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By Philippe Legrain 1 COMMENT

Posted 08 Apr 2010 in Blog, Media
  1. Elmo Lindström says:

    Immigration to Sweden, brought to you by Tobias Billström and Fredrik Reinfeldt.

    Behind Billström and Reinfeldt are powerful business interests, which claim that the Sweden is suffering from a shortage of workers. This is a myth. The truth is that there is only a shortage of Swedish workers willing to accept miserable conditions and wages that are low and steadily declining. According to the Labor Department, the real wages of agricultural workers have dropped from 106.29 kronor an hour to 94.84 kronor an hour between 1999 and 2008. If the farm labor market is so tight, then why are wages going down?

    If there really were a labor shortage in things like agriculture, then the proper solution would be to let market forces solve the problem. Agribusiness firms should be forced to choose between attracting more workers by paying higher wages, investing in labor-saving machinery, or both.

    Consumers worried about higher prices for their produce should favor importing agricultural products — not poor, exploited agricultural workers — from low-wage countries like Poland.

    A combination of higher wages for citizen workers, mechanization and freer trade in agriculture can eliminate the need to import desperate foreigners to work in Swedish fields in conditions of virtual slavery for starvation wages. (Ironically, many of the agribusiness firms that claim that they cannot afford to hire Swedish workers at Swedish wages are already subsidized by the taxpayers through government programs.)

    Even without a guest-worker program, mass immigration of unskilled workers from Poland and other countries is hurting low-income Swedes. According to numerous studies, including one by Chalmers, the Swedish working poor suffer the most as a result of competition with unskilled immigrants — most of whom are legal immigrants, not illegals.

    Competition with a new category of underpaid guest-workers would further reduce the job opportunities and wages of Sweden’s least fortunate workers, as they struggle to keep their families out of poverty.

    Ominously, Billstrom — perhaps the biggest fan of the idea of replacing Swedish workers with underpaid Polish workers — has now proposed introducing non-EU foreign guest workers into the construction, restaurant and hotel industries and many other sectors where they inevitably would squeeze even more Swedes out of jobs. If the guest-worker program in agriculture is expanded, then what is to prevent employers in every sector of the Swedish economy from claiming that imaginary or exaggerated “labor shortages” should entitle them to use foreign workers as well?

    If Billstrom gets his way, then before long business lobbyists un Stockholm might demand that the government allow guest-workers to work as hospital orderlies, taxi drivers, janitors, security guards, truckers, hair stylists. Under the terms of their contracts, the guest-workers would not be able to strike, to sue, or to work for another employer.

    Since enforcement of the rules would be all but impossible, some unscrupulous businesses no doubt would fire Swedes in order to hire foreigners at lower wages. Why not fire unionized workers and replace them with helpless, powerless foreigners? Why hire any Swedes at all, if it is cheaper to get a foreign guest-worker to toil as a virtual slave?

    Already both legal and illegal immigration are exacerbating Sweden’s social problems, because so many immigrants are uneducated and poor. Mark Kristiansson of the Chalmers Department for Studies — a non-profit which advocates tightening immigration laws — claims that 31 percent of immigrants are dependent on at least one major welfare program.

    Like poor people in general, poor immigrants are also disproportionately likely to commit crimes. Because many of the guest-workers who overstay their visas will go on welfare or end up in jail, a guest-worker program will only make the situation worse.

    Of course, to prevent guest-workers from deserting their jobs and blending into the immigrant populations of major Swedish cities like Stockholm and Malmo, they could be confined to remote rural agricultural and manufacturing compounds. Maybe they could be fenced in with barbed wire and patrolled with German shepherds, to prevent them from running away to Orebro or Linkoping.

    Are we now, in the 21st century, going to recreate the slave plantation in the form of guest-worker labor camps on Swedish soil?

    Poland, a nation with a hard-working population and rich natural resources, remains poor because of decades of misgovernment and corruption. We Swedes should do all that we can to help our neighbors in there to democratize and modernize their society — but not by sacrificing the interests of Swedish workers in having good jobs at decent wages in reasonable conditions with adequate benefits.

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