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The master images used to describe the advanced urban economy in developed countries emphasize the centrality of highly educated labor and highly specialized services. Workers and firms that do not fit this mold are thought to be fundamentally obsolete. Where does this leave the large numbers of immigrants from developing countries who have found their way to these cities? There is growing conviction in the developed countries that there is no longer a role for immigrants with modest levels of education in the new postindustrial city of today and tomorrow-that the presence of a large supply of lowly educated workers is a drag on the economic operation and growth. And it is largely in these cities where a significant majority of immigrants are concentrated in Western Europe, North America and Japan.

This type of account about the nature of the advanced urban economy is partial to the point of distortion. And it carries important political implications. On the one hand, the advanced urban economy or the socalled "postindustrial" city requires vast numbers of lowwage workers whose educational levels are irrelevant for their jobs. And this holds even for the leading complex of industries, finance and corporate services. On the other hand, there has been a casualization of the employment relation in a growing number of jobs, both in growth and declining sectors. The combination of these two processes and the notion that the advanced urban economy basically needs only high level personnel contributes to the further devaluing (devalorization) of those jobs and labor markets. At the limit this devaluing or devalorization begins to justify lowwages and lack of employment security.

The growth of lowwage jobs and the casualization of the employment relation contribute specific conditions in the postindustrial city for a) the creation of an effective demand for the kinds of workers represented by a large majority of immigrants in these cities, and b) a labor market dynamic that facilitates the incorporation of newcomers, "outsiders," unlike what was the case, for instance, in the large unionized Fordist factory. Large cities have since their origins received and incorporated migrants coming from near and far. But the specific conditions under which such incorporation occurs and is sustained changes with the times and the places.

Immigration has become a basic feature in all highly developed countries in the world. Even Japan, a country that has never believed in the advantages of ethnic diversity, with strict laws against the entry of unskilled workers, now has a growing illegal immigration from Thailand, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Philippines. Or take the case of Italy, long an emigration country, which now is estimated to have up to 2 million, mostly illegal immigrants from Africa.

Several factors contribute to this growth of international migration as a global process: a) unequal levels of development between receiving and sending countries; b) the growing internationalization of all developed economies; c) major changes in the organization of the economy and of labor markets in advanced economies which have created multiple opportunities for the incorporation of immigrants.

Here I will focus particularly on the second and third aspect in view of the subject of this conference. Furthermore, the first factor, unequal levels of development has been widely documented and recognized as crucial in the formation of international labor migrations.

Internationalization is particularly important in the current period. It creates bridges with other countries-bridges initially designed to be travelled by capital flows but eventually also used by immigrants. When these bridges connect highly developed countries, this immigration is largely of professionals; when they connect with less developed countries, you have labor migration. Both types of flows are constitutive elements of that which we call the global economy: this has been recognized in the case of the upper labor circuits, i.e. the new transnational professional and managerial workforce. But it has not been recognized in the case of migrations of workers with low levels of education or directed to lowwage jobs.

That internationalization matters is made evident by the distinct patterning of international migration flows: most immigrants to the US come from countries where the US has been an active economic, political and/or military presence. The same can be said for France, or for the Netherlands, or for Japan. Migration systems connect major powers to their zones of influence: the Caribbean Basin countries and certain areas of Southeast Asia in the case of the US; Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia in the case of France; much of South and Southeast Asia in the case of Japan. Each of these, and other, major countries has very different immigration policies, yet they all have become major recipients of immigrants from their zones of influence. I will first discuss this subject before entering into the analysis of immigrants in advanced urban economies because I consider it central to a proper appreciation of the presence of immigrants in such major cities in the highly developed countries.


Migrations do not just happen. They are produced. And migrations do not involve just any possible combination of countries. They are patterned. International migrations are embedded in larger social, economic and political processes. While individuals may experience their migration as the outcome of their personal decisions, the option to migrate is itself socially produced. (For a full treatment of this subject and extensive bibliography see Sassen 1988).1

The concrete processes through which economic internationalization binds major immigration receiving countries to their migrant sending countries is one form of this embeddedness. The dominant economic narrative about internationalization privileges the reconstitution of capital as an internationalized presence; it emphasizes the vanguard character of this reconstitution. But it remains silent about the internationalization of labor, which I see as the counterpart of the internationalization of capital.

The specific forms of the internationalization of capital we see over the last twenty years have contributed to mobilize people in to migration streams. They have done so principally through the implantation of western development strategies, from the replacement of smallholder agriculture with the exportoriented commercial agriculture and export manufacturing, to the westernization of educational systems. At the same time the administrative, commercial and development networks of the former European empires and the newer forms these networks assumed under the Pax Americana (international direct foreign investment, export processing zones, wars for democracy) have not only created bridges for the flow of capital, information and high level personnel from the center to the periphery but, I argue, also for the flow of migrants from the periphery to the center.

