LITHUANIAN QUARTERLY JOURNAL OF ARTS AND SCIENCES
Volume 30, No.4 - Winter 1984
Editor of this issue: Jonas Zdanys
Copyright © 1984 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.
THE POLITICAL ECONOMY OF THE DISPLACED PERSONS IMMIGRATION 1947-1954
VIESTURS P. KARNUPS
The principal justification for large-scale post-war immigration into Australia was that of defense. As early as 1943, Prime Minister Curtin had said that a population of twenty-five million was essential for Australian security and this could be achieved by the end of the century if immigration was sustained. Once Curtin had established the need for an immigration program, Labor leaders like Chifley, Forde, Calwell and many other ministers, all hammered the 'defence' theme incessantly. "History will one day recall how close Australia was to being overrun. Divine Providence was on our side. We may not be given another chance. We must be realistic in regard to the necessity for a scientific migration policy," said the Hon. F. M. Forde, Minister for the Army in 1944 (quoted in Appleyard, 1972:16). In 1945, Calwell said, "It has been proven by hard experience over long periods that the maximum absorption capacity in any expanding country is usually somewhere about 2 percent of its numbers," and, as the natural increase in Australia had been running at about 1 percent of the population, he suggested that this would leave a "migration ceiling" of 1 percent, at that time about 70,000 persons a year (quoted in the Vernon Report, 1969:69).
For Calwell and the Australian government, immigration meant British immigration. Calwell's now famous statement that 'for every foreign immigrant there would be ten people from the United Kingdom' accurately reflects the attitudes and wishes of the vast majority of Australians at that time. Having established the need for 70,000 immigrants a year, Calwell went to Britain to get them. By 1947 the United Kingdom Assisted Passage Scheme had been concluded. However, Britain was having post-war reconstruction problems of her own and could not supply 70,000 immigrants per annum to Australia. In addition, there was a desperate shortage of shipping to transport British immigrants to Australia and what ships were available were being used to bring troops home from the battlefields. While Calwell was in London he heard about the existence of the D.P.'s, languishing in camps in Europe. Calwell visited the camps and soon thereafter signed an agreement with the International Refugee Organization (I.R.O.) to allow the refugees to emigrate to Australia. This wave of refugee immigration was the first large influx of non-British immigrants since the Chinese migrations of the last century. It broke the long tradition that only British immigrants would be assisted to come to Australia. In all, some 170,000 D.P.'s came to Australia by 1951. The main groups represented in the D.P. influx were: Czechoslovakians, Estonians, Latvians, Lithuanians, Hungarians, Poles, Ukrainians and Yugoslavs.
Those who perhaps faced the greatest difficulty after arrival in Australia were those immigrants with professional qualifications from non-British universities. Misled by information given to them in Europe by Australian immigration officials, the majority of these men and women arrived expecting to continue their careers. With few exceptions D.P. professionals were met with implacable opposition from professional associations (Kunz, 1969; 1975) and were forced to take jobs as unskilled workers. Whatever the D.P. professionals were told in Europe, and whatever they may have expected, the fact was that on their arrival at the reception centers only, on rare occasions did anyone care much about their past qualifications, or their prevailing expectations. The question then becomes why, and it is in the study of the political economy of Australia that at least partial answers can be obtained.
Australia, throughout its history, has experienced frequent labour shortages, and has relied on immigration to replenish the labour supply and boost population. Earlier in this paper I suggested that for Australia, official justifications for large-scale immigration tended to be of a non-economic kind. As I pointed out, the principal justification for the immediate post-war immigration influx was that of defence. But, "although the defence value of immigration was never spelled out in detail by war-time politicians, it seems clear enough that those who thought in terms of a population of 25 million by year 2000 envisaged 'effective defence' in both the narrow military sense (i.e., the number of troops such a population could provide) and also in the broader economic sense (i.e., its capacity to provide sophisticated weaponry to service its armies)" Appleyard, 1971:3). Thus whilst the popular reason for large-scale immigration was that of defence, underlying this was a more formal reason of economic development and growth. The end of World War II saw Australia faced with a tremendous backlog of capital construction to carry out and services to develop but, -with inadequate manpower for the job. "Wartime conditions strengthened local capitalists and paved the way for another long boom . . . The period of post-war reconstruction and expansion was hindered by grave labour shortages." (Collins, 1975:110). Given this economic setting Australia turned to its traditional source of labour — immigration.
