Poles on the French and German labour markets: the interwar institutionalisation process and the meaning of bilateral agreements

Malgorzata Radomska, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research

In 1918, newly-established Poland was one of the largest emigration nations in the world, significant not only from a demographic but also from a political point of view. Therefore, the Polish government tried to organize and shape the living conditions of its citizens in their host country, sometimes even putting at risk the attempts of regulation implemented by international bodies (the ILO). The issue was significant after the First World War, as the implementation of U.S. quotas suddenly blocked the safety valve of emigrating to the United States. Starting in the late 1920s, tensions between sending countries and countries of immigration led experts and international officials to fear the possible spark for a Second World War. Another source of international tension was the migrants’ working conditions, including access to social-insurance regimes. Specifically, the Polish case can show by what means the regulation of labour migration was a condition for the establishment of welfare states, including in countries of departure. Migration became a particular object of conflict that divided both ministries and administrations in the significant period that marked the development of international law despite the rise of nationalism, which served to constrain more and more states. The Polish government found that it needed to decide between bilateral and multilateral diplomatic objectives, taking an appropriate strategy concerning its inconvenient geo-political position within the Russo-German neighbourhood while, at the same time, fulfilling its desire to maintain a skilled workforce in Poland while relieving unemployment. Not least, the government had to contend with ethnic considerations as well as the important financial role of remittances. This paper therefore examines the origin and development of bilateral migration agreements, including social insurance access for Polish workers, with their two main receiving countries, France and Germany.

Presented in Poster Session 3