Migrant worker

person who migrates to pursue work

A migrant worker is a person who either migrates within their home country or outside it to pursue work.

Two hobos walking along railroad tracks, after being put off a train.


  • Meanwhile, running counter to all the grandiose plans for German colonization of foreign living space, the insatiable demand for labour of the Third Reich's military-industrial complex and the conscription of a rising share of able-bodied Germans into the armed forces meant that Germany itself began to be 'colonized' by foreign workers. The number in the Reich rose from 301,000 in 1939 (less than 1 per cent of all employees) to around two million in the autumn of 1940, to more than seven million by 1944 - nearly a fifth of the workforce. They came from all over Europe, some voluntarily, others under duress: from Belgium, Denmark, France, Holland and Italy; from Hungary and Yugoslavia too. At first, it was skilled workers from Western Europe who were attracted by the rapidly growing German economy; the men who built the road to the Eagle's Nest were in fact Italian stonemasons, willing beneficiaries of Hitler's boom. As the war wore on, however, it was Poles who came to predominate. Few of them came of their own volition.
    • Niall Ferguson, The War of the World: Twentieth-Century Conflict and the Descent of the West (2006), p. 460
  • Already in September 1941 there were more than a million Poles working in the Reich, accounting for just under half the total foreign workforce. By July 1943 around 1.3 million workers, not including prisoners of war, had been sent to the Reich from the Government-General. There were soon more Poles in Germany than Germans in Poland. After 1941 they were joined by comparable numbers of Ukrainians and other former Soviet citizens. Many of these were women; in the autumn of 1943, there were 1.7 million female foreign workers employed in the Reich, most of them from occupied Polish or Soviet territory. Here was a headache for a regime that aspired to Germanizing Europe - an ethnographic Europeanization of Germany, a process in conflict at once with their own racial theory and with the sentiments of ordinary Germans.
    • Niall Ferguson, The War of the World: Twentieth-Century Conflict and the Descent of the West (2006), p. 461
  • The 40-day lockdown was further extended at a time of sporadic expressions of resistance and anger by migrant workers in a few cities. Extreme precarity doesn’t have a singular expression. While some are responding with anger, others are responding with resignation. The severe distress among migrant workers in India is not entirely by chance. It has been marinating for a while but the epic new scale has been manufactured due to the unplanned and unilateral decision of a lockdown taken by the prime minister. The arbitrariness and unpreparedness are evident from the confusing messages from the central government concerning transport for migrants. [...] Notwithstanding the confusing orders, the constant shuffling of travel modes and costs further expose the central government’s lack of empathy, thought and planning.
  • The migrant worker distress has also exposed the inherent fractures of the “one nation” narrative that is one of the unique selling propositions of the BJP government. While it goes against the grain of the idea of India that has a rich tradition of pluralism, it is also meaningless from a governance standpoint. Migrant workers don’t carry their ration cards and so haven’t been able to avail of government rations in the states where they are stranded. The employers, contractors mostly, have largely abandoned them without paying them wages. Consequently, they are left to scrounge for food and are left without money. In many cases, they are stranded without knowing the local language. In this situation, it is the poorer state governments of Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal, etc. that have attempted to seek out “their people” stranded in richer states such as Maharashtra or Haryana and make cash transfers to their account. The economies of these richer states have benefited from the labour of migrants from the poorer states. However, the richer states have neither extended any financial support nor forced employers to pay wages to the workers.
  • Barring examples from Kerala and Telengana, most host states have demonstrated disregard for migrant workers. It behooves the host states to care about the migrant workers not only from a humanitarian standpoint but also from the perspective of the health of the economy. On its part, the central government has maintained a calibrated silence regarding this. Monopolising decisions and socialising losses are not what federalism is supposed to mean. Therefore, it is time that the poorer states realise that the unilateral lockdown is not just an assault on the dignity of the poor, but also an economic assault on the poorer state governments. Further, there has been a concerted effort by the central government and some host states to hold the labour captive in the richer states by making transportation procedures unreasonable.
  • Migrant workers, dismissed by employers, enjoying no protection from their governments, often thrown out of their accommodation by their landlords, in urgent need of food, transport and money, driven by desperation to walk home. It is a scene many have described as reminiscent of the migration at Partition. This is the outcome of the largest and one of the strictest lockdowns in the world enforced during the coronavirus disease crisis — a lockdown that has been widely applauded internationally. Why has the outcry against this suffering inflicted on men and women who are more than 90% of India’s workforce been so muted? It is, I believe, in part at least, because those in a position to raise their voices have not identified themselves with those who are suffering.
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