions in a Neoliberal World. New York:
Routledge. Pg.4
35
D’Art, Daryl and Thomas Turner. 2005. “Union recognition and partnership at work: a new
legitimacy for Irish trade unions?” Industrial Relations Journal, 36:2, pg.121
36
Partnership 2000 for Inclusion, Employment and Competitiveness, quoted in D’Art
andTurner, 2005: 122. (italics mine).

13
Since its establishment, the Partnership has been assessed and
renegotiated every 3 years till 2005, when a longer term plan “Towards
2016” was agreed upon.37 Although not all parties in the Partnership gained
from it equally, the Partnership agreement was intended to foster a social
welfare regime as well as to close the social gap between the rich and the
poor. According, to Allen, “corporate welfare” was instituted instead. Also,
despite its economic boom, Ireland remained above the EU average in
poverty indicators.38

One significant characteristic of Ireland’s economic success was the


active participation of the nation-state in Social Partnership. This clearly
exemplifies how neoliberalization transformed the nation-state instead of
eroding its powers as is usually assumed. One of the central paradoxes of
neoliberal ideology is that state regulation is seen as an obstacle to market
self-regulation and efficiency, while simultaneously the state is always
actively involved in creating and protecting conditions for capital
accumulation. Addressing this paradox specifically in Ireland, Allen states
“Labour is treated as a mere commodity that has to adjust to the laws of
supply and demand, but, prior to its entry on the market, state mechanisms
have been designed to ensure an outcome favorable to the corporations.”39
Over the past few decades there has been an enormous amount of literature
that argued that one of the main features of globalization was the
diminishing role and importance of the state.40 The crucial function that the
nation-state continues to occupy in Social Partnership reveals its centrality in

37
ICTU, “Social Partnership in Ireland”, 2009, available at http://www.ictu.ie/partnership
38
Allen, Kieran. 2007. The corporate takeover of Ireland. Dublin: Irish Academic Press.
Pg.61; Callan, Tim, Mary J. Keeney, Brian Nolan, and Bertrand Maitre, 2004, "Why is Relative
Income Poverty so High in Ireland?," Research Series, Economic and Social Research
Institute (ESRI)
39
Allen, Kieran. 2007. “Neo-liberalism and immigration.” In Immigration and Social Change in
the Republic of Ireland. Ed. Bryan Fanning (ed). Manchester: Manchester University Press.
40
For a review of debates and criticism of nation state decline thesis see Mann, Michael.
1997. “Has globalization ended the rise and rise of the nation-state?” Review of
international political economy. 4:3, 472-496.

14
facilitating Ireland’s economic growth. Lentin and McVeigh summarize the
perspective of numerous scholars who argue that:

… while the Republic of Ireland’s spectacular economic growth […] may seem
a text book case of free market globalisation, various commentators […]
argue that Ireland’s new found economic success is anything but free market,
being ‘driven in large measures by precisely the kind of institutions that the
right despises: an interventionist government, public servants, the social
democrats of the European Union and the trade union movement’.41

While scholars have highlighted the role that the nation-state plays in Social
Partnership, it is important to situate Ireland’s emergence as a booming
economy within globalizing capitalism.42 In fact, Ireland is occasionally
ranked as number one most globalized country in the world.43 Through Social
Partnership, Ireland was able to situate itself within global circuits of capital
and for a time, profit immensely from it. However, Ireland’s economic
success was also enabled by increased labor migration from countries
around the world. This necessitated increased regulation and solidified the
nation-state’s importance through its role in the management of migration.

Not only did the nation-state play an important role in Ireland’s


neoliberalization, the more surprising partners who participated are the labor
unions. Labor unions typically, serve as an example of institutional collective
power. In most literature on neoliberalism they are portrayed as in decline
and under neoliberal assault. There is a good rationale for that – it is not a
coincidence that one of the major features in the rise of neoliberal policies

41
Ronit Lentin and Robbie McVeigh. 2006. After Optimism? Ireland, Racism, and
Globalization. Metro Eireann PublicationsPg. 30
42
Castree et al perspective is instructive here for using the term global capitalism. “’Global
capitalism’ is really a multitude of ‘local capitalisms’ that are connected by flows of people,
goods and information.[…]By the term ‘global capitalism’ we mean to register the fact
capitalism is today the ‘normal’ economic system worldwide without implying it is globalized
in the sense of embroiling all places and countries equally and uniformly.” Castree, Noel,
Neil M. McCoe, Kevin Ward, and Michael Samers. 2004. Spaces of work: global capitalism
and geographies of labour. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. Pg.17
43
A.T. Kearney/Foreign Policy Magazine Globalization Index ranked Ireland as Top 1 in 2001,
2002, 2003 and other years within the Top 10. Accessed March 20th,
http://www.atkearney.com/main.taf?p=5,4,1,127

15
was systemic onslaught on labor unions especially in the US and UK.44 Labor
unions clearly were seen as a threat, or at least an obstacle, to the neoliberal
project. This paper, however, argues that, at least in Ireland, unions are by
no means outside or in serious opposition to capital and the state, but rather
work in a productive relationship under Social Partnership agreement. While
initially unions entered the Partnership with pragmatic but ambiguous
aspirations, eventually “the unions shifted from believing there was a conflict
of interest between capital and labour to viewing business as its actual
partner”45

Scholars of political economy, many utilizing Marxist perspectives,


such as Kieran Allen, have revealed that unions have abandoned their
traditional interests, in addition to exposing the contradictions of free market
ideologies by revealing the role of the nation-state in managing the ‘free’
market. However, I argue that rather than seeing actors such as trade
unions and social democrats as pre- or anti-neoliberal it is important to
analyze how they became complicit with the neoliberal project. For example,
the EU and its “social democrats” are not simply preserving the “European
social model” but often are actively involved in efforts to privatize,
deregulate, and, in short, to neoliberalize member nation-states.
Furthermore, it is not enough to expose how un-free the free market is, it is
also essential to show how various actors which in the past or present might
have held the appearance of opposition, different values and loyalties, might
be central in constituting regime of neoliberal governmentality. That is not to
suggest that there are no political differences or contradictions, or that
neoliberalism is an uncontestable totality. Labor unions appear to be
included as equal partners but in fact are subsumed under, or rather act as

44
The distinction should be made between “savage neoliberalism” of the 1980s from “soft
neoliberalism” of the 1990s where New Labour in the UK and New Democrats in the US
employed different strategies to deal with, or more accurately co-opt, the trade union
movements through partnerships that are quite similar to Ireland’s. Daniels, Gary and John
McIIroy. 2009. Trade Unions in a Neoliberal World. New York: Routledge. Pg.4-5.
45
Ibid, pg.218.