The large mass migrations of the 1800s emerged as part of the formation of a transAtlantic economic system binding several nationstates through economic transactions and wars. The transatlantic economy was at the core of U.S. development. There were massive flows of capital, goods and workers and specific structures that produced this transatlantic system. Before this period, labor movement across the Atlantic had been largely forced, notably slavery, and mostly from colonized African and Asian territories. Similarly, the migrations to England in the 1950s originated in what had once been British territories. Finally, the migrations into Western Europe of the 1960s and 1970s occurred in a context of direct recruitment and of European regional dominance over the Mediterranean and over some of the Eastern European countries. There are, I would say, few if any innocent bystanders among countries receiving large labor migrations. Receiving countries have typically been participants in the processes leading to the formation of international migration.

The renewal of mass immigration into the U.S. in the 1960s, after five decades of little or no immigration, took place in a context of expanded U.S. economic and military activity in Asia and the Caribbean Basin. Today, the United States is at the heart of an international system of investment and production that has incorporated not only Mexico but areas in the Caribbean and Southeast Asia. In the 1960s and 1970s, the United States played a crucial role in the development of a world economic system. It passed legislation aimed at opening its own and other countries' economies to the flow of capital, goods, services and information. The central military, political and economic role the United States played in the emergence of a global economy contributed, I argue, both to the creation of condition that mobilized people into migrations, whether local or international, and to the formation of links between the United States and other countries that subsequently were to serve as bridges for international migration. Measures commonly thought to deter emigration-foreign investment and the promotion of exportoriented growth in developing countries-seem to have had precisely the opposite effect. Among the leading senders of immigrants to the United States in the 1970s and 1980s have been several of the newly industrialized countries of South and Southeast Asia whose extremely high growth rates are generally recognized to be a result of foreign direct investment in export manufacturing.

Similarly, as immigration countries, France, England and the Netherlands cannot escape their colonial pasts. Most immigrants to these countries come from their colonial pasts. Most immigrants to these countries come from what were their former colonial territories. Nor can Spain; once a major emigration country, it is now the recipient of a growing immigration both legal and illegal from Latin America.2

The mainstream account of immigration has great difficulty incorporating these broader processes within which migrations are embedded. That account explains migration in terms of the rational choices of individuals who compare their earnings opportunities in their countries of origin with those of more developed countries. This is certainly part of the explanation, especially when one asks immigrants. But it fails to explain why many countries with high population growth, vast poverty and severe economic stagnation do not experience largescale emigration. Furthermore, poverty and stagnation characterized most Asian and Caribbean Basin countries long before largescale migration flows started in the 1960s. And not all migrantsending countries are poor, for example, South Korea and Taiwan.

Elsewhere I have argued at length that this language constructs immigration as a devalued process in so far as it describes the entry of people from generally poorer, disadvantaged countries, in search of the better lives that the receiving country can offer; it contains an implicit valorization of the receiving country and a devalorization of the sending country (See Sassen, 1988). It is furthermore a language derived from an earlier historical period which proceeds as if the world economic system were the same today as it was one hundred years ago. What would happen to the representation of that process which we call immigration if we were to cast it in terms akin to those typically used to describe the internationalization of capital, a process represented as imbued with positive economic properties? What would happen if we did not privilege wealth over poverty, wealthy countries over poor countries; if we saw immigrants as using bridges built by the internationalization of capital or the internationalization of the U.S. military activities; and if we saw immigrants as moving within an internationalized labor market?


The question for us today is how the ongoing inflow of immigrants from less developed countries into the most advanced urban economies is going to work out. If we take some of the dominant accounts about the nature of these economies to heart the suggestion is that a) immigrants are totally out of place in them, and b) if immigrants nonetheless do go to such cities they will create backward subeconomies and backward economic effects in the process of securing their survival.

Let me suggest that some of the major processes of economic and spatial organization evident in many of these advanced urban economies paint a very different picture about jobs and labor markets from that suggested by current notions of the postindustrial city. While present in many cities, these development assume rather specific forms and operate through distinct social arrangements in each case. Here I will focus only on three of these processes. (For a full treatment of the subject and bibliography see Sassen 1994).3

One is the actual work process involved in the specialized services and international corporate headquarters sector which has indeed emerged as the economic core of major postindustrial cities. While this sector may not account for the majority of jobs, it establishes a new regime of economic activity and the associated spatial and social transformations evident in these cities.

