The politics of claims-making by labour migrants in Israel

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This article studies the effects of the Israeli migration regime on the prospects for the emergence of a politics of claims-making by labour migrants, comparing the structures of constraints and opportunities to establish organisational frameworks faced by documented contract workers and undocumented spontaneous migrant workers. In spite of the exclusionary character of this migration regime, some groups of migrant workers have succeeded in establishing associations that attempt to place demands on the public agenda. Paradoxically, these organisations were established by the migrant workers that hold the most insecure and vulnerable status in the country: the undocumented spontaneous migrants. The paradox is explained by the differences between the institutional arrangements that shape the incorporation of documented and undocumented migrants. While the control mechanisms exercised both by state agencies and the employers upon the documented migrant workers impede their collective organisation and articulation of demands, the relative 'autonomy' enjoyed by the undocumented migrants allows them to establish associations that function as vehicles for claims-making. The article further analyses the strategies employed by these migrant organisations to gain access to Israeli state agencies and public opinion. It is shown how these strategies as well as the content and the discursive framing of the demands are affected by the exclusionary principles of the Israeli migration regime.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)575-595
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Ethnic and Migration Studies
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 1999
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This article is part of a research project on labour migration in Israel conducted jointly by Erik Cohen and the author, and supported by grants from the Harvey L. Silbert Center for Israel Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the Israel Foundations Trustees and the Revson Foundation at the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies. Thanks are due to Eyal Ben-Ari, Erik Cohen, Marco Martiniello, Paul Statham and Vered Vinitzky-Seroussi for their comments on earlier drafts of the article. Special thanks are due to Sharon Harel and Rina Neeman for their assistance during the data collection.


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