16
transmitters of, neoliberal governmentalities. Labor unions’ compromises,
acceptance of certain rationalities and even occasional conflict within this
power nexus is inherently incapable of resolving the contradictions that it
sought to overcome through establishing of Social Partnership. Exposing the
underlying rationalities of Social Partnership can provide a new range of
strategies for re-politicization of unionism, opening new political spaces, and
forming theoretical interventions that can be utilized to challenge prevailing
discourses that adhere to the inevitability of liberal capitalism and its
inevitable exclusions.

However, following Lemke,46 this paper is not meant to suggest that


new forms of economic and political organization are merely destroying older
and better forms; it does not suggests that “traditional” industrial unionism
or the paternalistic social democratic state offer desirable models to aspire
to. However, the labor union, as a space of collectivity, could be an
important site for political intervention against the neoliberalization of
society. In this paper I utilize a neo-Foucauldian approach to make “legible”
the diverse ways that neoliberal rationalities, or technologies of rule, are
deployed in order to effect “government at a distance” to transform and
produce subjects and spaces. As valuable as political economy approach to
neoliberalism is for asking “why?”, it is limited to capture the “how?” of
power realignments that the concept of neoliberal governmentality might
allow

STATE OF ECONOMY ANDECONOMY OF THE STATE

[T]he intellectual instrument, the type of calculation or form of rationality that


made possible the self-limitation of governmental reason was not the law.
What is it, starting from the middle of the eighteenth century? Obviously, it is
political economy.47(Michel Foucault).
46
Thomas Lemke, “Foucault, Governmentality, and Critique,” Paper presented at the
Rethinking Marxism Conference, University of Amherst (MA), September 21-24, 2000:9.
47
Michel Foucault. 2008. The Birth of Biopolitics: Lectures at the College de France, 1978-
1979, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, pg.13.

17
Foucault made a distinction between liberalism, in which the state
guaranteed and respected market’s role in society, and neoliberalism, where
market became a measure, truth, and logic of society.48According to
Rudnyckyj, governmentality is “a specifically modern practice of politics that
acts on action. It involves the application of knowledge toward a population
in order to achieve effects that are deemed simultaneously beneficial for an
individual, a collectivity, and a state”49 It refers to “how a multiplicity of
technologies, discourses, and practices rationalize relational power.”50

With neoliberal governmentality, the state, through a variety of its


technologies, preoccupies itself with governing through distance, appearing
outside of decision making, as well as through the guidance of “the
individual’s pursuit of her or his own interest.”51 Neoliberal governmentality
refers to ‘de-statization of the state’, in which the state does not lose its
influence but transforms itself and increasingly creates an appearance of
governance in partnership with ‘non-state’ actors, as well as by fostering the
production of self-regulating bodies.52 Neoliberal governmentality is also a
useful concept because it does not imply the enforcement of social
homogeneity, but rather it “cultivates and optimizes differences.”53 For
example, it allows asking how various government technologies become an
instrument not only to manage migrant flows, but also to capitalize on
discourses of generosity (“the right to be in Ireland is a gift of the state”54),
tolerance, integration, and interculturalism in order to facilitate effective
48
Thomas Lemke, (2001). 'The birth of bio-politics': Michel Foucault's lecture at the Collège
de France on neo-liberal governmentality. Economy and Society 30 (2), 198.
49
Rudnyckyj, Daromir. 2004. “Technologies of Servitude: Governmentality and Indonesian
Transnational Labor Migration” Anthropological Quarterly, Vol. 77, No. 3, pg.410
50
Traub-Werner, Marion, 2007, “Free Trade: A Governmentality Approach,” Environment
and Planning A, vol. 39, pg.1442
51
Traub-Werner, 2007: 1444-1446 is quoting Rose, 1999 and Dean, 1999.
52
Silvia Posocco, 2008, “Globalisation, governmentality and failure through the prism of
Petén, Guatemala” London School of Economics, Gender Institute, New Working Paper
Series, 23: 9.
53
Lemke 2001: 200.
54
Mark Maguire. Interview by author. Tape recording. Dublin, Ireland, 15th January, 2009.

18
governmentality. The common criticism of a governmentality approach,
though, is that it usually has very little empirical or specific analysis to
substantiate theoretical claims about just how exactly neoliberal subjects are
“constituted and ruled.”55 This paper, while aware of these limitations,
suggest that neoliberal governmentality is a useful concept in understanding
Irish politics of immigration and labor unionism, where the economy at its
broadest sense, often indirectly, takes a central role in (self)governance of
the individual and becomes a national purpose as well.

Rather than seeing the nation-state as weakened or irrelevant against


the global financial or political forces, the role of the nation-state should be
analyzed by examining how it transforms itself and to what end. If we take
the premise that “in neoliberalism, ‘it is the market form which serves as the
organizing principles for the state and society’”56 it becomes necessary to
analyze various actors, not only capital, as reproducing market logic. Thus,
instead of understanding the labor unions and various “civil society” players
as outside market logic we can trace how they are instrumental to the
marketization of society and production of “good” workers and/or citizens.

Such an articulation calls for examination of how the effects of


consensus, unity and beneficence are created, even if, quite clearly, there
are always competing and conflicting interests at work. The state it is not
simply unified in its service for capital, but operates through various,
sometimes competing, rationalities. According to Foucault, “The state is
nothing else but the mobile effect of a regime of multiple
governmentalities.”57

55
Katharyne Mitchell. 2006. “Neoliberal governmentality in the European Union: education,
training, and technologies of citizenship.” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space,
vol.24, pg.390.
56
Lemke 2000:9.
57
Michel Foucault. 2008.The Birth of Biopolitics: Lectures at the College de France, 1978-
1979, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, pg.77.

19
However, what happens when the state care for the well being of
populations and individuals get differentiated to include and exclude various
internal and external others? Legal status, citizenship, ethnic origins, skin
color, and geopolitical alignments get utilized but are never fully managed
nor rationalized, therefore, creating possibilities for contestation. Insights
from someone dealing with different government bodies are instructive here
to illustrate the point. Catherine Cosgrave, Senior legal adviser from the
Immigrant Council of Ireland (an NGO which provides legal assistance to
immigrants and lobbies for policy changes) states:

The perspective of the Department of Enterprise [, Trade, and Employment]


is to get people in. If they have employers saying ‘we have jobs, our economy
needs them,’ etcetera, they are quick to respond to that and they want the
procedures to be there that will enable it all to function in the interest of
economy. […]It is probably a bit more difficult when you dealing with the
Department of Justice, not only in Ireland but in any country, where the lens
that they have is around security, border control, and clamping down on
illegal immigration. And they are not necessarily willing to take arguments on
board that you have to make access easy. It’s about making access not
easy.58

In addition, competing rationalities articulated by Cosgrave are not merely


expressions of the “local” but also are intertwined with pressures, interests,
and commitments to other supra/inter/trans-national bodies such as EU,
IOM, WTO, in what could be described as “transnational governmentality.”59
There are limits to the power of the nation-state. Although there appears to
be constant compromises made with “exterior” political and economic
bodies, the state is firmly loyal to the accommodation of foreign direct
investment even if it comes at the expense of “local” commitments such as
Social Partnership. For example, Noel Dowling, states that:

…in this country, about 100,000 jobs depend on foreign direct investment,
mostly American, in the important sectors of the economy because they
influence our exports hugely, companies like Pfizer, Intel and so on. They
58
Catharine Cosgrave. Interview by author. Tape recording. Dublin, Ireland, 14th January,
2009
59
Ferguson, James and Akhil Gupta (2002). Spatializing states: Toward an ethnography of
neoliberal governmentality. American Ethnologist 29 (4), 988.