A second process is the downgrading of the manufacturing sector, a concept I use to describe a mode of political and technical reorganization of manufacturing that is to be distinguished from the decline and obsolescence of manufacturing activities; according to such a notion, then, the downgraded manufacturing center represents a mode of incorporation into the "postindustrial" economy.

The third process is the informalization of a growing array of economic activities, a process that encompasses certain components of the downgraded manufacturing sector; informalization represents a mode of reorganizing the production and distribution of goods and services that falls outside or escapes the regulatory apparatus of the formal economy.

An examination of these processes reveals conditions which explain why immigrants have been incorporated into the advanced urban economy and why the types of workers and firms they represent are not obsolete even though they lack the attributes associated with an advanced economy. Let me develop each of these three processes.

1. Specialized services, from accounting to decision making expertise, are not usually analyzed as production or in terms of a work process. Such services are usually seen as a type of output, i.e. highlevel technical knowledge. Thus insufficient attention has gone to the actual array of jobs, from highpaying to lowpaying, involved in the production of these services. A focus on production brings to the fore the labor question. These inputs need to be produced, and the buildings which hold the workers need to be built and cleaned. The rapid growth of the financial industry and of highly specialized services generates not only high level technical and administrative jobs but also low wage unskilled jobs.

There is further an indirect creation of lowwage jobs induced by the presence of a highly dynamic sector with a polarized income distribution. It takes place in the sphere of consumption (or social reproduction). The expansion of the highincome work force, in conjunction with the emergence of new cultural forms in everyday living, has led to a process of highincome gentrification that rests, in the last analysis, on the availability of a vast supply of lowwage workers. The increase in the numbers of expensive restaurants, luxury housing, luxury hotels, gourmet shops, boutiques, French hand laundries, and special cleaners that ornament the new urban landscape illustrates this trend.

2. A second development that has reached significant proportions is what I call the downgrading of the manufacturing sector, a process in which the share of unionized shops declines and wages deteriorate while sweatshops and industrial homework proliferate. This process includes the downgrading of jobs within existing industries and new job supply patterns of hightech industries, notably electronics assembly.

3. The third development is the growing informalization of economic activity in advanced urban economies. The literature on the informal sector has mostly focused on Third World countries and has, wittingly or not, assumed that as a social type such sectors are not to be expected in advanced industrialized countries. And the literature on industrialization has assumed that as development progresses, so will the standardization of production and generalization of the 'formal' organization of work. Since much of the expansion of the informal sector has been located in immigrant communities, this has led to an explanation of its expansion as being due to the large influx of Third World immigrants and their propensities to replicate survival strategies typical of their home countries. Related to this view is the notion that backward sectors of the economy are kept backward or survive, because of the availability of a large supply of cheap immigrant workers. Both of these views posit or imply that if there is an informal sector in advanced industrialized countries, the sources are to be found in Third World immigration and in the backward sectors of the economy-a Third World import or a remnant from an earlier phase of industrialization.

While there is some overlap between downgrading and informalization, each of these three processes can be seen as separate and distinctive modes of economic organization and the corresponding uses of space in the city.

The expansion of lowwage jobs as a function of growth trends implies a reorganization of the capitallabor relation. To see this it is important to distinguish the characteristics of jobs from their sectoral location. That is to say, highly dynamic, technologically advanced growth sectors may well contain, lowwage deadend jobs. Furthermore, the distinction between sectoral characteristics and sectoral growth patterns is crucial: backward sectors such as downgraded manufacturing or lowwage service occupations can be part of major growth trends in a highly developed economy. It is often assumed that backward sectors express decline trends. Similarly, there is a tendency to assume that advanced industries, such as finance, have mostly good whitecollar jobs. In fact they contain a good number of lowpaying jobs from cleaners to stock clerks.

Downgraded manufacturing and informalization entail a casualization of the employment relation. A central question for theory and policy is whether the formation and expansion of informal and casual labor markets in advanced industrialized countries is the result of conditions created by advanced capitalism.

The increase in various types of casual work is often thought of as a function of the increased participation of women in the labor force. Indeed, parttime, temporary and seasonal jobs are more common among women in all developed countries than among men. However, all the evidence points to significant increases of such jobs also among men over the last decade. More generally, the industry/occupational mix prevalent among such jobs indicates they are a significant share of new jobs created in these economies. In addition, jobs that were once fulltime are now being made into parttime or temporary jobs. While socalled flexible work arrangements may be a development of advanced economies associated with a higher quality of life, the vast majority of casual jobs hardly fit this category. A majority are lowwage jobs, with no fringe benefits and no returns to seniority-a way of organizing work that reduces costs for employers.

