Undocumented Workers and Class Consciousness: Which Role for Trade Unions?

On 11 March, the Association Culturelle Joseph Jacquemotte organised a debate at Espace Marx Brussels inviting the two main Belgian trade unions (FGTB and CSC) and two undocumented workers to speak about class consciousness and solidarity between undocumented workers and regular workers in Belgium.

The ACJJ is highly active with respect to migration topics and the labour movement. Last year, the conference “The Left and Migration” was dedicated to the convergence of struggles between migrants/non-migrants and minorities. In January this year, the first meeting of a cycle on changing the image of migrants addressed the media battle over the actions of the group 450 Afghans without status.
In this second meeting, we wanted to discuss these issues with respect to the role trade unions play in the integration of undocumented workers in the social struggle and building a strategy of solidarity between Belgian and migrant workers with or without documents.
In the context of globalisation and the economic crisis, Belgian workers have felt threatened by migrant workers and reacted badly to them. The parties of the Left and trade unions’ organisations have not always been able or willing to provide universal responses based on the extension of migrants’ rights.
Therefore, the integration of undocumented workers in the social struggle is not easy. However, regular workers and undocumented workers have many interests in common. These similarities could facilitate advancing the common struggle against neoliberalism (the struggle against social dumping, exploitation, against the divisions of labour, deteriorating working conditions, wage cuts etc). These common interests, in fact, will lead to improving the way undocumented migrants are perceived in our society. It will become clear that the defence of everybody’s interests is also a way for Belgian workers to fight for their own rights.
Trade unions created a special department for undocumented workers. These individual departments support these workers, defend their rights and represent them in the context of political institutions in Belgium. They organise sensibilisation meetings for regular workers on the interests they share with undocumented workers. The FGTB trade union will publish recommendations for political institutions on this issue in Belgium.
The debate was very fruitful. We came to the conclusion that raising awareness for the situation of undocumented migrants, emphasising the common struggle regular and undocumented workers are taking part in and creating class consciousness is something the civil society benefits from as a whole, including trade unions but also other associations (e.g. organisations supporting students), organisations for continuing education, media (mainstream and alternative) and formerly undocumented workers who remain active defenders of migrants’ rights by supporting their colleagues.