Labour Unions and the
Nationalisation of Immigration
Restriction in the United States,
If, according to Patrick Weil’s definition, the nineteenth century was the golden age of immigration, a time when migratory movements remained unrestricted and did not constitute an object of government regulation, the United States was the country of immigration par excellence. The nation’s population had classically been formed out of the resettlement of European immigrants and, from the Civil War to the First World War, the nation’s economic development called for a massive and hardly regulated immigration to develop the West and man the mines and mills of the developing industrial nation.
The national regulation of immigration to the U.S. was enacted between 1882 and 1924 through successive immigration laws which were eventually consolidated and combined with the quota system. It is not a coincidence that this time span also corresponds to the emergence of a strong national labour movement and to its eventual recognition or acceptance as a legitimate, if not yet legal, representative institution in the nation.1 Indeed the main labour organisations played a central role in the establishment of the United States’s immigration policy. Not only did they rank among the most vocal and most constant institutions to demand the restriction of immigration and a selection of immigrants, but that demand in itself was constitutive for their growth and of the definition of their role in the nation. Beyond the unions’ desire for a protectionist control of the labour market,