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Constructing Uncertainty: Unions and Migrant Labour in Construction in Spain and the UK

Guglielmo Meardi, [Antonio Martín and Mariona Lozano Riera]
Journal of Industrial Relations, 54, 1, 5-21


The article provides a conceptualization of the link between recent migration flows and labour market uncertainty through the analysis of a critical example, the construction sector (characterized by economic volatility, worker mobility, employment insecurity, safety risk) in the UK and Spain (countries with large immigration, flexible labour markets and volatile construction sectors). Transnational labour mobility can be seen as a structural response to recent European dilemmas over how to combine flexibility and security, through the creation of a hyper-flexible buffer of migrant workers who, being disposable in case of downturn, can carry most of the uncertainty burden without causing political problems. This raises two issues: the social sustainability of such segmentation, in particular with regard to occupational health and safety; and the role organized labour can have, in particular in organizing such workers. The issues are analysed through labour market statistics and interviews with unionists, migrant organization representatives, employers and employment policy officers in both countries.