Migrant Organizing In Denmark

Protestors in Copenhagen
February 08, 2018
Devon Gilliams

Jakob Mathiassen of the Copenhagen construction trade union 3F-BJMF summarizes the challenges and obstacles that European unions are facing organizing across national and cultural borders. A link to the full summary can be found below. ‚Äč

With the advent of free movement of labor in Europe, there has been an influx of migrant workers in Denmark. Although the Danish labor movement claims to be inclusive, barriers such as language and culture prove to be difficult obstacles for migrants to overcome, blocking their entry and acceptance into Danish unions. This division affects not only migrant workers, who are systematically underpaid, but all union workers in Denmark who will be undermined by the influx of cheaper labor. Jakob Mathaissen of the Copenhagen construction trade union 3F-BJMF believes the solution is to focus first and foremost on organizing the migrant workers. 

Mathiassen believes that in order to organize migrant workers unions must establish creative approaches that emphasize trust, education, and integration. He warns unions against premature aggressive attacks on a company that migrant workers depend on, since this can alienate the workers from the union.

Mathiassen suggests that in order to gain trust and build relationships with the workers, organizers should establish migrant worker centers. A center can act as a safe space where workers seek advisory services, ranging from translation and interpretation to advice on legal and fiscal matters. Through the administration of helpful services the workers will get to know and understand the role of a union, to support and uplift workers. Once this relationship has been established, the union can then move on to matters of organizing. 

But Mathiassen warns, the process does not simply end with organization. He chronicles a retention issue that is plaguing many unions comprised of migrant workers. His response is not simply to organize migrant workers but to mobilize them. He argues that the union must imbue the workers with a meaningful sense of solidarity and responsibility that will allow them to push up wages and work conditions at a local level. Unions must not simply work for the migrant workers but with the migrant workers. This means actively educating and involving migrant workers in the tasks and duties of the union, building power through solidarity. The goal of this work is to integrate the migrant workers into both Danish and union communities. 

Full Summary on Report.