Polish Identity As Entrance Ticked and Barrier On An Altered Labour Market

Saturday, July 19, 2014: 3:45 PM
Room: 311+312
Distributed Paper
Niels Jul NIELSEN , European Ethnology, Saxo Institute, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark
Taking its point of departure in current research on Polish migrant labourers in Denmark this presentation will discuss ways to understand how and why different intersections comes to have diverse impacts according to the contexts they are taking place within.

Different ‘identities’ – such as ethnic, national, religious – have had a very limited importance at the Scandinavian labour market through most of the 20th Century. The labour movement and the workers’ unions possessed immense influence on the labour supply and were able to prevent uncontrolled influx of workers and maintain union membership as the only prerequisite for employment. Thus the few emigrating workers became internalised in the existing union system and worked on general conditions.

Following the collapse of the Eastern bloc and the success of a neoliberal political and economical regime this order of the day has fundamentally altered. A consequence of this is a major revitalisation of ethnicity as a marker of specific abilities.

The presentation outlines how ethnicity at one point has become a means to get access to the national labour market in the host country, in this case because a certain Polish work ethos is claimed (and, notably, for a lower wage). At the same time however, this opportunity can be a barrier of being regarded an ordinary part on that same market. As a consequence the whole social organization around the migrant workers is impacted of the circumstances, not least the prospective family life.

On the basis of fieldwork among Polish workers on Danish construction sites, representatives from unions and employer organizations in both Denmark and Poland, politicians on national and EU level, the presentation discusses how migrants come by under these circumstances and how the challenges can be tackled within a national and supranational framework.