Thus it was hardly surprising that once the immigration programme was launched, justification for it on the basis of defence was seldom heard. Instead, immigration was justified as a contribution to Australia's standard of living, the rate of economic growth to diversify and industrialize the economy. In fact, when the Department of Immigration was established 'it came under the control of a cabinet minister who carried both the immigration and the labour portfolios. This linked immigration to the concept of economic development." (Borrie 1959:69). Thus, whilst the popular justification for large-scale post-war immigration was defence (and it was on this basis that the programme was 'sold' to the Australian public), the real intention was to service Australian capitalism with additions to the labour force which the war and the low birth rate of the 1920's and 1930's had seriously depleted. "Immigration in these early post-war years was demonstrably successful in increasing the population, stimulating domestic markets and providing manpower for rapid economic development," (Immigration Green Paper, 1977:25). The D.P. immigration influx was especially important for Australian capitalism at this time, for it was the D.P.'s more than the British immigrants who provided the basis of an industrial reserve essential for this period of capitalistic accumulation in Australia.
The D.P. immigrants were chosen essentially because they could work, they were least likely to offend Australia's racial sensibilities and they would contribute at least as much to Australia as they were likely to demand from it. Thus, those D.P.'s "who could work, who would demand and expect little and who were leaving destroyed or war-weary countries, were welcomed to Australia." (Jupp, 1966:8). Although the bulk of the cost of shipping the D.P.'s to Australia was met by the I.R.O., Australia still felt that it had supplied 'assisted' passages for these immigrants and so demanded something in return. The demand was that the D.P.'s sign a contract to work for two years wherever the government wished to send them as a condition of their passage. Thus, "this migrant intake provided an easily directed, mobile reserve army to overcome the bottleneck areas of building and construction." (Collins, 1975:110). officially by the direction of labour. This direction of labour to areas in which it was freely admitted that Australians would not go was hard for all the D.P. immigrants but even harder upon the D.P. professionals. Almost all the D.P.'s were, from the outset "pitchforked into manual labour, dumped in outback construction camps and regarded both as foreigners and cheap labour." (Jupp, 1966:8). The direction of labour was administered strictly for the economic needs of Australian capitalism with little regard for the immigrants. Skills and qualifications were ignored, families were separated for up to two years and the social and cultural needs of the immigrants were ignored. Australian capitalism needed X number of unskilled labourers and X number were supplied.
Of the 70,000 D.P.'s employed at the end of 1950, less than 3% were in clerical or administrative jobs. Over two-thirds were divided between manufacturing and public utilities while one in eight were in domestic service or the hospitals. Agricultural labouring and forestry employed 7,500. The importance of the D.P.'s to manufacturing may be measured by the fact that they formed 10% of B.H.P. employees at Port Kembla and Newcastle in 1950 and 20% by 1952. "The direction of labour had established that European immigrants were destined for heavy industry, the public utilities, rural labouring, and menial domestic and hospital work." (Jupp, 1966:46).
The immediate post-war D.P. immigration had many important consequences for Australian capitalism, the most important of which can be summarized as follows:
1) The creation of an industrial reserve based upon non-British immigration,
2) The laying of the foundations for the long post-war economic boom and thus the accumulation of capital,
3) The acceptance within the society at large of the notion that non-British immigrants were essentially "factory fodder" and destined for the lowest level of the occupational hierarchy, and
4) The acceptance within the society at large of the need for economic growth per se, by linking immigration with a strong and stable economy and concomitant social benefits.
Appleyard, R. T. (1971) "Immigration and the Australian Economy", in How Many Australians?',
A.I.P.S., Proceedings of 37th Summer School, Angus and Robertson: Sydney.
Appleyard R. T. (1972) "Immigration and National Development", in Austrlia's Immigration Policy, H. Roberts (ed.), University of W.A. Press; Perth.
Borrie W. D. (1959) The Cultural Integration of Immigrants, UNESCO: Paris.
Collins, J. (1975) "The Political Economy of Post-War Immigration", in Essays in the Political Economy of Australian Capitalism, Vol. 1, E. L.Wheelwright & K. Buckley (eds.), ANZ Book Co. — Sydney.
Jupp, J. (1966) Arrivals and Departures, Cheshire: Melbourne.
Kunz, E. F. (1969) "The Enginerring Profession and the Displaced Person Migrant in Australia", /nternationa/ Migration, 1-2.
Kunz, E. F. (1975) The Intruders: Refugee Doctors in Australia, ANU Press: Canberra.
Vernon Report (1969) Australian Economic Background, VUSEB, Cheshire: Melbourne.
Immigration Green Paper (1977) Immigration Policies and Australia's Population, Australian Population and Immigration Council: Canberra.