Essential Work, Disposable Workers: Migration, Capitalism and Class

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    Mostafa Henaway

    Publisher: Fernwood

    Year: 2023

    Format: Paperback

    Size: 320 pages

    ISBN: 9781773632254

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A book about the massive expansion of precarious work under neoliberalism and how migrant workers are challenging the conditions of their hyper-exploitation through struggles for worker rights and justice.

Across the world we are witnessing daily the lethal effects of a rapid and scary hardening of borders, ignited and justified by manufactured fear and scarcity. In such conditions, highly exploitative ideas of “managed migration” are presented as reasonable and just.

And temporary worker programs, championed by countries like Canada and the US, are presented as an acceptable response to both acute labour shortages and ugly nationalist feelings. For this, all workers pay the price in the form of dwindling rights and diminished solidarity. This book is the result of decades of thinking, organizing and deep research on the global struggle for equality and freedom in and against an increasingly walled world. Through this immediate and up-close account, Henaway takes the reader on a journey across a familiar consumer landscape of corporate power — from Amazon and Dollarama to chicken farms and late night rideshares —offering a vivid analysis of the consequences of a system built to marginalize, exploit and divide people through the creation of exclusionary categories of belonging. 

In Essential Work, Disposable Workers, Henaway offers a counter proposal to the global border, arguing that we reject control over freedom of movement as a means to halt a race to the bottom for all working people and instead build solidarity across struggles for decent work and justice. In this moving account of a global system of hyper-exploitation, Henaway weaves stories of struggle with his own on-the-ground experience and expansive research, to explain the workings of a global system of managed precarity that affects everyone who works, albeit unequally. Written with the unique verve and insight of a committed scholar and decades-long grassroots organizer, Essential Work, Disposable Workers offers a vivid analysis to help us grasp the cruel consequences of borders and points to an alternative future.

About the Author

Mostafa Henaway, a Canadian-born Egyptian, is a long-time community organizer at the Immigrant Workers Centre in Montreal, where he has been organizing for justice for immigrant/migrant workers for over two decades. He is also a researcher and PhD candidate at Concordia University

Harsha Walia (Foreword) is a South Asian activist and writer based in Vancouver, unceded Coast Salish Territories. She has been involved in community-based grassroots migrant justice, feminist, anti-racist, Indigenous solidarity, anti-capitalist, Palestinian liberation, and anti-imperialist movements, including No One is Illegal and Women’s Memorial March Committee. She is formally trained in law, works with women in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, and is the author of Undoing Border Imperialism (2013).

Table of Contents


  • Foreword by Harsha Walia
  • Chapter 1: Neoliberal Migration Takes a Grip
  • Chapter 2: Financialization of Migration: Keeping Global Capitalism Afloat
  • Chapter 3: The Making of Migration Crisis and the Unwanted Migrants
  • Chapter 4: Managing Migration and Class: Trump and Trudeau, Both Want to Globalize the Kafala System!
  • Chapter 5: Precarious Work for Precarious Workers
  • Chapter 6: The Amazon Economy: Just in Time Distribution for Just in Time Production
  • Chapter 7: We Built This City! The City as a Sweatshop
  • Chapter 8:  Continuity and Change: New Forms of Organizing and Immigrant Workers
  • Chapter 9: Workers Centres in a Time of Crisis
  • Chapter 10: The Fight for 15 Immigrant Workers: Fight for the Entire Working Class
  • Chapter 11: A Day Without an Immigrant: Striking for Status
  • Chapter 12: Solidarity Summer and Great Migrations
  • Conclusion: From Movements to Power: We Are People, We Are Not Illegal

    Tags: anticapitalism ....... canada ....... Fernwood ....... Harsha Walia ....... labor ....... migration ....... Mostafa Henaway ....... united states .......