Migration's Motor: Postwar Modernization

September 25, 2007

Jamaicans have been leaving home for a long time-for so long, in fact, and in such great numbers that today more than half of the world's 4.4 million Jamaicans live outside the island. Their exodus began almost as soon as their slavery ended in 1838. A few set sail for distant ports in the 1850s and 60s and, starting in the 1880s, thousands more crossed the Caribbean Sea to Central America where they cultivated bananas on United Fruit's plantations, built Costa Rica's railways and dug the Panama Canal. When canal construction ended in 1914 and crop disease forced production cutbacks on the plantations, migrants streamed into Cuban canefields and the northern industrial centers of the United States. Only worldwide depression put a halt to their movement. 1 In the 40 years NACLA ReportJanlFeb 1981 between 1881 and 1921, emigration had carried off 156,000 Jamaicans, 35% of the period's total population increase. Yet even the largest of these early migrations pale in comparison to the massive movement 4 a - If 3 Y z A IANACLA Report During those years, the movement to Britain overshadowed all others. Permitted unre- stricted entry to their "mother country," colon- ial West Indians rushed to fill the manifold jobs created by postwar recovery. In Jamaica, workers poured out of every par- ish (the equivalent of states) into boats and planes bound for Britain. Among them were skilled and unskilled wage laborers, self-em- ployed artisans and tradesmen, and small and medium landholders. In the decade from 1953 to 1962, Britain absorbed 163,000 Jamai- cans-more than half of whom made their move in the two and a half years just before con- trols were to be imposed. White animosity in England toward the bur- geoning black population had forced passage of the restrictive Commonwealth Immigrants Act, which went into effect in July 1962. As first un- skilled workers and, later even those with special qualifications were refused work vouchers, West Indian labor migration to Britain plum- meted. In 1965, just as the Crown closed its doors to all but family dependents, the U.S. Congress lifted its nearly complete 1952 ban on West In- dian immigration. In the first eight years after the 100-person quota was dropped, more than 110,000 Jamaicans took up legal residence in the United States, an increase of 715%. Still, access to the "streets of gold" was far more re- stricted than it had earlier been to Britain. Total immigration from the Western Hemis- phere was subject to a strict annual ceiling of 120,000. Moreover, to exclude "unnecessary" workers, labor certification was "required of all immigrants entering the labor market, except for parents, children under 21, or spouses of citizens or permanent resident aliens." This hit hardest at the unskilled (with the notable excep- tion, in the case of Jamaica, of private household workers). 2 By 1974, an estimated 300,000 Jamaicans were living in the United States as "overstays."* In 1967, Canada also eased controls, revamp- ing legislation that had limited entry to domes- tics and farmworkers. Although the flow re- mained considerably smaller than that to the * Between 1963 and 1976, 148,028 Jamaicans were recruited, under Section H-2 of the Immigration and Na- tionality Act, for temporary farmwork in the U.S. One estimate placed the number of contract laborers going "AWOL" at approximately 100 per month. See NACLA, vol. XI, no. 7, Nov-Dec 1977. United States, the number ofJamaicans migrat- ing to Canada in 1970-74 surpassed total immi- gration for the entire preceding decade (ap- proximately 22,000). A GYPSY PEOPLE? Jamaicans not infrequently comment to the curious outsider that they "are a gypsy people," explaining their postwar flights by a seemingly natural penchant for movement. And indeed, the implied fascination with travel abroad ap- pears confirmed by Jamaica's language of mi- gration: one doesn't move to this or that coun- try; rather, one "goes foreign." But Jamaica's massive population move- ments are not unique. The island's experience parallels that of underdeveloped countries throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as many other parts of the third world. Systematic labor emigration to the advanced capitalist countries has been an integral aspect of their postwar history. In recent years, receiving countries like the United States have turned their attention to the "alarming problem" of their new immigrant labor force. In lieu of any serious inquiry into the causes of migration, a convenient explana- tion is simply borrowed from stale conceptions of underdevelopment. In a typical portrayal, the predominant traditional economic sectors, like agriculture, allegedly isolated from