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

The author asks that the term “guest worker,” which was becoming more commonly used for foreign laborers, be taken seriously and that guest workers be treated courteously. In the workers’ countries of origin, considerations were being raised about the new social outlook of the foreign workers and how this could hinder their reintegration at home. The author argues that the German recruitment system was partially insufficient, and that the German bureaucracy collided with the mentality of southern European workers.

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Let us take a quick look back. In November 1955, a respected German paper wrote: “Whether the Italians in question are in fact willing to work in Germany in larger numbers can by no means be clearly answered at this time.” The first six months of the German-Italian worker agreement showed just how justified this skepticism was; a measly 1,800 workers for industry was all that could be mustered. And at the beginning of July 1956, La Stampa in Turin spoke of the complete failure of the recruitment action. And today? In May 1961,440,000 foreign workers were registered in the Federal Republic, 200,000 from Italy, 38,000 from Spain, and 35,000 from Greece. All told, around 550,000 employed foreigners are expected this year, compared to 350,000 last year. In terms of numbers, the experiment of the large south-north migration has succeeded beyond expectations. The chief credit for this belongs to the German commissions of the Federal Office for Labor Placement [Bundesanstalt für Arbeitsvermittlung] in Verona, Naples, Madrid, and Athens. Under the most difficult of circumstances, they performed constructive work that brought them more criticism than gratitude. A different question is whether the entire system of recruitment still reflects current circumstances. Of course, so far nothing is known about a separate conception by the economy for the recruitment and permanent employment of foreigners.

Calculations on Shaky Ground

This positive look back, however, should not instill in us an excessively optimistic feeling about the future. We have become too accustomed to the steadily rising influx of foreign workers. We count on it as a permanent factor in our economy. There are large companies whose plans for expansion are based virtually entirely on this calculation. Whether that calculation will pan out is uncertain. In part, of course, it will also depend on us, the target country. What is certain is that the foreign labor markets are tightening up. In part, they are becoming de facto tighter; in part, they are asserting resistance, whereby the official position of an emigration country need not always been in line with the real position. First, Italy: at one time, one spoke of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. We should accustom ourselves mentally to the notion of the “Republic of the Two Italies.” That is how great the gap is between the highly industrialized north and the archaic-agricultural south: the average income in the province of Milan: 3,500 Marks per year; in the province of Naples: 2,000 Marks; in Calabria, according to official figures: 600 Marks. Northern Italy, especially the industrial triangle Milan-Turin-Genoa, has no more qualified jobless. On the contrary. A revolutionary process is taking place in Italy, unprecedented in its one-hundred-year history: the Polentoni are wooing the Terroni. The “polenta eaters,” ill-reputed as arrogant, are courting the previously disparaged people from the Mezziogiorno, from the supposedly do-nothing south that merely swallows a lot of money – a billion Marks per year. In the process, the polentoni are experiencing the same surprise that we are: the terroni are in fact not like that! To a large extent, they are almost frighteningly hard-working and employable people who are not fully utilized! (Just as an aside, and as an example of the difficulty of communicating: it is hopeless to try and translate “Terroni,” because two roots echo here: terra and terrore. But the word contains dangerous inflammatory material like Boche, for example, or “Wackes” back then in the Alsace).

The north is also rediscovering with surprise that Naples at the time of the much-disparaged Bourbons had more industry than Milan. They know how to work, these people from the Mezzogiorno. They just have a different rhythm and a different attitude toward life and job, and therein lay Italy’s problems. In conjunction with these belated realizations and their own need for labor, northern Italian industry is deliberately putting out its feelers in the south, and is making it easier to have not only branch enterprises there, but also important industrial centers. In Brindisi, the chemicals company Montecatini is erecting a plant costing 550 million Marks. More generous still is the plan for the smelting works near Tarentum for 1.3 billion Marks. Conversely, the north is striving to provide vocational training for the previously barely tolerated people from the south. The Fiat factories, for example, which until recently trained almost no one but the sons and family members of their own workforce, have established technical schools for the immigrants from southern Italy. With this, a filter against emigration has grown denser along the edge of the Alps, and the Milan business paper 24 ore is already railing against the “harmful export” of Italian workers.

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