In Immigrant Workers in Industrialized France, Gary Cross blazed the trail of immigrant studies with this finely wrought study at the crossroads of labor studies and immigration history. Cross inaugurated in-depth research into the ways in which France welcomed immigrants from the 1880s onward. He starts with the formative period before World War I, when employers’ groups actively recruited foreign workers for their fields, factories, and mines, and then moves to the interwar period, the primary focus of his study.
Cross raises issues still pertinent for migration studies: the (false) distinction between temporary and permanent migration; the question of the structural or temporary role of immigrant labor in contemporary capitalism. Following other pioneering work by Michael Piore and Suzanne Berger, Cross shows how immigrant labor in France filled a need in the secondary labor market, providing a safety valve that mollified different sectors of capital while allowing the native workforce to accede to upward mobility, largely in the public employment sector.
Cross wrote in a historiographic period when understanding the structural constraints of state and of capital were à la mode, and even today, with the salutary emphasis on agency, it is still well worth contemplating the ways in which a variously split labor market and a divided labor force are constructed and function. In an era where many receiving states seek to enforce the “faucet” function Cross so well describes — opening borders when needed, closing them when perceived not to be — it is important to read and reread Immigrant Workers in Industrial France.