GHDI logo

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

page 5 of 6    print version    return to list previous document      next document

Guest Workers – a New Term for the Foreigners

The term “guest worker” also still sounds alien, nor is it free of an inherent contradiction: it is generally not expected that a guest work for the host, earn money from him, and spend some of it there, as well. Moreover, the “guest” in the truest sense is not intent on earning as much money as possible in the shortest possible time, which makes him the bogeyman of the “traditional domestics.” Old-style hospitality stood under the high protection of Jupiter Hospitalis and was based on a cashless patronage relationship. Since then, of course, the money economy has progressed. Only time will tell whether the term “guest worker” will take root. It cannot be forced. In any case, it would be more pleasant and easier to use than “foreign laborers” [ausländische Arbeitskräfte], not to mention the historically burdened and misleading label “alien worker” [Fremdarbeiter]. Where that term can lead is demonstrated by an excerpt from the contract a company in Hesse presented to its Italian workers: “The alien worker must conduct himself in such a manner that no one is bothered by him; he must also refrain from insults. In case of careless work, the employer can proceed to the immediate dismissal of the alien worker.” Friends, not this all-too-familiar tone! Could one offer the “guest worker” a document like that? Perhaps not quite so easily. In any case, it is not a matter of indifference under which label, which means, from which perspective, we encounter the foreign worker.

The Good Will of the Returnees

Before the First World War, around 750,000 migrants on average came across the borders of the Empire every year. In other words, many more than today. There they worked under semi-colonial – that is to say, disgraceful – conditions. It is also worth recalling that as early as 1907 there were thirty care centers of the Caritas; the same number exists today. In spite of that, the infamous “Schnitterkasernen” [harvester barracks] were a fixed, ineradicable institution. For the Italian brickyard workers in the south of the Empire, a place to sleep in the well-heated brick barns was virtually considered first-class accommodations. Here one can see how things have changed. Neither we nor the sending countries are indifferent to the mood and state in which the guest worker takes his leave from us, for a reason, already, that people like to skip over: the political and social order of all Mediterranean states is more fragile and vulnerable than people wish to realize. The educated Greek, who has taken delight in political discourse since ancient times, makes no bones about his concern: how will the returnees get along again once they have lost the link to their village, to the extended family, and to the traditional poverty? Will they not feed the festering underground in Athens, Piraeus, Saloniki? Spain vacillates between similar concerns, and Italy could unexpectedly become Europe’s political problem child as early as this year. The Corriere della Sera only recently proclaimed this as a “warning call.” One thing was clear to all: whoever returns from the “Golden West” to his homeland disappointed turns his gaze – to the East. One should not underestimate this political ferment in countries with a vulnerable social structure.

first page < previous   |   next > last page