modern capitalist development, are unable to support the country's too rapidly increasing population. The modern industrial and service sectors, their apologists explain, remain too stunted by small internal markets to absorb the surplus laborers, in the main affording only tenuous employment and low wages to their own small labor force. Among the migrants, it is therefore argued, are those from the modern sector attracted by the higher wages of developed countries, as well as the urban unemployed and those condemned to underemployment and poverty in traditional occupations. In other words, at the root of the massive labor emigrations from "poor" coun- tries is the problem of too little capitalism, i.e., the failure of those countries to sufficiently inte- grate their economies into the dynamic and ex- panding international capitalist economy. In fact, it is not the lack of capitalist develop- ment, but its vast expansion in underdeveloped countries, that has prepared the ground for the movement of labor to the developed countries. 4JanlFeb 1981 In the postwar period, third world governments bent on modernization and transnational corporations bent on increased profits spearheaded the rapid spread of capitalist pro- duction and marketing into the countryside and the creation of urban industrial centers. Agriculture, that "traditional" stronghold, was the site of extensive direct investment in produc- tion for the world market by transnational and domestic companies, and of state-sponsored reforms to facilitate that process. In the pre-capitalist class relations of the tra- ditional economy, the producers (peasants, artisans, etc.) have some control over their means of production (lands, workshops and tools). But this conflicts sharply with the de- mands of capital accumulation. To attain maximum profits, and thus to expand, cap- italists must be able to control the amount and intensity of work and to impose new competitive production techniques. In short, they must con- trol the means and process of production. The resulting struggles, manifested differ- ently in each country, but integral to capitalist development in all, fundamentally change the class structure and conditions of livelihood of what had been the traditional labor force. Although these changes do not, by themselves, explain specific labor migrations to New York or London or Toronto, they do tend to impel these varied movements in search of work. CAPITALIST OVERHAUL IN JAMAICA At the start of decolonization in 1944- Bri- tain's response to Jamaican rebellion in the 1930s -Crown Colony rule gave way to internal representative self-government; independence would follow in 1962. Along with Westminster parliamentary democracy, the Crown be- queathed to the local ruling class other, less celebrated, colonial legacies. The so-called "surplus labor problem," for instance, had al- ready reached crisis proportions as a result of colonial agricultural policies; by the early 40s a quarter of all workers were unemployed and nearly half were underemployed. Initially, there was considerable doubt in rul- ing circles that rapid industrialization could re- solve the crisis. Nevertheless, the new govern- ment took its cue from the local merchants and capitalist farmers who stood to gain from state support of private industry. It soon imple- mented its own brand of "Bootstrap," the Z Kaiser Aluminum's open-pit bauxite mine hear Discovery Bay. much-touted development program underway in Puerto Rico.3 The kingpin of Jamaica's strategy for cap- italist development, like that of its Latin neigh- bor, was the transnational corporation. The presumed insufficiency of local capital and "know-how" prompted passage of incentive leg- islation to lure foreign capital to the tropics. The courting technique could already be glean- ed from the Hotel Aid Law of 1944 (aimed at an industry whose earliest expression was United Fruit banana boats doubling as cruise ships around the end of the century). The package of reduced tax liability on capital investment and duty-free entry of critical imported inputs reap- peared in subsequent legislation concerned with mining (the 1950 Bauxite and Alumina Indus- tries Law) and manufacturing (the Pioneer In- dustries Law of 1949, and the Industrial Incen- tives Law and Export Industries Law of 1956). The government also guaranteed infra- structural support for industrial expansion and, perhaps most seductive of all, permitted the unlimited remittance of profits to corporate headquarters in Europe and North America. 