To what extent did labor conflicts contribute to shaping the closed migration regime existing since the early 1960s between developed countries and poor countries? This research project aims at assessing the role of the opposed interests of immigrant workers and organized local labor in the deep closure of developed countries to immigration from less developed countries. This factor is well established in the historiography of migration up until the middle of the 20th century, but is largely unconsidered afterwards. The study will encompass migration flows from Africa, Asia, and Latin America to Western Europe and North America, but also Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. I will explore different channels through which labor conflicts may have affected immigration levels: the influence of unions on immigration policies, but also on the general regulation of the labor market. While protecting wage levels for local workers, high minimum wages for instance may affect the chances of immigrant workers to find jobs and lead to restrictive immigration policies. My intuition in this research is not only that such mechanisms played a major role that needs to be described; but also that the opposed interests of immigrant workers and organized local labor gave birth to a number of institutions that themselves deeply shaped the economy, politics, and society in destination countries.
I have already produced two working papers on the French case. In the first paper, titled “The Origins of the May 1968 Labor Crisis in France,” I show that the threat to French unskilled workers’ wages created by rising immigration from the Maghreb in the 1960s was the major factor that sparked the general labor unrest of May 1968. This episode initiated the general re-regulation of the French labor market in the following years aiming at preventing negative effects of immigration on national workers’ wages through a large increase in the minimum wage. In the second paper, titled “The Origins of French Support for European Monetary Integration, 1968-1984,” I describe how the changing regulation of the French labor market in the 1970s closed the door of employment for most immigrant workers from the Maghreb. This new situation was the main factor behind the long-term shift toward a restrictive immigration policy. The protection of local workers from the adverse effects of immigration resulted in a labor market regulation making cyclical wage fluctuations impossible. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, such protection magnified the impact on unemployment of increasing international competition, causing a collapse of cheap labor-intensive economic sectors. Such a predicament created a particular urgency for the government to move the French economy away from labor-intensive activities to capital-intensive sectors. My conclusion is that this urgency was the main factor leading this government to give up monetary sovereignty and promote European monetary integration. Only such a radical step intended to give France a currency inspiring as much confidence to international investors as Germany’s could allow to achieve this move and reduce unemployment.