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Intensification of work-place regimes in British agriculture: the role of migrant workers

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posted on 2023-06-07, 17:16 authored by Ben RogalyBen Rogaly
In Britain, international migrants have very recently become the major workforce in labour-intensive agriculture. This paper explores the causes of the dramatic increase since the 1990s in the employment of migrant workers in this sub-sector. It locates this major change in a general pattern of intensification in agricultural production related to an ongoing process of concentration in retailer power, and in the greater availability of migrant workers, shaped in part by state initiatives to manage immigration. However, within this narrative of change at the national scale, the paper also finds continuing diversity in agricultural workplace regimes. The paper draws on concepts developed in the US literature on agrarian capitalism. It then uses case histories from British agriculture to illustrate how growers have directly linked innovations involving intensification through labour control to their relationships with retailers. Under pressure on ‘quality’, volume and price, growers are found to have ratcheted up the effort required from workers to achieve the minimum wage through reducing the rates paid for piece work, and in some cases to have changed the type of labour contractor they use to larger, more anonymous businesses. The paper calls for further, commodity-specific and spatially-aware research with a strong ethnographic component.


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University of Sussex



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