Germany's New Identity
By David Bacon
Twenty-six years ago, as a young theology student, Manuel Campos fled Portugal one step ahead of the secret police. Just before the fascist dictator Marcelo Caetano fell in 1974, Campos discovered his name on a list of
people about to be arrested. A priest got him out of the country, and Campos suddenly found himself in Germany, a young man with no prospects, few skills and a head full of radical ideas.
He arrived at the end of a long wave of immigration, promoted by big companies that advertised for contract workers throughout southern Europe. Asylum seekers like Campos were part of the mix, welcomed at a time when Germany's labor supply was low, and the need for educated workers was high. He wound up in an auto plant. "I saw the assembly lines filled with immigrants like myself," he remembers. "When I came here there was nothing for us. We had either fled our countries, like me, or we were looking for a way to send enough money home so that our families would survive. Lots of us were here for both reasons."
Campos didn't forget the experience. Today he heads a unique department in the big German industrial union, IG Metall, where he organizes immigrant workers. He moves with frenetic energy - his fingers race through piles of paper as he talks a mile a minute, pulling out charts and numbers to back up his point: Immigrants have had a big impact on the German workplace.