Working the Border

Bridge connecting Zgorzelec (PL) and Görlitz (DE)

Working the Border:
Policing Labor along the Polish-East German Border, 1980-1989

This project, funded by the DAAD from August 2020 to January 2022, will lead to a series of articles on cross-border labor under late socialism. It constitutes one part of my larger intellectual project on border environments in Eastern and Western Europe.

Project description: Despite East Germany’s unilateral closure of its border with Poland in 1980, thousands of Polish commuters continued to cross over daily for work in GDR factories throughout the decade. For these mostly female workers, GDR jobs meant higher wages, privileged mobility, and access to scarce goods—which might be resold on the unofficial market in Poland. “Working the Border” will consider their transnational activity as an instance of Europeanization from below, examining the practices of commuters and border police in the region of Görlitz/Zgorzelec during the 1980s to show how Eastern Europeans incorporated border-crossing into daily life prior to EU accession, even under highly restrictive conditions in the final decade of state socialism.