The current integration debate deals mainly with symbolic issues, academics Leo Lucassen and Wim Willems argue in an opinion article inn NRC Handelsblad. They argue for a ‘return to the concept class or perhaps social environment’.
The social-democratic idea to improve the position of workers gradually lost prominence when in 1979 a specific policy for ethnic minorities was introduced. This policy had broad support and was implemented by centre-right governments. The change from ‘workers’ to ‘ethnic minority’ coincided with the neoliberal policy of the Reagan and Thatcher era, with its emphasis on individualism.
Lucassen and Willems point out that the integration debate is mainly concerned with symbolic issues, such as headscarves and passports. However, the socio-economic position of parents and grandparents has much more impact on people’s lives than ethnicity, culture or religion.
The article does not discuss the role of trade unions. Lucassen says that little research has been done on this topic.
Lucassen and Willems hold the Social History chair at the Universiteit van Leiden / Campus Den Haag. Their article has also been published at the Republiek Allochtonië website. Image: cleaners campaigning for decent wages and respect.