4 Never one to look a gift horse in the mouth, foreign capital flocked to the island. It moved into tourism, into the manufacture of import- 5NACLA Report substitutes and exports and, above all, into bauxite. Investment by six North American aluminum companies mining the Jamaican ore--Alcoa, Alcan (based in Montreal), Rey- nolds, Kaiser, Anaconda and Revere--ac- counted for nearly three-quarters of the one bil- lion dollars in direct U.S. investment over the period 1950-72.5 The flood of foreign investment provoked the entry of local capital into certain auxiliary activities. "Plants had to be built, new roads cut, railways laid and housing constructed for the bauxite employees. Cement and clay manufacturing boomed." 6 Albeit small and dependent on outside investment decisions, an industrial bougeoisie emerged. Its core was the same handful of merchant families that had dominated the distributive trade-all of English, Jewish, Syrian or Chinese descent in a country whose population is 90% black. Unattended by the fanfare that greeted these new industries, agribusiness, too, got off to a running postwar start as sugar production climbed to all-time heights. At the helm of expansion was Britain's Tate & Lyle, whose ex- tensive investment in canefield and sugar fac- tory operations signalled similar efforts on locally-owned estates (field and factory com- bines) and large farms. Like most large in- dividual growers and agricultural firms, Tate & Lyle diversified into livestock production. The aluminum companies, too, put their huge land reserves to use in a variety of capital-intensive agricultural projects. Agricultural develop- ment strategy, however, not only called for direct productive investment by capital; exten- sive state credits and subsidies were often employed to woo peasants as well to produce for the world market. MOVING FACES, CHANGING PLACES Jamaica's rapidly changing economic pro- file- courtesy of the transnationals-was mir- rored in the new look of the island's labor force. Working men and women left agriculture, forestry and fishing, moving into jobs in secon- dary industry (mining,* manufacturing, construction and utilities) and, to a much greater extent, into commercial and service * Because of its highly capital-intensive technique of pro- duction, bauxite operations created only 6,000 new jobs between 1950 and 1970. jobs. (The explosive growth of government employment in the postwar and particularly post-independence period, was a significant aspect of the shift into services.) As a result, bet- ween 1943 and 1970, the non-agricultural com- ponent of the labor force increased by 66%, while agriculture's share only increased by 2%. The relative decrease of agricultural produc- ers, who comprised nearly half of the total work force on the eve of modernization and slightly more than one-third 25 years later, occurred largely through massive internal migration to Jamaica's economic hub. Throughout the late 40s, 50s and 60s, young adults--and especially young women abandoning their unpaid work on family farms-left the rural parishes and crowded into the Kingston Metropolitan Area (KMA). By 1972, the KMA housed 38% of the labor force (and 30% of Jamaica's entire population), a 15% increase since the start of postwar overhaul. Many young women arriving from the coun- tryside took up domestic work. Some moved on to other service and clerical jobs, but only a handful found work in manufacturing. Men more readily landed jobs in the new industries like cement and clay production and food and beverage processing, in the small wood and metal workshops, and in construction and dock work. But the still-chronic plague of unemploy- ment and underemployment forced many of the immigrants to earn a marginal living par- tially or completely outside the channels of regular wage employment. LET THEM EAT CAKE Twenty years of almost unbroken economic expansion had not only transformed the island's industrial structure and the corresponding dis- tribution of its labor force, but it also repro- duced the very surplus labor problem it was ostensibly aimed at solving. The scarcity of regular jobs at "reasonable" wages condemned part of the labor force to low-income, own-ac- count (self-employed) activity in street and mar- ket vending and handicrafts like dressmaking or skilled trades like carpentry--already partially displaced by the expansion of industry. It also swelled the ranks of the "scuffler," a figure long familiar to the streets of Kingston--and to the urban ghettos of the United States. Scuffling actually combines two methods of eking out an existence--"the intermittent and 6JanlFeb 1981 Roadside vending-even the children pitch in. marginal sale of labor-power and the finding of substitutes for that sale."' Occasional wage- labor, grabbed when and where available, per- haps on the docks or at construction sites, sup- plements income from" 'occupations' like car- minding, casual messengering and postering, postcard selling, finding parking spaces, open- ing doors, cleaning cars, shoe shining, street hawking goods in infinitesimal quantities. .. .," as well as burglaring, prostitution and ganja (marijuana) trafficking. 