20
have their own organization called American Chambers of Commerce. They
would lobby the government and say, ‘well, if you keep enacting laws that
protect workers here, particularly any kind of law that would require to deal
with trade unions, then we will pull out our investment altogether.’ So that’s a
big difficulty we have to fight in an open economy.60

So while there might be significant pressures to change the law, improve


working conditions, increase regulation by workers, NGOs, and elements
within the trade union movements, some economic actors appears to be de
facto exempt from any intervention. Overall, this scheme, particularly within
the private sector, seems to be a rule rather than exception. More
importantly, it calls for more examination how, through their discursive
practices, “oppositional” actors might, in fact, contribute to neoliberal
governmentality rather than challenge it.

ON THE ‘NON-IDEOLOGICAL’ SPACE OF IRISH POLITICS61

Foucault‘s discussion of neo-liberal governmentality shows that the so-called


“retreat of the state” is in fact a prolongation of government, neo-liberalism
is not the end but a transformation of politics, that restructures the power
relations in society. What we observe today is not a diminishment or a
reduction of state sovereignty and planning capacities but a displacement
from formal to informal techniques of government and the appearance of
new actors on the scene of government (e.g. NGOs), that indicate
fundamental transformations in statehood and a new relation between state
and civil society actors. (Thomas Lemke)62

The above quote captures the processes that have been taking place
in Ireland. The non-state actors such as NGOs are exemplary of the shift to
governmental forms of power. However, the gap in theorizing such “non-
state” actors is precisely in the lack of emphasis on labor unions and their
role in transforming earlier forms of political engagement. In this section I
examine the neoliberal rationalities internalized by the unions themselves. I

60
Noel Dowling. Interview by author. Tape recording. Dublin, Ireland, 13th January, 2009.
61
I am borrowing the term from Antoniades, Andreas. 2007. “Examining facets of the
hegemonic: The globalization discourse in Greece and Ireland.” Review of international
political economy. 14:2, pg. 314.
62
Thomas Lemke, “Foucault, Governmentality, and Critique,” Paper presented at the
Rethinking Marxism Conference, University of Amherst (MA), September 21-24, 2000: 11..

21
argue that the discourses and practices of the labor unions have helped
create ‘non-ideological’ political spaces, which are underpinned by neoliberal
rationalities.
The most significant space to consider is the one produced by Social
Partnership. Social Partnership – “a form of negotiated governance”63 - was
established and, ironically, advocated by the unions “as a defense against
neoliberal policies of deregulation, privatization and union marginalization.”
64
However, it appears that the Partnership not only was unable to resist the
neoliberalization of Ireland but in many ways was central to it. The
Partnership espouses ideals of competition, self-governance, individual self-
interest and ceding the control of the workplace to employers. Although
unions appears to be concerned with workers and are active in lobbying the
government for laws and regulations to protect wages, terms, and
conditions, overall, their influence is rather limited. As Allen suggests:

In Ireland, pressure for flexibility comes directly through Social Partnership


agreements. Whereas in the past workers were granted pay rises in response
to rising rates of inflation, today they must first show ‘verifiable’
improvements in productivity to get a pay rise. The remarkable fact about
Social Partnership is that there is little sharing between the partners. The
Irish workforce is expected to show continual improvements in productivity as
their unions effectively cede to management growing control over
organization of work.65

For example, an editorial on the Irish Business and Employer Confederation’s


website states: “Unions must realise that you get nothing for nothing.”66 The
statement illustrates prevailing neoliberal ideals of adherence to self-
governance, good conduct, and deservedness, which then are fairly
rewarded. The unions, however, cannot be seen as mere victims that obey

63
O’Donnel, Rory. 2008. “The partnership state: building the ship at sea,” in Contesting the
state: Lessons from the Irish case, (eds) Maura Adshead et al. Manchester: Manchester
University Press. Pg.73.
64
D’Art, Daryl and Thomas Turner. 2005. “Union recognition and partnership at work: a new
legitimacy for Irish trade unions?” Industrial Relations Journal, 36:2, pg.121
65
Allen, Kieran. 2007. The corporate takeover of Ireland. Dublin: Irish Academic Press. Pg.11
66
http://www.ibec.ie/ibec/press/presspublicationsdoclib3.nsf/wvPCICCC/1A52FAF1CB7250E48
0256A0B003180F6?OpenDocument

22
employer driven agendas. The choices they made entering Social Partnership
paid off with economic growth and prosperity. The other side of the bargain
was that it diminished workplace democracy, outsourced conflicts to ever-
higher levels of representational bureaucracy and legal arrangements,
decreased union recognition within workplaces, and accepted de facto non-
union workplace as a norm for foreign direct investment.67 According to
Higgins:

With the so-called Partnership there has been a significant drop-off in trade
union internal life and activity, because all the negotiations were done at the
senior level, whereas previously you had negotiations at the shop steward
level, at the plant level, factory level. [Now] there is very minority
participation by the members.68

Thus, keeping this aspect of Social Partnership in mind, the labor, and
particularly migrant labor, organizing (or lack thereof ) needs to be situated.
Union leadership (the ICTU in particular) facilitated the creation of
workplaces governed by the neoliberal rationalities of self-regulation,
productivity, and micro-management. This was achieved through a
combination of political defeats and union leadership decisions as well as
technologies of governmentality. The ICTU pronounced a new stage of
industrial relations “from ‘the clenched fist of confrontation to the open hand
of co-operation.’”69 Allen provides numerous reasons for why this occurred.
He argues that high-level deals within the Partnership often were done
without the support of the union membership creating ever widening political
and material gap between leaders and rank and file membership. 70
The
trade-off to collective power came through various Partnership incentives
that gave more power to union leaders in larger nation-state decision making
processes; however, this was not necessarily in the interest of the workers.
The Partnership started with wage moderations, however, even when the

67
Allen, 62; D’Art, and Turner, 2005:226; Maguire 2009, Higgins 2009.
68
Higgins 2009.
69
Quoted in Kieran, Allen, 2000, The Celtic Tiger: The myth of social partnership in Ireland,
(Manchester: Manchester University Press): 111.
70
Ibid, 111.

