How is multiculturalist policy shaped by our economies ?

Shortage of labour in the aftermath of World War II (part 1/3)

, by Konstantin Manyakin

How is multiculturalist policy shaped by our economies ?
Soldiers clearing the ruins after the bombing of Fortepan, 1944 Copyright: CC
FOTO:Fortepan — ID 27823: Nuvola filesystems folder home.svgInkscape.svgInformation icon.svg Adományozó/Donor : Konok Tamás id.
Ruins from the bombing of Fortepan, 1944

The evolution of multiculturalism was never separate from the economic processes in Western European countries or even on a global level. This aspect has often been ignored by policies focusing on multiculturalism.

The impact of economic forces on ghettoization

Economic factors caused the initial ghettoization of migrants and prevented multicultural policy from resulting in an improvement in living standards in the short-term and an avoidance of segregation in the long term. This disproportionally impacted subsequent generations of people of non-EU descent. Left-wing critics often argue that multiculturalism has been nothing else but a “rhetoric which disguises inequality and ’ghettoization’” [1] and that these policies actually segregated these distinctive groups in order to control and manipulate them while cultural recognition can only become a marker of inequality. Multiculturalism is still determined by the demands of global capitalism historically, as Gaytri Spivak has suggested. According to this argumentation, the real debate is not about the skin colour or identity of a foreigner [2].

The importance of labour shortages

Migration implies a rapid cultural change across time and across various economic stages of development [3] in France, the UK, and Belgium. From the viewpoint of this school of thought, these countries always “pursued their own economic interests and labour market capacity” and it has always been “class relationships between bourgeoisie and colonized workers form the basis of super-exploitation in situations of split labour markets producing exploitations of immigrant workers”[4]. As mentioned before, they allowed immigrants to enter those countries in order to eliminate the labour shortage that these European states faced soon after the end of World War II. Furthermore, they were more easily exploited, as these Third Country Nationals provided cheap labor and were effective targets for social and economic discrimination who were more willing to work hard and for longer hours. Thus, they provided an effective stratum of workers who contributed greatly to the economic development of Western European countries and helped to generate significant economic expansion: “Muslim immigrants in France built one out of two apartments, 90 percent of highways and 1 out 7 machines”[5].

The need for anti-discrimination policies

The primary reason why the anti-discrimination policies were adopted is that the conditions of these migrants became too harsh and they began protesting for the improvement in their lives and working conditions. So, the government authorities made some concessions to minimize the level of discrimination and to help the migrants to concentrate more on work. In a similar way, they adopted more direct multiculturalist policies which are “not just about ensuring the non-discriminatory application of laws, but about changing the laws and regulations themselves to better react to the distinctive needs and aspirations of minorities” [6]. For example, in 1976, the French government decided to create a Secretariat of State for Immigrant Workers Affairs that was meant to work on the four following points. “The first was to control the ’population movement’. The second was to continuously exchange views with the countries of origin of the immigrants. The third was to give immigrant workers the right to retain their cultural affiliation, and the last was to determine the necessary conditions for the creation of a real equality between immigrants and French citizens". However, the authorities did not predict that these ’temporal’ Islamic communities of foreign origin would remain in France for the long term. Indeed, in the 1970s, the Belgian, British, and French governments were temporarily restricting immigration as the oil shock crisis caused slow growth and high unemployment rates among nationals. However, economic conditions have again begun to change the rules related to bringing foreigners into these Western states.


[1] Isajiw. W.W. (1997) Multiculturalism in North America and Europe: Comparative Perspectives on Interethnic Relations and Social Incorporation. pp.21 and 120. Toronto: Canadian Scholar’s Press Inc.

[2] Yegenoglu, M. (2012) Islam, Migrancy and Hospitality in Europe. Page 54. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

[3] Braun, H. and Klooss, W. (1995) Multiculturalism in North America and Europe. Page 85. Wissenschaftlicher Verlag Trier.

[4] Isajiw. W.W. (1997) Multiculturalism in North America and Europe: Comparative Perspectives on Interethnic Relations and Social Incorporation. Page 120. Toronto: Canadian Scholar’s Press Inc.

[5] Ennaji, M. (2014) Muslim Moroccan Migrants in Europe: Transnational Migration in its Multiplicity. Page 146. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

[6] Banting, K. and Kymlicka, W. (2013) ’Is there really a retreat from multiculturalism policies? New evidence from the multiculturalism policy index’, Comparative European Politics, Vol. 11, 5, page 582.

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