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An Unconventional Brotherhood: Union Support for Liberalized Immigration in Europe

Julie R. Watts
ISBN: 978-0-97028-381-8
2000/64 pages
Center for Comparative Immigration Studies Monographs
Distributed for the Center for Comparative Immigration Studies at the University of California, San Diego


Julie Watts's research has turned conventional wisdom—that organized labor opposes immigration for fear that foreign workers will undercut the wages and working conditions of native workers—on its head. Her examination of labor unions in Italy, Spain, and France reveals that labor leaders actually prefer more open immigration policies. In an era of globalization, restrictive immigration policies that were originally designed to protect native workers can now produce the opposite result.

Paradoxically, by forcing immigrants into a precarious legal and economic position, such policies can undercut the improvements in wages and working conditions that native workers were able to achieve as a consequence of shutting out foreign workers. Unions' growing support for more liberalized immigration policies have brought labor leaders into the political arena, where they engage in a variety of activities to influence their nations' policy making on immigration. In some cases, organized labor has also moved to provide essential support services to immigrants that their governments are unwilling or unable to provide. Watts's study has broad implications for labor-importing countries around the world, including the United States, where the labor movement is actively reassessing its positions on immigration control and amnesty for undocumented immigrants.