Labour Migration As a Social Right

Friday, 3 July 2015: 8:30 AM-10:00 AM
CLM.7.03 (Clement House)
Waltraud Schelkle, London School of Economics, London, United Kingdom
Welfare state researchers are sensitive to the differences between cross-border and within-border migration of workers and therefore also much more skeptical about the beneficial effects of labour migration than economists. Typically, they fear that the openness of labour markets interferes with social standards and wage norms established by welfare states that are co-extensive with national democracy. My paper challenges this mainstream view of comparative social policy researchers. I provide evidence for the selective openness of welfare states that is an inherent feature of social insurance, universal public goods provision and even residual safety nets, not an externally imposed result of international economic integration.  My explanation is that the “politics of social solidarity” (Baldwin 1990) was historically -- and is now about -- creating communities of risk that are fluid, not confined to citizens.  This argument acknowledges at the same time that migration can strain existing communities of risk, arguably in the sending countries more than in the receiving countries.

The first section of the paper briefly sets out the two strands of mainstream comparative welfare state research that claims that welfare states are closed systems for which economic migration is a threat.  There is the nation-building strand, on the one hand, which sees welfare states as based on a logic of closure because redistribution requires solidarity (Ferrera, Hall) and democratic legitimation (Scharpf) that comes with political union. There is the regime typology strand that stresses the extent to which welfare states come in well-defined institutional configurations of which only the liberal-residual regime copes with openness according to type, namely by providing low welfare standards.

The second section outlines the comparative case study of the European Union and the United States. The U.S. is a political union and part of the liberal world of welfare capitalism that should thus have no problems with inter-state migration. I compare the regulation of labour migration with respect to social welfare entitlements, such as minimum residence requirements and coverage of a migrant worker’s family. For the U.S., this concerns mainly domestic migration between states.

The third section provides evidence that welfare states have a long history of coping with economic openness and turning migration into their advantage. European legislation to implement the norms of free movement and non-discrimination is part of an evolution towards selective openness, rather than a revolutionary force: it regularizes and generalizes what member states have granted each other in bilateral agreements. Federal intervention in the U.S., primarily by the Supreme Court, played a similar role of ensuring non-discrimination of labour migrants. That such central regulation was necessary proves that there is contestation over the conditions of access to domestic labour markets, but it does not prove that welfare states follow a logic of closure.

The final section sums up the political economy of inter-state risk sharing that can explain why the selective openness of welfare states varies with the organisation of benefit systems.