23
wages started to increase, the workers usually had very little say in terms of
job cuts or privatization of the public sector. More importantly, the
workplace militancy was pacified via the discourse of employer and
employee interest convergence in espousing competitiveness as the cure for
economic troubles. Workers were increasingly being convinced by
employers as well as union leadership to enter into “gain-sharing” schemes
tied to worker performance and productivity.71

Allen states that internal union democracy was diminished by creating


“business unionism” and utilizing three main tactics, in which the
Partnership’s role was central. First, the discourse of national economy as all
workers’ priority was created, diminishing sectoral and workplace priorities.
Second, restructuring the labor movement and providing state monetary
assistance and changes in law for smaller unions to merge into ever-larger
entities created increasingly centralized and bureaucratic union political
structures. Third, the Industrial Relations Act institutionalized greater
powers of union leadership and created legal obstacles for workplace
militancy, political strikes, and cross-union solidarity.72

An interesting case of the Partnership’s consensus and the interplay


between facilitating certain transnational governmentalities and resisting
others can be seen in certain nation-state and EU interactions. For example,
in anticipation of regulation from outside national borders that might
interfere in industrial relations, there is a statement:

The Government is also committed to ongoing dialogue with parties on


potential implications arising from European Court of Justice cases that may
impact on the domestic workplace, with a view to pursuing the objectives set
out above. The Government will continue to encourage the Court to have
regard to the particular industrial relations traditions and cultures of Member

71
Ibid, 119.
72
Ibid, 114-116.

24
States and, in particular, the unique voluntarist nature of industrial relations
in Ireland.73

The excerpt above comes from Social Partnership document. The unions,
apparently, are actively involved and supportive of EU non-interference and
continuation of industrial relations as they are in Ireland. The rapidly
neoliberalizing EU, potentially, might even impose more on worker’s rights
and influence. However, since the workers in Ireland have very few rights
already, it appears that a call for non-interference would be largely
benefiting already privileged employers.

These developments taken in a larger political context do not appear


to be surprising. According to Antoniades in the 1990s Ireland “Fianna Fail,
Fine Gael and the Progressive Democrats74 set as their main governmental
objective to do whatever was required in order for Ireland to remain
attractive to ‘mobile capital investments’75 However, the Labour Party within
this discourse emerged as even more motivated to strengthen Ireland’s
commitment to “a strong market economy based on competition.”76
Although Ireland did not have same political realignments as the US and UK,
it appears to share some of the major features of the 1990s Third Way
ideology, which according to Upchurch:

seeks to justify and facilitate the negation of class conflict in the workplace
and to replace traditional adversarial industrial relations with consensus and
consultation. Worker voice is valued as a way of tapping creativity and

73
Government of Ireland, “Towards 2016: Review and Transitional Agreement, 2008-2009,”
Dublin, Ireland, pg.33.
74
All of these are conservative parties, although Fianna Fail and Fine Gael are by far the
most influential political parties in Ireland having a majority in all government structures.
“Conservative” here of course, not meant to suggest that non-conservative parties are
fundamentally different – they also have been responsible for creating and adhering to
neoliberal consensus.
75
Antoniades, Andreas. 2007. “Examining facets of the hegemonic: The globalization
discourse in Greece and Ireland.” Review of international political economy. 14:2, pg.314.
76
Ibid, 314. However, Antoniades calls these developments to be contextualized within the
EU politics which since the 1990s in particular advocated flexibility and market reforms to
remain competitive globally.

25
innovation, but the role of trade unions is downplayed and multi-channel
forms of representation, both direct and indirect, are emphasized instead.77

By 2008, in times of financial crisis, the language remains capital centered


and the state’s social spending is the only avenue that is need of serious
reform:

While Social Partnership has served to underpin competiveness and achieve


difficult reforms in previous times of budgetary constraints, it is important
that…partners continue to remain both relevant and responsive to economic
and social conditions. The immediate challenges are now restraining fiscal
stability, improving cost competitiveness, reforming delivery of public
services and supporting the competitiveness of our exporting sectors.78

Another example of how conflict is transformed into a non-ideological space


through governmental rule involving immigrant labor is the case of Irish
Ferries. This is an illustration of the Partnership’s responsiveness “to
economic and social conditions.” Irish Ferries, which is Ireland’s largest sea
shipping company, in 2005 announced that it will lay off its Irish staff,
register it’s ships in Cyprus, and will hire foreign workers (Latvians in
particular) for a mere fraction of the wages paid to Irish workers. ICTU
responded to this threat by calling for mass protests which accounted for
100,000 people, the largest protest in more than 20 years.79 While unions
were praised for not taking a xenophobic stance against the foreigner
workers by calling for equal pay and rights for all, in the end, according to
the Joe Higgins, “the trade unions leadership sold out”80 by coming into
agreement with the company. The Irish workers did get fired – “made
redundant in the name of ‘competiveness’”81 - and got replaced by foreign
workers, although under the union negotiated minimum wage requirements.
77
Martin Upchurch. 2009. “Partnership: New Labour’s Third Way?” In Trade Unions in a
Neoliberal World, eds. Gary Daniels and John McIIroy. New York: Routledge, Pg.246.
78
The National Competitiveness Council, Annual Competitiveness Report: Ireland’s
Competitiveness Challenge, Vol. 2, available at
http://www.competitiveness.ie/media/ncc090108_acc_2008.pdf, pg.25
79
Krings, Torben. 2007. “Irish Ferries, labour migration and the spectre of displacement.” In
Best of Times? The Social impact of the Celtic Tiger, edited by Tony Fahey, Helen Russel and
Christopher Whelan T. Dublin, Ireland: Institute of Public Administration.
80
Higgins, Joe. Interview by author. Tape recording. Dublin, Ireland, 10th January, 2009.
81
Krings, pg.33.

26
However, this case serves not as much to illustrate the “race-to-the-
bottom” thesis that critics of globalization often invoke as much as the
intricate relationship that the government, capital, and the unions have.
Even if the appearance of conflict (mobilized public, demonstrations, and
angry statements on behalf of unions) might give an impression of “politics,”
the Irish Ferries case works as an example of neoliberal governmentality at
work and the submersion of the social under the economic: the sacred ideals
of competitiveness and compromise must prevail by any means. The union
leadership was able to navigate conflicting interests by fulfilling everyone’s
expectations. It responded to exploitation and evoked confrontation with
government and business in order to justify itself to their worker
constituency and acted pragmatically as a Social Partner by accepting the
superiority of capital and free market laws.

The rhetoric that is articulated in such disputes on the part of


defenders is that global forces from the outside are so powerful that the only
way to adjust or win in such situations is to compromise, be flexible, and
realistic. However, as Saskia Sassen articulates, the global is not simply
always present outside the national borders and natural:

The global economy cannot be taken simply as given, whether what is given
is a set of markets or a function of the power of multinational corporations.
To the contrary, the global economy is something that has to be actively
implemented, reproduced, serviced, and financed. It requires that a vast
array of highly specialized functions be carried out, that infrastructures be
secured, the legislative environment be made and kept hospitable.82

The last example of non-ideological space that unions are complicit within is
their inability to challenge Ireland’s voluntarist model of industrial
relationships. Ireland’s Social Partnership agreement “Towards 2016”
among numerous economic and social policies prioritize commitments to
82
Sassen, Saskia. 2000. “Spatialities and temporalities of the global: Elements for a
theorization,” in Public culture: Globalization, ed. Arjun Appadurai, Durham, NC: Duke
University Press, pg.216.

