Labour Migration in the Cold War and beyond

Workshop, 28-30 June 2021, online
Labour Migration in the Cold War and beyond
New questions, methods and sources

Online Workshop 28-30 June 2021
12:00 pm =96 4:00 pm (Time Zone: BST)


Sara Bernard, , University of Glasgow 

Yannis Papadopoulos, , University of Brasília 

Rory Archer, , University of Graz/University of Konstanz  


Labour migration, whether short- or long-term, domestic or international, played an important part in transforming the world during the Cold War period. Yet how this migration affected Cold War dynamics, and was in turn shaped by them, has been under-researched. The study of experiences and perspectives on labour migration to the West in the post-1945 period has dominated empirical, theoretical and methodological studies on the history of international labour migration. Attempts at understanding South-South migration or migration within/to the Socialist Bloc, by contrast, are still in their infancy. Yet, South-South migrations have been and still are greater in size and distribution than South-North migrations. The wealth of knowledge and experiences produced in this non-western environment has been largely ignored by scholarly, political and public debates on the role played by labour migration in shaping dynamics of historical change since 1945 worldwide. Indeed, the scholarship analysing the regulation of international migration since 1945 largely relies on sources and expertise, produced in or by Western institutions, which is based on western liberal knowledge of migrant workers’ rights and the migration-development nexus, and western experiences and understandings of integration processes and multiculturalism.   

This workshop starts from the premise that the supremacy of western understandings in the regulation of international labour migration and in the promotion of migrant labour rights by international forums and labour organisations has contributed to reproducing unequal relations between centre and periphery countries and regions. Although they respond to the socio-economic and political needs of advanced liberal economies, Western standards of development and classification of migrants have been sanctioned as ‘universal’ by the international community and international treaties on migrant workers’ rights implemented worldwide.  

The aim of this workshop is therefore to map the existence of research and sources which can shed light on non-western experiences and perspectives, as well as solidarities and struggles, that encountered, negotiated and/or challenged the established liberal order in the regulation of labour migration (whether locally, nationally or internationally) and its underlying narrative about migrant workers’ rights and their role in generating development. Critically, the workshop aims to assess the extent to which conscious alternatives to the dominant liberal paradigm emerged, were articulated and institutionalised, and survived during the Cold War and after. The working hypothesis is that alternatives did exist, given the existence of the Cold War dynamic, but also because of conscious attempts by some actors in the Second and Third World to resist the hegemony of the First World. These alternatives and attempts did not cease with the end of the Cold War but transformed into other forms of cooperation, struggles and solidarities.  

This workshop is linked to the recent establishment of the Working Group on Labour Migration History hosted by the European Labour History Network . 

The workshop Labour Migration in the Cold War and beyond seeks to provide a space and opportunity for working group members to meet and exchange experiences and ideas as well as to expand cooperation between the working group and other subjects focused on the interconnectedness of labour and migration in academia and beyond.   


The event is open to the public. Please follow this link  to register and to download the full programme.