Knut Kjeldstadli – Globalization, labour migrants and trade unions

Knut Kjeldstadli – Globalization, labour migrants and trade unions

Globalizations – in the plural – also refer the phenomenon of transnational migration. Roughly one half of today’s emigrants have moved due to economic reasons, be it legally or sans papiers. One remaining quarter comprises persons who move for family-related reasons. The last quarter is filled by refugees; they also of course make an impact on the labour market of the receiving country.

This subproject deals with the stance of the Norwegian unions towards immigrants and labour migrants. A union may face immigration in more than one way. Among possible strategies are:

  • It may choose a liberal/ist stance: Labour migration should be free. Foreigners must accept unattractive jobs.
  • It may take a protectionist stance: Immigration should be kept to a minimum, strict border controls should be implemented – and immigrants should not be welcomed.
  • It may come up with an idea of differential treatment; for instance by making separate unions for migrant workers, as suggested by IG Bau (German construction workers’ union).
  • It may try to combine a policy of inclusion of newcomers who do arrive, yet wanting to regulate the numbers coming. The rationale is: They may be here, but at the same time they shall have the same conditions, wages – so they do not undersell the other workers. This is not altruism, but solidarity understood as enlightened self-interest.

The last choice has generally been the position of the Norwegian trade unions. In particular Fellesforbundet formulated the slogan: “We are a union for workers in Norway, not only for foreign workers.” In particular the construction workers’ and carpenters’ organizations have been fairly active in organizing workers from the European Economic Area. During the influx of workers from particularly Eastern Europe they have enjoyed a certain success (although the numbers of non-unionized workers are far higher).

The project shall trace the development of this policy, from a contemporary history approach, built both on oral and written sources. Pertinent questions are:

  • How was this policy initiated? Why was it accepted?
  • Reasons? Arguments? Interest structure and/or ideological convictions?
  • Counter arguments and resistance?
  • Experience and background of immigrants – as problem or resource?
  • How do unions work in practice? Work place agitators etc?
  • How do they see this policy in an international comparison? Did BWI – Building and Wood Workers international- play any role? Did transnational linkages develop?
  • Weaknesses, problems, failures
  • Impact of EU/EEA policy, regulations and court decision (the Laval quartet)?
  • Impact of changing structure in the industrial branch – the “standard worker” as one not permanently employed? Increase of subcontracting and worker posting?
  • Does migrants’ temporary stay make them “unprofitable” for unions to try to organize?
  • Effects? To what extent a success? Development over time? Challenges and scenarios.
  • How will unions fare if their base is radically changed?
  • Under what circumstances is this kind of transnational solidarity possible?