Rising to the Occasion? Trade Union Revitalisation and Migrant Workers in Ireland

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3.1. Phases of Immigration

Post-war immigration to, and within, Europe did not unfold in a single seamless pattern but rather in waves, each of which was precipitated by a unique set of circumstances (Castles and Miller 1993). Penninx and Roosblad (2000) also identified what they referred to as ‘distinct phases in the immigration process’, defining them as: post WW2 – 1972; the 1973 economic downturn -1988 and the post communism phase, from 1989. Since that publication, there has been a further significant phase of the immigration process following EU enlargement in 2004.
The first of these waves began in the period immediately after the Second World War and was defined by the mass influx of workers from the less developed countries of the Mediterranean, the developing world and Eastern Europe to Western Europe, when the Western European countries involved in the war began a period of reconstruction. Within a short number of years many of these countries were confronted with labour shortages and had to look beyond their own borders to recruit labour and by the mid-1950s most Western European countries had become importers of foreign labour (Penninx & Roosblad 2000). Castles et al. (1984) estimate that approximately 30 million people entered Western Europe as workers, or dependents, during this period; thus making post-war migration ‘one of the greatest migration movements in human history’. This immigration facilitated the rapid and sustained expansion of the domestic economies, which fed the west European post-war economic boom.
Employers and governments across Western Europe aggressively recruited foreign workers, and systems for recruitment and employment were developed. Historical ties (colonial or otherwise) of immigration and emigration countries played a significant role in the first recruitment phase, while more diversification took place in all countries later on, not least because the migration movement, once well under way, gained its own momentum and sought new destinations. But during this first phase a specific labour migration system came into existence which was employer led and lightly controlled and largely, though not universally, seen as being temporary e.g. Germany and Austria introduced the concept of the gastarbeiter (guestworker), a view of migrant workers which was also held in the Netherlands. The UK was the exception here, in that its immigrants at this time came largely from the former colonies of the Caribbean, India and Pakistan with, initially, greater rights to settle in the UK (Penninx and Roosblad 2000; Messina 1996).
The second phase of immigration ran from 1973 to the late 1980s and was characterised by a new restrictive approach to immigration. It began with the world-wide economic downturn prompted by the oil crisis of 1973 and saw the introduction of a range of legislative instruments across Europe to control the entry and employment of foreign labour. Germany introduced its ‘zero immigration policy’ and even the UK introduced severe restrictions on immigration, including from its former colonies. However, this period also saw the beginning of the phenomenon of secondary migration of family members and the dependents of the original post-war economic migrants. While this commenced early in the period it accelerated considerably as primary migration was curtailed. Immigration to the southern countries of Europe began during this period, affecting first Italy in the 1970s, followed by Spain, Portugal and Greece (Schierup 2006; Penninx & Roosblad 2000; Watts 1998).
The period 1989 to 2004 saw a recomposition of the European migration landscape with large numbers of migrants from Eastern and Central Europe migrating to the countries of Western Europe. This, the third wave of immigration followed the collapse of communism in 1989. In 1990, Europe experienced higher net immigration than at any time since the period after World War Two with West Germany, being the primary target for immigrants, most particularly those coming from East Germany and East and Central European refugees from the Bosnia Herzegovina war, 1992-1995 (Mac Éinrí 2008; Castles 2000). However, these immigrant workers were also actively sought by employers in many West European countries which were experiencing continued economic growth combined with aging populations, labour shortages and a substantial need for workers. Despite the fact that the numbers who migrated from Eastern Europe were in the hundreds of thousands, rather than the millions that had been postulated by some, it was during this period that the issue of immigration become one of the most incendiary on many domestic political agendas, leading to the formation and electoral success of anti-immigration political movements across much of Western Europe (Krings, 2009b; Messina, 1996).
EU enlargement in 2004 heralded the fourth, and most recent, wave of migration with the accession of ten new member states into the EU allowing the free movement of workers from those countries, initially into just three existing member states, to five others from 2006 and to all Western European states by 2011 when all barriers to labour mobility from those countries were removed (Donaghey & Teague 2006). Immigration from this period constitutes a historically new phenomenon in a number of respects, exhibiting characteristics that distinguish it from its previous forms. First of all it is a multi-faceted process of labour mobility with different forms of mobility coexisting, including cross-border commuting, short-term migration, circular migration and more permanent migration. It is also a new feature that migrants from low-wage countries have a comparatively high level of education in absolute terms but also in relation to the nationals in their host countries. Finally, though the regulatory environment changed as more and more countries opened their markets to intra-EU labour mobility, the context remained one of different co-existing regulatory frameworks (Galgoczi, Leschke and Watt 2012).
While it is the case that there are substantial variations across both the countries and the periods considered, the character of the immigration can be broadly categorised across the countries as follows:
Germany, Austria, and Sweden are countries whose post World War Two immigration was economically driven and drawn primarily from neighbouring and Mediterranean countries in the first instance. It was seen as being a temporary phenomenon to meet labour market needs at a time of economic boom.
Equally early large-scale immigration to the Netherlands, France and Britain was a post-war phenomenon and fundamentally economically driven, though also the result of decolonisation with the majority of the early post-war migration coming from former colonies. Both the Netherlands and Britain saw these ex-colonial migrants as full residents and granted them citizenship rights from the beginning, though this changed later. France, while treating these migrants as quasi-citizens, nonetheless operated on the basis that their residence in France was temporary and legislated to this effect from early on.
Italy, Spain and Ireland only became countries of significant immigration towards the end of the 20th century, having previously had long histories of emigration. Italy and Spain’s economic transformation came about in the early 1980s and they began to attract immigrants from Africa and Asia as well as from other EU countries. Ireland’s economic boom came a decade later and resulted in very high levels of inward migration from former communist Eastern European countries primarily as well as lower levels from Asia, Africa and Brazil. In all three cases recruitment of migrant workers was employment led and seen as being temporary, based largely on an unsubstantiated perception that these workers would choose to go home or move on if, and when, the employment market changed.

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