27
maintain “industrial relations peace and stability” and “Ireland’s
competitiveness in a globalised world and the enhancement of the country’s
productive capacity through greater innovation in the workplace.”83 Ireland
adheres to voluntarist model in which conflicts between employer and
employees are negotiated on a voluntary basis. This includes the recognition
of the union itself. While employee rights for free association are protected
under free speech laws, the employer is under no legal obligation to
recognize the union – “in a system of voluntary collective bargaining there is
no obligation on the other party to engage in bargaining.”84 Social
Partnership was supposed to facilitate dialogue and foster union growth, in
reality, though, it had the opposite effects on union recognition and actually
resulted in increasing hostility towards the organizing efforts.85

As this section demonstrated, it is important to situate the creation of


“consensus.” Such consensus, or its appearance, was achieved by utilizing
local and transnational technologies of governmentality, including
rationalities employed by the Partnership and the unions, public
mobilizations, and legal measures. Concepts such as competitiveness,
growth, and innovation were not forced upon but presumably internalized by
major political actors and the population at large. The immigrants, although
only those with desirable characteristics, were promoted as self-governing
subjects that would be not a drain on Irish society, but an asset.

PRODUCTIVE IMMIGRANT BODIES AS NEOLIBERAL SUBJECTS

[Social Partnership commits to] deepening capabilities, achieving higher


social and economic participation rates and more successfully handling
diversity, including immigration.86 (Government of Ireland).

83
Government of Ireland, “Towards 2016: Review and Transitional Agreement, 2008-2009,”
Dublin, Ireland, pg.13.
84
Ibid, 29.
85
D’Art and Turner, 2005: 134.
86
Government of Ireland, pg.8

28
Endless improvements in economic productivity and self-management are
some of the central facets of the neoliberalism. How Ireland markets its
population through its government sponsored Industrial Development
Agency can serve as an instructive example here. Among numerous graphs,
tables, and descriptions one can find statistics on demographic trends and
advantages that Ireland offers through its young, productive, and educated
working population. One of the slogans pronounce: “The characteristics that
define Ireland are embedded in its people, their business and their attitude
to work and life. Knowledge is in their nature.”87 Marketing of “quality
people,” in addition to some of the lowest taxes in the world, geographic
advantages of being close to continental Europe, language and other extra
benefits, functions as attraction to foreign capital. Immigration policy
beneficial to capital then is just another assumed element within the larger
biopolitical scheme.

Migration management becomes a crucial element of biopolitics.


Not only does it sort, evaluate, and discipline immigrants, but also regulates
conduct of the “local” population which identifies itself against the
immigrant others. Even if some migrants are overrepresented as draining,
problematic, and insufficiently self-governing, the vast majority of
immigrants are primarily workers. The ideal workers, if they properly
conduct themselves, remain invisible, unless they are needed to enter the
field of representation to illustrate Ireland’s integration successes and
state’s generosity. However, the discursive conflation of immigrants as less
than workers (meaning non-deserving) becomes a site of contentious and
reactionary politics which obscure employer driven immigration to Ireland.
As such, panics over the immigrant reproduction, criminality, abuse of law,
trust, and generosity are utilized to mark particular migrant bodies as
suspect, beyond integration, and in need of either policing or expulsion.
Paradoxically, some immigrants, those that are seeking refugee status or
87
IDA Ireland, “Quality People,” http://www.idaireland.com/home/index.aspx?id=33

29
asylum, are put under scrutiny to distinguish whether they are not just mere
workers in disguise, as if economic and political can ever be truly
independent of each other. According to Lentin, “constituting migrants as a
‘problem’ – by successively calling asylum seekers ‘bogus refugees’,
‘economic migrants’ and ‘illegal immigrants’ – is leading to what Balibar
calls ‘crisis racism’ in contemporary Ireland, where the state repeatedly
refuses to admit that its punitive migration policies lead to racism.”88 While
the state’s role in facilitating racism is ambiguous and largely invisible, its
role in the commitment to social justice, anti-racism, and integration is
hyper-visible. Among various symbolic institutions and policy initiatives,
Social Partnership itself is an example where discourses of integration and
anti-racism appear to be high priority.

While there is variety of NGOs working on the issues of integration,


the state is an ultimate authority on how integration needs to be handled.
For example it was read as a strong message when the National
Consultative Committee on Racism and Interculturalism (NCCRI) – an
influential and widely respected advisory body to the government - was
dismantled by cutting 100% of its funding in December 2008. Despite the
protest from various NGOs, it became subsumed under the Ministry of
Integration. As a result, for example, the already long and complicated
process of filing an equality case now will take years to get through.89 The
case, however, points out to contradictions that neoliberal governmentality
does not operate within a unified logic. Contradictions are not outside
governmentality and the “rational,” but are rather constitutive of it. Re-
centering sovereign power’s authority over (some) “differences,” points out
that there is no “progressive,” linear, and ever increasing governing through
distance, but rather, that governmentality is constituted by fluctuating,
contingent, and competing practices and rationalities.

88
Lentin and McVeigh, 2006: 75.
89
Bill Abom. Interview by author. Tape recording. Dublin, Ireland, 13th January, 2009.

30
To illustrate competing rationalities at work, the work permit system
offers numerous insights into how nation-state, capital, and transnational
governmentality operate. The legal schemas that allowed immigrants to
enter Ireland have been drastically altered after the EU expansion of 2004.
Previously, the majority of the non-EU immigrant workers were coming under
a work permit arrangement. That arrangement was employer initiated: after
proving that no Irish or EU workers were found or qualified for the job, they
could hire foreigners with one year contracts which then could be renewed.
According to Gilmartin, “The work permit system is a kind of indentured
labor. The employer holds the work permit, the employee can’t move, that
system more than anything created conditions for exploitation.” Some NGOs
and elements within labor unions perceived the work permit system as one
of the major problems in labor migration, and in fact, some slight changes
have been implemented recently. While the overall numbers of work permits
have been steadily declining since the EU expansion, the work permit system
remains a significant and important tool in migration management based on
biopolitical and neoliberal rationalities.

Unless the immigrant workers are required in certain approved areas


of labor shortage and making middle-income salaries, the need for work
permit system ceases to exist.90 All the labor needs for the low-wage work
were believed to be fulfilled by Eastern European workers. The high-skill
workers who make more than 60,000 Euros a year could come to Ireland
under the “Green Card” scheme, although contrary to the US, the employee
remains tied to the employer and has numerous restrictions in terms of
mobility.91 To prepare for anticipated abuse of the welfare system, a law –
entitled the Habitual Residency Condition – was introduced which aimed to
prevent claiming the social benefits unless providing documentation of
90
Middle-income occupations, for example, in IT, health care, financial sectors making
between EUR 30,000 – EUR 59,999.
91
Catharine Cosgrave.

