Europe's foreign laborers

August 25, 1975

Report Outline
Tensions Over Migtant Workers
Rapid Influx of Foreign Labor
Prospect of Expanded Immigration
Special Focus

Tensions Over Migtant Workers

International Exoloitation of Migrant Labor

Migrant workers, providing cheap labor for difficult and tedious jobs, have generated international economic concern. Today foreign laborers perform essential basic services in practically every advanced society. Not only are Chicanos and other Latins found picking grapes and lettuce in California, but Bulgarian and Polish workers are being employed by the Soviet Union to build a gas pipeline in the Ural Mountains. In South Africa it is estimated that more than 250,000 workers from Malawi, Mozambique and Lesotho labor in the gold mines or in other industries every year. And in the European Economic Community (EEC), the plight of as many as 10 million migrant workers and their families has become a matter of serious concern during the current international recession. Collectively, Europe's migrants have been called “the 10th member of the Common Market.”

One can find Yugoslavs digging trenches in Switzerland, Greeks collecting garbage in Munich, Turks working in cement plants in Rotter dam, Portuguese cleaning sewers in Paris, and Jamaicans sweeping platforms in the London subway. Such workers now represent about 8 per cent of the total work force in the European Community. Unfortunately this influx, which is one of the largest voluntary mass movements of people in the 20th century, was largely unplanned. With many of the immigrants now laid off or forced to return to their native countries, there is the feeling that their problem has been badly managed and that a reexamination of their function and integration in the industrial societies is essential. “Europe — and the U.S.-based multinational corporations doing business there — must now deal with the tensions and dislocations caused by a massive importation of unskilled foreign labor,” concluded Robert Ball in Fortune magazine. “Europe has, in effect, created the problem for itself.”

This year the Council of Ministers of the Common Market is preparing a set of guidelines for an action program which will aim to provide social and political equality to all migrants in the European member states. The implementation of such a program will be extremely difficult because millions of workers in France, Belgium, Holland and West Germany entered illegally and are not included in official statistics. In a time of rising European unemployment, the very presence of such workers — most of whom are from the Mediterranean area — arouses social tensions in the host countries. There have been killings of Algerians in Marseilles this year, and clashes between migrant Turks and the native Dutch in Rotterdam have become common. The newcomers are resentful over the degrading conditions in which they are forced to live, and the local residents are concerned about the threat to their social structure and even their national identity.

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