There is no Western European country where immigrant labour is a negligible force, or even a marginal quantity fluctuating with the economic conjuncture. Nowhere do immigrant workers provide simply a ‘regulator’ of employment, or merely an instrument for the bourgeoisie to increase the ‘industrial reserve army’. They comprise 6 per cent of the active population and almost 14 per cent of the number of manual workers in Germany and in Great Britain; 10 per cent of the active population and from 20 to 25 per cent of industrial labour in Belgium (including the building and extractive industries); 11 per cent of the active population (i.e. more than two million) and more than 25 per cent of industrial labour in France; 26 per cent of the active population and 35 per cent of the industrial labour-force in Switzerland.

The functions that immigrants fulfil and the advantages that the capitalist class gains from them are of two kinds: political and economic.

Political Advantages. These are by far the most important, since massive reliance on immigrant labour enables a basic modification in the social and political structure of the indigenous population to be artificially produced. Recourse to foreign workers leads, in particular, to the exclusion of an important part of the proletariat from trade-union action; a considerable decrease in the political and electoral weight of the working class; a still more considerable weakening of its ideological force and cohesion. In a word, it achieves the ‘denationalization’ of decisive sectors of the working class, by replacing the indigenous proletariat with an imported proletariat, which leads a marginal and cultural existence deprived of political, trade-union and civil rights.

Reliance on immigrant workers cannot simply be summarized as a political neutralization of whole sectors of the working class—(sectors which could otherwise be especially combative, as can be seen in Italy where internal migration from South to North takes the place of immigration from abroad.) For the obverse of the subtraction of indigenous workers from manual jobs is their displacement elsewhere; to diminish the ‘national’ working class by 20 per cent is to ‘promote’ that number of workers into tertiary and technical activities; to depreciate the social and economic value of manual work and manual workers as a whole; to deepen the separation between manual work and technical, intellectual and tertiary work; to inflate correspondingly the social and political importance of the ‘middle strata’, and by racist and chauvinist propaganda, to encourage backward elements in the ‘national’ working class to identify themselves ideologically with the petty-bourgeoisie.

These political advantages doubtless surpass in importance the economic advantages which the bourgeoisie gains from reliance on immigrant labour. The latter have been, of course, much more extensively studied.