31
residency and employment of two years in Ireland. The government-initiated
2004 Citizenship Referendum effectively abolished the right for children born
in Ireland to get citizenship. The rallying point for this was to prevent
"citizenship tourism" in which the most visible “abusers” of the law were
African and Eastern European women.92 However, according to Maguire, an
often overlooked fact in the analysis of the referendum is the role that the
UK played in pressuring Ireland to change the law in fear of “backdoor”
immigration.93

In terms of the state’s biopolitical rationalities, “white” Eastern


European workers, as opposed to those more visibly marked from the global
South, were allowed entrance to alleviate ethno-national and racist anxieties
about social change and composition of the nation. This tendency,
admittedly, is not unique to Ireland – this preference is part of the larger EU-
wide “solution” to immigration problem. Anecdotal examples about how
nation-state is not oblivious to ethnic difference can be seen in the handling
of so-called “marriages of convenience” that became of highest importance
to the state. State has been investigating “anomalous” marriages of Latvians
with Pakistanis, Indians, and Bangladeshis, which “according to the
Department of Justice, [….] was ‘so statistically abnormal that they cannot
have occurred by chance.”94 It illustrates not only racism of the state but
more significantly the workings of governmentality normalizing and
legitimizing surveillance of particular bodies and populations employing
statistical rationalities and knowledge discourses.

92
Steve Garner. 2007. “Babies, Bodies and Entitlement: Gendered Aspects of Access to
Citizenship in the Republic of Ireland.” Parliamentary Affairs, pg.6.
93
The UK and Ireland’s immigration policies are often identical because of Common Travel
Area agreement. Mark Maguire. Interview by author. Tape recording. Dublin, Ireland, 15th
January, 2009.
94
Reilly, Catharine, “Justice Dept gathers ‘evidence’ on marriages of conveniences,” Metro
Eireann, October 2008.

32
In terms of capital, the abundance of cheap labor which does not
require any extra bureaucratic resource drainage associated with work
permits was seen as a gift of the state in times of labor shortage and
economic growth. Uncomplicated labor supply and ease of investment
created a space which became a “pull” factor for capital, because “capital is
inherently oriented towards the elimination of spatial barriers to its
circulation process.”95Capital also operates under different logic than the
state when it comes to difference. According to national organizer for SIPTU,
Noel Dowling:

at the end of the day, to be fair, I’ve seen very little overt racism among Irish
employers. But that’s because they would exploit anybody regardless of the
color.96

In addition, the decision to open the labor market caused anxieties


among the unions, but was welcomed by the business elites, since the
destabilization of any “stagnant” labor relations and fueling of productivity
through competition enhances capital accumulation. The statement that
capitalism is blind to difference, as suggested by SIPTU organizer, is, clearly,
only partially true. While capital might not have sensitivities and loyalties of
the state in maintaining dominant social values, it nevertheless, will eagerly
exploit the differences. For example, according to Wright “when emphasis
lies on cutting labor costs and enhancing worker productivity, corporate
decisionmakers often rank the human resources found in different places by
correlating certain identities, such as national and gendered ones, with labor
skills, innate abilities, and militancy, to name a few.”97

95
The idea attributed to Marx and Harvey, in Brenner 1999: 433.
96
At the same time, talking about employers long term visions in which Eastern European
labor will move either to higher paying jobs or migrate back to their home countries they
contemplated about “where they would get next wave of immigrants and they were talking
about Thailand and Malaysia because, as they saw, those workers were even more
productive and more compliant than the Eastern European workers.” Noel Dowling.
Interview by author. Tape recording. Dublin, Ireland, 13th January, 2009.
97
Wright, Mellisa W., “The politics of relocation: Gender, nationality, and value in a Mexican
maquiladora.” Environment and Planning A, 31: 1601.

33
Another example of the discourse of migrant as neoliberal subject is in
the attempt to create an “amnesty” for undocumented immigrants. The
unions and MRCI lobbied government to create a “bridging visa” for
undocumented immigrants. The language and reasoning behind this call is
illustrative of neoliberal governmentality. First, the term “bridging visa” was
used and not an “amnesty” not to encourage “illegal” behaviors and create a
“pull” factor for various, assumingly, unwanted immigrants. Second,
according to SIPTU representative, government should administer the
system where “any worker who was [in Ireland], who came here legally and
was legally employed for a period of time and who can argue that the reason
they have become undocumented is through no fault of their own, that those
people would be […] be given a second chance and would be made legal
again.”98 The language employed to describe the problem and the solution is
suggestive of good neoliberal self-governing subject – an innocent, law-
abiding worker who should receive the state’s gift of being “made legal
again.”

The union leadership’s complicity in the neoliberal migration


management scheme is also evident in their handling of certain aspects of
EU enlargement. When Romania and Bulgaria joined the EU, Ireland,
following the UK’s decision, imposed labor market restrictions, justifying it
with hard economic times and fulfilled labor market needs. While several
voices expressed injustice and legal complication for Romanian and
Bulgarian workers, ICTU supported the decision arguing that changes in labor
market regulations and protections of migrant workers have not been
implemented. The rhetoric of lack of regulation disguises leadership’s
complicity in trade-offs made by participating in the Partnership. While ICTU
presents itself as not taking anti-immigration stance, a representative
explains ICTU’s position as following:

98
Noel Dowling. (Italics mine).

34
we are in favor of a managed labor market. We have no difficulty per se with
the concept of work permits. We would have views on how it is applied et
cetera, but we have no difficulty with concept of someone needing
permission to work here.99

The statement in itself is not surprising, but it is instructive on how union


leadership is able to adjust to certain concepts of rules, fairness, and
inevitability (as in case of Irish Ferries) and not others – for example,
Romanian and Bulgarian workers expecting to be treated as equal and
entitled to benefits by being part of the EU.

When it came to EU enlargement, the influx of Eastern Europeans had,


admittedly speculative, benefits of “whiteness” and religion (Catholic Poles
and Lithuanians – the two largest constituencies from the new EU) to the
state. For the capital, the benefits were far greater. Not only did the open
labor market lift bureaucratic obstacles, it also offered cheaper high-skilled,
as well as low-wage, highly-educated workers (in fact the educational level
of immigrant labor force is higher than that of native Irish) that were seen
as temporary, therefore willing to endure unfair labor conditions and lower
pay. Furthermore, according to a major study on role of ethnicity in labor
market, Eastern European and Chinese workers were found to be least likely
to join labor unions in comparison to workers from other parts of the
world.100 The explanation for such trends is that workers’ experiences with
post/socialism translate into skepticism for any collective bureaucratic
structures. SIPTU, after realizing the historical context, had to “explain that
the trade union movement was absolutely independent and wasn’t an
agency or an arm of government.” Such union representation is quite
problematic in and of itself, as this discourse of independence is being
challenged throughout this paper. However, there remains a need for more

99
David Joyce.
100
O'Connell, Phillip, and McGinnity, Frances. 2008. Immigrants at work: Ethnicity and
nationality in the Irish labor market. Dublin, Ireland: The Equality Authority; Economic and
Social Research Institute.