9 But scuffling, like marginal own-account work, is itself a part-time occupation for many ostensibly employed'members of the working class. In a 1968 island-wide sample survey, 27 % of those holding jobs in the previous year work- ed less than eight months and 40% worked less than 10 months.' 0 High rates of urban under- employment, particularly in construction and manufacturing, pushed the working-class poor into substitute activities. This remarkable fluid- ity between independent small producers, lumpen proletariat and working-class poor who, moreover, share the same neighborhoods, has tended to blur the distinctions. In their own definition, the slum dwellers of Kingston and St. Andrew are all "sufferers." NO SUFFERERS AMONG THE CAPITALISTS Limited industrialization and wage employ- ment, a now-familiar outcome of third world postwar modernization, is not an index of the failure of capitalist development, at least in its own terms. Indeed, it is a measure of the profit- able accumulation of capital, particularly so for the transnational corporations that controlled more than half of all Jamaica's economic activ- ity by the late 1960s. While maximizing corporate profits, the pat- tern of their investments undercut the establish- ment of industrial linkages and the spread of employment within Jamaica. Elements of this pattern--vertical integration across the ocean (bauxite mining in Jamaica and aluminum smelting in Arkansas); multinational sourcing of output (milling of sugar cane from Jamaica, Guyana and Barbados); the preponderance of inputs imported from parent companies or overseas suppliers; and capital-intensive techni- ques of production - cheapened company costs and pushed up profits, but limited industrial growth on the island. Equally important in the "failure" of modernization was the contradictory process of capital penetration in the countryside. The land and labor requirements of accelerated in- vestment in export agriculture impelled capital to partially dispossess the peasantry, thrusting thousands of rural Jamaicans into the island's industrial center. But many thousands of small farmers re- mained, a result in part, of the very same pro- cess of capitalist investment (as we will see in the next article). The persistence of this peasantry, whose livelihood capital continued to under- mine, severely restricted the internal mar- ket-for large-scale production of domestic food crops and its requisite industrial inputs, and for consumer goods industries and their suppliers. It thereby restricted the expansion of industry and employment for the KMA's newcomers. Through its impact on the countryside, capital propelled 560,000 rural Jamaicans into urban centers between 1943 and 1970. Despite its rate of unemployment that rarely fell below 20%, the KMA drew 300,000. For many others, however, widespread unemployment in the capital was an important element in their deci- sion to go abroad. We turn now to investigate the process by which agribusiness expansion gave rise to these internal and external wanderings of Jamaica's rural gypsies. References MIGRATION'S MOTOR 1. Ken Post, Arise Ye Starvelings. TheJamaican Labour Rebellion of 1938 and its Aftermath (The Hague: Mar- tinus Nijhoff, 1978), pp. 43-4. 2. Franklin Abrams, as cited in Ransford W. Palmer, Caribbean Dependence on the U.S. Economy (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1979), p. 89. 3. On the Puerto Rican experience, see the forthcoming NACLA Report on the A mericas, Vol. XV, no. 2 (March- April 1981). 4. For a full discussion of the incentive legislation, see Owen Jefferson, The Postwar Economic Development of Jamaica (Kingston: Institute for Social and Economic Re- search, 1972), pp. 129-32. 5. On the role of bauxite inJamaica's economic and po- litical life, see "Caribbean Conflict: Jamaica and the U.S.," NACLA Report on the Americas, Vol. XII, no. 3 (May-June 1978). 6. Philip Wheaton andJeb Mays, eds.,Jamaica: Carib- bean Challenge (Washington: EPICA Task Force, 1979), p. 49. 7. Shirley Smith, "Industrial Growth, Employment Opportunities and Migration Within and From Jamaica, 1943 to 1970," (Ph.D. diss., University of Pennsylvania, 1975), p. 119. 8. Ken Post, Arise Ye Starvelings, p. 160. 9. W.F. Maunder, Employment in an Underdeveloped Area: A Sample Survey ofKingston,Jamaica (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1960) 10. Owen Jefferson, Postwar Economic Development, p. 34.

Tags: Jamaica, Immigration, capitalism

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