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Since the industrial revolution of the 18th century, the demand for manpower has facilitated massive labor mobility into urban and industrial centers. Given that these centers of commerce and industry were concentrated in isolated regions, it necessitated the migration of people from their permanent residences in search of employment, some beyond national borders. At their new locations, a clash of economic, gender and race related factors culminated into a variety of migrant labor problems and as a response, the emergence of labor unions. This paper seeks to highlight some of these issues.
The most serious problems were economic exploitation and low wages. Those who ventured outside their countries were forced to start at low levels and accordingly, paid low wages (Rumbaut and Portes 2006, 2). Adapting into the new environment was also difficult, as they had to learn a new language (pp 205). In hostile communities, there were labor discriminations based on racial prejudices which shut them out of profitable employment (pp 256). In addition, they faced an identity crisis as they were unwelcome. Often they were denied citizenship and political participation (pp117). In terms of housing, congestion and overcrowding made life intolerable. In central
Slums were filled with garbage and human waste. Cities often smelled terrible and were extremely unhealthy. In effect, this had the consequences of prostitution, crime, sexual immorality and general moral decadence. (Qtd. in Spielvogel 2008, 621)
These problems led to the formation of unions, which aimed to protect migrant laborers. These organizations have played a key role in addressing issues of discrimination, exploitation and abuse of human rights (International Labor Organization, 2009, 413). Through this forum, labor discriminations around the world on grounds of race and religion have been challenged. In addressing labor relations, the organization has agitated for employees’ rights by fighting for higher wages and improvement of working conditions. It also emerged that migrant workers were ignorant of their rights. In this regard, labor unions act as guardians of workers rights. They represent them in legal matters by seeking judicial justice on their behalf. And lastly, the international organization, through its unions in every country, ensures that migrant workers are provided with favorable working conditions. They work to guarantee respect of human rights in the labor market.
However, racial and gender discriminations still persist. Male employees are often preferred over female workers regardless their competence and qualifications. In predominantly white societies, racial prejudices disadvantage workers of black origin. Nevertheless, continued efforts in addressing these disparities will yield positive results. As Sidney Fine puts it, small beginnings like the 1955 establishment of Fair Employment Practices Commission in the