35
empirical and theoretical studies on postsocialist migrant workers.101 Yet,
there are grounds to assume that educated workers willing to work for lower
wages, below their qualifications, at their most productive years,
temporarily, flexible, and unwilling to join the unions make ideal neoliberal
subjects. Metro Éireann, for example, ran a story about the Malvina
Koperwas, a Polish woman who works in a financial recruitment agency, who
claimed, after reading a report about discrimination in the Irish labor
market:

We work with a huge number of candidates and clients from different


nationalities, and I have never come across any discrimination based on the
origin of the candidates as long as they have the right skills.102

Metro Éireann’s editorial, however, contested such claims by citing several


cases where “immigrants were asked to train local bank recruits who went
on to become their supervisors.” Although Koperwas’ claim cannot be easily
tested and there might be significant differences in terms of ethnic
differences in high-skill sectors, a significant amount of evidence suggests
that overall immigrants fare worse in the labor market than natives,
regardless of occupation. The claim, though, serves as a mere illustration of
some Eastern European workers’ attitudes as co-productive within the
neoliberal governance.

Overall, although migration regime and migrant worker integration


policies are often formed and reformed in an ad hoc manner,103 the
incompleteness of the process reflects neoliberal governmentality in which

101
See for example, Thomas Turner, Daryl D'Art, and Christine Cross, “Polish Workers in
Ireland: A Contented Proletariat?” Labor Studies Journal, Mar 2009; vol. 34: pp. 112 – 126;
Grabowska (2005); the opposite perspective about UK is offered my Linda McDowell,
although without empirical evidence – “Migrants in precarious service sector employment
seem unlikely to join trade unions and yet, apparently, Polish workers form the majority of
new members in some British cities.” Progress in Human Geography, 32, 4: 500.
102
Sandy Hazel. “Discrimination ‘not an issue’ in financial sector, says recruitment expert.”
Metro Éireann, October 2-8, 2008, pg.8.
103
Several interviewees pointed out that migration policy might not be a result of
intentionality, but rather a reflection about not being able to deal with the newness of the
phenomenon. (David Joyce, Bill Abom)

36
contingency and competing rationalities serve as productive assets in the
managing of the social body. Whether postsocialist Eastern Europeans, who
are often seen as temporary workers with willingness to endure hardships, or
workers from other regions of the world coming through the work permit
system and bringing their specific skills, migrants are increasingly
administered through legal means and public discourses for their willingness
to self-actualize while contributing to the economic needs of the nation to
which they are expected to feel grateful.

MIGRANT WORKERS, LABOR UNIONS, AND LIMITS OF SOLIDARITY

Greater labour mobility, whenever it comes, will be beneficial. The


competitive challenge that lower-cost workers, whether from the EU 10 or
elsewhere, will pose for the pampered, inflexible workforces of the old EU 15
will exist anyway. Those who would keep out workers from the east will find
their efforts as vain as attempts to fend off globalisation.104(The Economist)

There appears to be wide consensus that Irish labor unions, while they
could have done more to prepare themselves to respond to immigration, at
least did not take an anti-immigration stance. The opening of the Irish labor
market, along with UK and Sweden, to the 10 new EU member states, largely
from Central and Eastern Europe, was officially welcomed by the trade
unions on May 1st 2004.105 Although unions might have had some anxiety and
resentment for not being properly consulted on the government’s decision,
once the labor market was opened, the unions did not have any other choice
than to embrace immigrants and try to recruit them into their membership.
The rationale is that without a proactive stance, immigrants will be exploited
and as a consequence they will drive down wages and conditions, and
undermine the limited power that unions have. As a result, Ireland’s largest
general union, SIPTU106, hired several Eastern European organizers to try to
help bridge the cultural and language gaps, especially since the scale of
immigration after the EU expansion was enormously underestimated.107
104
“When east meets west.” Economist; 2/11/2006, Vol. 378 Issue 8464, p47-48
105
Noel Dowling. Interview by author. Tape recording. Dublin, Ireland, 13th January, 2009.
106
Service, Industrial, Professional, and Technical Union.
107
Noel Dowling. Interview by author.

37
Unions reacted to high-visibility cases of exploitation such as the
extreme working conditions and underpayment of Turkish workers in a large
construction company, GAMA, which was frequently winning massive state
contracts.108 The mushroom industry also became exposed as having some
of the harshest sweatshop conditions. The conditions were revealed through
the involvement of the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland (MRCI) which attempted
to organize mushroom pickers, which were almost exclusively Eastern
European women. They launched a legal and media campaign and drew
SIPTU’s support, which ended up with government’s interference and
promise to regulate the industry.109

However, as apparently positive as these developments are, they


prove to be largely inadequate to deal with the scale of the problem. They
also are not characteristic of union efforts and practices but rather
exceptional, in addition of being largely initiated by outsider organizations
such as MRCI. Unions are focusing on the industries and workplaces that are
already unionized; union presence is strongest in the public sector, which is
extremely underrepresented by immigrant workers. With the exception of
some areas of the health sector, which has significant numbers of
immigrants, the public sector seems to be relatively closed to immigrant
labor. David Joyce, representative from the Irish Congress of Trade Unions
(ICTU), suggests, that public sector “has a slower process than the private
sector, which is responding immediately to market forces.”110 The

108
The company was working under such arrangements for at least 5 years before getting
exposed by Joe Higgins, Socialist Party representative in Parliament. As a result workers
went on strike and were able to receive some back pay. Higgins, Joe. Interview by author.
Tape recording. Dublin, Ireland, 10th January, 2009.
109
13 Lithuanian and Latvian mushroom pickers that were fired for joining the union
received 26.000 Euros each after the Employment Appeals Tribunal made decision in their
favor. This was seen as one of the main victories of the immigrant organizing and
simultaneously a message to employers as well as to immigrant workers that joining the
union is in their best interest. Thomas Turner, Daryl D’Art, and Christine Cross. 2008. “Polish
Workers in Ireland: A Contented Proletariat?” Labor Studies Journal, vol. 34: pp. 112 – 126
110
David Joyce. Interview by author. Tape recording. Dublin, Ireland, 13th January, 2009.

