chapter  6
European migrants after the Second World War
Pages 23

Introduction From the nineteenth century to the 1920s millions of ordinary working people from Northern and later Southern Europe travelled thousands of miles to improve their lot by either permanent or temporary settlement in a new country or continent. In the words of Foreman-Peck: “The surprise is less that they were willing to migrate than that they were allowed to do so” (Foreman-Peck, 1995, p. 140). South and North American policy towards migration remained extremely liberal until the 1920s, and for many decades in the nineteenth century no passports were required, documents were provided on arrival and only migrants with contagious diseases were excluded. Land-abundant Latin American countries with landownerdominated oligarchies encouraged immigration: Brazil and Argentina paid for transport across the Atlantic in order to expand the labour supply in agriculture. Europe, too, maintained a relatively liberal stance for a long time with regard to migrant flows; the main immigration countries such as France, Great Britain and Germany merely passed a number of weak restrictions limiting, for instance, the proportion of immigrants that could be employed in public works. Finally, in the case of the United States, the reason for the persistence of such a liberal immigration policy lay in the great variety of immigrant groups that were drawn to the country and the ease with which they could become enfranchised. The first general restriction was passed only in 1921 with the Quota Act, limiting access to historically determined and extremely narrow quotas based on national origin. The free movement of labour became a memory of the past during the interwar years, and after the Second World War Europeans eager to migrate had to undergo lengthy bureaucratic procedures and comply with rules set by ad hoc bilateral agreements. In addition, the movement of labour within Europe was hampered by specific agreements; workers were not free to move abroad and seek employment on their own. If they did, they would be considered clandestine. National labour agreements were signed between countries and witnessed the re-opening of European borders for set numbers of migrant workers. The purpose of this research is to study which institutions helped European emigrants at the international level after the Second World War, and will devote particular attention to their effort to support, protect, and liberalize labour movements.