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"The Foreign Workers and Us," Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (June 3, 1961)

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That question is not trivial, let alone superfluous. Terminology anticipates decisions and points to developments. The mere fact that we have no compelling, fixed term for this group of people attests to our insecurity. It is an old experience: where the relevant term is lacking, the substance itself has not been clarified, either. Back in the day, one spoke of “migrant workers.” May God keep us from having our migrant workers wander even more! In the Third Reich, they were called alien laborers [Fremdarbeiter]. That was clear: they were supposed to work for us, and they were supposed to remain aliens. Is that our goal? Surely not.

Even today, Switzerland speaks frankly of “foreign workers.” It can do that. In that country the word is not politically overshadowed. Even more: in Switzerland, the term “foreign worker” has a deeper, cautionary meaning. With five million inhabitants, the number of foreign workers this year will be well above 400,000. Around a quarter of the working population is thus from abroad. In France it is 8 percent, in our country for now 1.8 percent. Switzerland confronts a real dilemma: on the one hand, an expansion of production requires the acceptance of new foreign workers; on the other hand, a concern about foreign infiltration is emerging.

Although the number of “foreign workers” will reach a record in this country this year, that record cannot last in a growing economy. Until 1975, the German labor potential will not grow any more in absolute numbers. In fact, it will decline in relation to gainfully employed youths and old people. With this we face a different kind of dilemma: either increase the number of workers employed here, whereby we are already running into the resistance of the home countries, or set up industrial plants abroad. The third option would be to associate with foreign companies, which is emphatically desired by Greece and Spain, though it is, of course, not always accompanied by the requisite willingness to make concessions. However, regardless of where the development is heading, our own interest demands that the foreign workers do not remain “foreign” among us, but that they assimilate to the host country up to a certain degree, and return to their countries of origin as people who were readily assimilated. This points simultaneously to a limit: “foreigner ghettoes,” even if well maintained, would block the goal of assimilation.

The current designation, “foreign workers” [ausländische Arbeitskräfte] is the spawn of the bureaucracy! It is totally unusable in daily life: “Giuseppe, the foreign worker. . .” And here we are touching upon the crucial point, once again by way of terminology: the great migratory movement is squeezing itself laboriously through the net of the bureaucracies or right past them. According to the European Economic Community treaty, freedom of movement for all workers of member states must be created by the end of the transition period, at the latest. Here is what Helmut Minta, the head of the foreign division of the Central Office for Labor Recruitment has said about this: “This declaration of freedom of movement by the EEC will … encompass more than 50 million workers. It is hoped that this regulation will not exhaust itself in the filling out of formalities and bureaucratic paper movement, but that a procedure will be found that allows the European economy and the European workers, with help from an individual, functioning job placement service, to find applicants or jobs where and how they are desired.” Similarly, the president of the State Employment Office of Southern Bavaria, Dr. Siebrecht: “A successful balancing of the European labor market […] presupposes a superbly functioning, un-bureaucratic work placement and recruitment, whereby state measures and private initiative should mesh.”

And that, precisely, is the great question: Can there even be such a thing as a government-directed and yet individual, un-bureaucratic recruitment and placement? Is that not a contradiction in terms? In practice, at any rate, we are far from this ideal. The director general of the Catholic Emigrant Institute in Madrid, F. Feriss, recently declared outright at a conference in Freiburg: “In Spain, the oranges destined for export are selected more carefully than the workers sent to Germany.” On the other hand, no one has ever heard of a private initiative by the economy that was planned with farsightedness. For the time being, we stand before the symbiosis of two bureaucracies: the Mediterranean one, traditionally poorly functioning, in places also corrupt because disgracefully paid, and the German one, traditionally over-functionalized.

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