38
statement’s neoliberal logic is emblematic of larger processes that have
been happening in Ireland since the establishment of Social Partnership.
Although union numbers were slightly growing, since the labor force as a
whole expanded, union density has been significantly declining.111

While the unions maintained or even gained some membership within


the public sector, it has been losing ground within private sector; this has
occurred not only in high-skill foreign direct investment enterprises that are
largely non-unionized, but also in low-wage sectors that are
disproportionately over-represented by immigrant workers. For example, one
of the fastest growing industries is hospitality, which is a significant source of
revenue in the Irish economy; it has the highest percentage (35%) of
immigrant workers in comparison to any other industry. At the same time it
is the industry characterized by the lowest wages, lowest levels of
unionization, and endemic non-compliance with labor laws. For example,
“after inspecting over 850 catering businesses, the National Employment
Rights Authority found that 76% were in breach of employment
legislation.”112Unions see the service industry as extremely difficult to
organize, for a variety of reasons; these include: ethnic diversity, immigrant
non-commitment to workplace or country as a whole, hostile management,
fear of retaliation, low-wages, high turnover rates and so on.113

As significant of a gesture as it was for SIPTU to hire several Eastern


European organizers, it seems that the organizers are largely limited to filing
claims and grievances. In fact, the majority of all cases that unions take on
are after the worker has quit his or her job and is interested in receiving a

111
Daryl D’Art and Thomas Turner. 2003. “Union Recognition in Ireland: One Step Forward or
Two Steps Back?” Industrial Relations Journal, 34:3, pg. 226.
112
MRCI. 2008. “Exploitation in Ireland’s Restaurant Industry,” Dublin.
113
“What also makes it exceedingly difficult is that in any hotel you’ll find 10 to 15 different
nationalities, you’ll probably a low level of good spoken English, particularly in cleaning,
kitchen, backroom area.” Noel Dowling. Interview by author. Tape recording. Dublin,
Ireland, 13th January, 2009.

39
back pay.114 The prevalence of such an approach does not only offer
commentary on the workers who do not take action while working but also
on unions and their lack of influence within workplaces. At least three
interviewees115 commented and expressed a certain degree of frustration
and disappointment about immigrant lack of engagement in terms of feeling
marginalized within unions, not taking on leadership positions, and expecting
union help after the fact of exploitation. While it is understandable, it should
also serve to motivate reflection and rethinking of how migrant workers can
become more integrated in labor politics and what obstacles prevent them
from doing so.

Unions might be under-resourced but it also might be a reflection of


larger trends in part as an outcome of Social Partnership where negotiations
take place at the high level not necessarily by workers organizing
themselves. The MRCI, however, has been making some inroads in
launching innovative organizing models in “unorganizeable” industries such
as agriculture, restaurants, and domestic workers. While overall they are
merely a small NGO in comparison with financial and institutional powers of
labor unions, they are demonstrating that there are possibilities to go
beyond old and stagnant models of unionism with their stable industrial
workplaces. Unions have to realize that although it is difficult to organize
migrants in flexible and disorganized industries, it is a social and economic
reality that requires attention in order to prevent complete bifurcation of
society where law-wage immigrants and high-wage “natives” have nothing in
common. Moreover, mobility, to various degrees and available unevenly to
different people, still characterizes much of the contemporary moment, of
which Ireland, is particularly good example. However, unions appear to be
more successful in accommodating the mobility of capital through its
leadership’s political involvement in the Partnership than the mobility of the
migrant workers.
114
Noel Dowling.
115
Noel Dowling, Bill Abom, Mark Maquire.

40
As influential and innovative MRCI in addressing new economic
reconfigurations and dealing with diverse issues facing the immigrants, the
law, and labor conditions, they appear to be, curiously, an exceptional NGO
to have a focus on immigrants as workers. Most NGOs that work in the
sphere of immigrant integration can be broadly described as cultural.
Without making some faulty clear-cut distinction between culture and
labor/politics and acknowledging that those NGOs might be hugely
important, it is, still, an important question to ask why labor, which affects
almost all immigrants, is seen as marginal and depoliticized issue not
engaged by the NGOs. Further research could also look at the donor funding
priorities and state encouragement of particular aspects of integration and
not others. Ultimately, MRCI, might be inherently limited in attempting to
make significant inroads in under-represented low-wage industries because
of itslack of resources. Even if they envision themselves as an organizing and
policy engine and encourage migrant self-organizing, they still, are not a
movement, which could be more effective. Furthermore, like any other NGO
they are in vulnerable position, financially and politically, for being
dependant on grant money. Although most of their funding comes from
foundations, a significant portion of it comes from state and semi-state
sources.116

Generally, there has been an increasing amount of awareness about


the NGO model and its shortcomings to maintain independence, build
movements and sustainable alternatives, without being co-opted into state
and capital agendas.117 This paper demonstrated how apparently non-state
agencies, such as labor unions, might be instrumental and central to the

116
MRCI Annual Report, 2006. Pg. 21.
117
For example, Incite! Women of Color Against Violence (Eds). 2007. The Revolution Will not
Be Funded: Beyond the Non-Profit Industrial Complex. Cambridge, MA: South End Press.

41
governmental rule. Still, MRCI’s confrontational politics, collaboration with
unions, politicization of migrant labor appears to offer at least some
challenge to prevailing practices and politics. As the current financial crisis
is increasingly delegitimizing Social Partnership and union leadership, the
space might be opened up for new labor politics which will find ways to not
merely “include” migrant workers but to radically rethink the premises under
which existing local and global arrangements operate.

CONCLUSION

Contrary to prevailing perceptions that unions are mere victims of


global processes of neoliberalization, the case of Ireland offers an insight into
how unions can be complicit with and facilitating neoliberal governmentality.
Immigration, often an inevitable feature of the economic growth in one
nation-state and economic-hardship in the other, most likely linked by the
“invisible hand” of the free market, became a major element in Ireland’s
transformation. However, as welcoming and inclusive union response to
immigration was, the migrant skepticism, postsocialist or otherwise, should
not be surprising. The union rhetoric and complicity with goals of national
economic development, preservation of the public sector and business
unionism which largely serves the native Irish, lack of grassroots organizing
practices all might have contributed to lack of contact. More significantly,
the workers who most likely experience the largest amounts of exploitation
are least likely to be noticed or “organized” by the unions. As Gilmartin
point out:

Trade unions in Ireland, so many of them, are so complicit in Social


Partnership, they were co-opted, basically. Unless they can actually create an
alternative to the political consensus, I can’t see them gaining in membership
either. 118

There are no guarantees that the current economic “crisis” will create
that alternative. However, after the years of intoxicating economic growth,
118
Mary Gilmartin, Interview by author. Tape recording. Dublin, Ireland, 12th January, 2009.

42
which created enormous wealth and power gaps between rich and poor,
native and immigrant, there might be new politics emerging. The purpose of
this paper is to stress that there is no need to romanticize or leave beyond
critique traditionally “oppositional” institutions in challenging neoliberalism.
At the same time, some of those structures, if altered, might be tools for
creating different (and hopefully better) social order.

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