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 im
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.
Economic Advantages. The import of ‘ready-made’ workers amounts to a saving, for the country of immigration, of between £8,000 and £16,000 per immigrant worker, if the social cost of a man of 18 is estimated for West European countries at between 5 and 10 years’ work. A further saving for the country of immigration results from the fact that, just as it did not have to pay for their childhood and adolescence, it does not have to support its immigrant workers in their old age (which in no way means that they are absolved from paying insurance contributions). The fact that a large proportion of immigrant workers (90 per cent in Germany and Switzerland) are not accompanied by their families brings the country of immigration an additional and substantial saving in social capital (housing, schools, hospitals, transport and other infra-structural facilities). On these counts alone—not to speak of the under-payment of immigrant labour-power—immigrant workers are super-exploited by the capitalist class (i.e. a source of additional surplus-value).
The fact that the developed capitalist countries thus save a whole range of different social costs, and shift the burden of these costs on to the less developed countries, making them subsidize monopolist development, is economically important. But it is difficult to derive from this mobilizing themes for the political and ideological education of the ‘national’ working class. Third-Worldist arguments most often cut both ways and are a source of ideological confusion. While it is true that the super-exploitation of immigrant labour is a specific consequence of uneven development and of the pillage of the ‘Third World’, it is false and politically untenable to add that this super-exploitation and pillage are a source of enrichment for the population of the European metropoles as a whole—including the working class, and are therefore necessary to the maintenance of its standard of living.