Rather than assuming that Third World immigration is causing informalization and the entry of mothers into the labor forced is causing the casualization of work, what we need is a critical examination of the conditions that may be inducing these processes. Immigrants, insofar as they tend to form communities, may be in a favorable position to seize the opportunities represented by informalization. And women, insofar as they have children and inadequate access to childcare, may be interested in parttime or temporary job opportunities. But these types of jobs are not necessarily created by immigrants and women. They may well be a structured outcome of current trends in the advanced industrialized economies. Similarly, what are perceived as backward sectors of the economy may or may not be remnants from an earlier phase of industrialization; they may well represent a downgrading of work connecting to the dynamics of growth in leading sectors of the economy.


In brief, developments in cities cannot be understood in isolation from fundamental changes in the larger organization of advanced economies. The combination of economic, political, and technical forces that has contributed to the decline of mass production as the central driving element in advanced economies brought about a decline in a broader institutional framework that shaped the employment relation. The group of service industries that are the driving economic force in the 1980s and into the 1990s is characterized by greater earnings and occupational dispersion, weak unions, and mostly a growing share of unsheltered jobs in the lowerpaying echelons along with a growing share of highincome jobs. The associated institutional framework shaping the employment relation is very different from the earlier one. This contributes to a reshaping of the sphere of social reproduction and consumption, which in turn has a feedback effect on economic organization and earnings. Whereas in the earlier period this feedback effect contributed to reproduction of the middle class, currently it reproduces growing earnings disparity and labor market casualization. The overall result is a tendency toward increased economic polarization.

Since their origins, large cities have received and incorporated migrants coming from near and far. But the specific conditions under which such incorporation occurs and is sustained changes with the times and the places. Today the growth of lowwage jobs and of casual labor markets facilitate the incorporation of immigrant workers in the postindustrial city. We see a labor market dynamic that thrives on the incorporation of newcomers, "outsiders," temporary and parttime workers, unlike what was the case, for instance, in the large unionized Fordist factory.

This is a period of sharp transition in the economic organization of advanced economies, and immigrants, far from being a burden, have played a strategic role in this transition. Immigration has contributed flexibility in a situation where the norms of established labor markets and firm organization were often no longer viable due to extreme price competition, both national and international. And immigrants have brought with them a vast pool of entrepreneurial energy at time when small scale, lowprofit entrepreneurship became necessary to meet the demand for various goods and services that larger standardized firms often could no longer handle due to low profit levels and increased costs of operation. Immigrants in this context are almost akin to a rapid deployment force.

But immigrants have also absorbed the cost attached to being such a flexible labor supply and pool of entrepreneurial energy. A good part of this need for flexibility comes down to lowwage, casual jobs and entrepreneurial activities demanding much selfsacrifice. If these conditions cannot be upgraded as the new forms of economic organization move out of the transition phase and into a fully accomplished restructuring, then the flexibility and the talent brought by immigrants will not have been maximized. Rather than serving to get these economies going in a period of difficult and costly transition for a broad range of economic sectors, flexibility and lowcost entrepreneurship will wind up expanding the lowincome population. That would be a pity.


1 Saskia Sassen, The Mobility of Labor and Capital: A Study in International Investment and Labor Flow (Cambridge University Press)

2 Now the fact of a new illegal immigration into Japan, a first in its long history, raises a question as to the impact of the internationalization of the Japanese economy on the formation of this new migration flow. Japan is a country that has never had immigration and lacks the belief in its positive contributions that is still a trait in the U.S. The concept immigration did not exist in its law on the entry and exit of aliens till very recently. Yet, since the mid1980s there has been a growing immigration from Bangladesh, Thailand, Philippines, Pakistan. One fundamental condition Japan does share today with the U.S. is it prominent role as the major foreign aid donor, investor, and exporter of a wide range of consumer goods in the countries where the immigrants to Japan originate. This may have created objective and subjective bridges with Japan, contributing to reduce the sociological distance by familiarizing people with Japan and its culture. (See Sassen, The Global City 1993: Chapter 9)

3 S. Sassen, Cities in a World Economy (Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge/Sage 1994).


Saskia Sassen, the writer of this essay, is Professor of Urban Planning and also serves on the faculty of the School for International and Public Affairs at Columbia University. Her books are The Mobility of Labor and Capital (Cambridge University Press 1988), The Global City: New York, London, Tokyo (Princeton University Press Paperbacks 1993), Cities in a World Economy (Thousand Oaks, California: Pine Forge/Sage Publications 1994), and has recently completed Immigrants and Refugees: A European Dilemma? for Fischer Verlag in Germany, to be published in October 1996. The 1995 Schoff Memorial Lectures she delivered at Columbia University will be published in 1996 under the title On Governing the Global Economy (Columbia University Press). She has received a grant from the Twentieth Century Fund to write a book about immigration policy in a world economy.




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