Of Human Bondage: The Global Traffic in Disposable Labor

Published on Dissident Voice, by Susan Rosenthal, August 28, 2012.

It’s a story as old as class society; employers seek more wealth by lowering wages, and workers seek to survive by raising wages. The history of this conflict has shaped, and continues to shape, our world.

The international traffic in temporary workers is Capital’s latest move to accumulate more wealth by lowering the price of labor.  


  • Capitalism has perfected the art of making shit smell good. The cozy phrase, “guest workers,” hides the brutal reality of extreme exploitation.
  • Workers from impoverished nations pay their way to rich nations to labor for paltry wages with no legal protections and no right to change employers. They are forced to work back-breaking hours, live in substandard conditions and can be deported any time for any reason. In the truest sense, they are disposable workers.
  • We are told the “guest-worker” system benefits everyone: the “guests” make more money than they could at home; the money they send home helps their families and communities; the sending nations benefit from economic development made possible by remittances; and the receiving country gets workers to do jobs that native workers either don’t want or aren’t qualified for. Everybody wins. NOT.
  • In Guest Workers and Resistance to U.S. Corporate Despotism, Immanuel Ness exposes every one of these sentiments as a bald-faced lie. Using statistics and interviews with Indian and Jamaican workers, Ness shows how the global temp-worker system benefits only the capitalist class and drives down conditions for workers of ALL nations.
  • If there is a shortage of skilled American workers, why not invest in educating and training them? Ness links the decline in state support for education with the ease of importing skilled foreigners who will work for less.

Labor shortage? … //

… What is the solution?

  • While Ness’s book is rich in information, it is written for academics and very difficult to read. The parts that sing are his interviews with workers and his descriptions of their experiences and conditions. Here’s what I took from this book:
  • We live in an international economy. Capital moves freely over the globe in search of more capital and, as it does, it subjects the workers of all nations to increasingly similar conditions.
  • By enforcing national borders, capitalism prevents the working class from uniting to defend itself. National borders divide workers into legal, illegal, documented, undocumented, permanent, temporary, native-born and alien.
  • The global trade in labor proves that the capitalist class has no loyalty to any set of workers. The extent to which workers fail to understand this and stand behind “their” capitalist class is the extent to which they fail to protect their own interests as workers.
  • This book confirms that the workers of the world have no nation but the nation of the working class. Accepting and acting on this fact is the only solution and the only way out, for all workers.

(full text).

(Susan Rosenthal is a practicing physician and the the author of SICK and SICKER: Essays on Class, Health and Health Care (2010), POWER and Powerlessness (2006), and Class, Health and Health Care (2008). She is a founding member of International Health Workers for People Over Profit IHWPOP. She can be reached through her web site or by email. Read other articles by Susan).


Whose World? OUR World, on International Health Workers for People Over Profit IHWPOP, by Susan Rosenthal, Canada, October 29, 2011;

The Next Steps in Québec on Dissident Voice, by Ashley Smith, August 28, 2012;

Americaa: Poverty stalks US Republican convention – Just down the road from the political gathering a tent camp shelters some 250 homeless Americans – watch the video, 1.48 min, published on AlJazeera, August 28, 2012;

Concrete Proposals for Democratic Transition: Syrian Opposition Presents Vision for Day After Assad, on Spiegel Online International, by David Crossland, August 28 2012l.

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