Socialist Worker

Migrant workers: ‘We deserve to be treated like human beings’

Migrant workers in Britain face appalling conditions – but they are starting to organise and fight back. Simon Basketter traces the links between migration, exploitation and resistance

Issue No. 2117

Eurostar cleaners, many of whom are migrant workers, on strike last month

Eurostar cleaners, many of whom are migrant workers, on strike last month


Farming bosses have recently been bemoaning the lack of workers to bring in the harvest this year. While this is a refreshing change from scare stories about “floods” of migrants it still ignores the fact that conditions for migrant workers in Britain are appalling.

The government consistently panders to racist immigration scares, bringing in ever tighter immigration controls. At the same time, a section of the ruling class wants more migrant workers to boost their profits by filling the gaps in Britain’s low wage economy.

Under attack from the racism of the government and the profiteering of the bosses, migrant workers fit the neoliberal dream of a pool of workers that are instantly available – but also instantly sackable.

One TUC study found that ten times as many migrants as non-migrant workers were paid less than the minimum wage. Stories of their rotten conditions repeatedly come to the fore.

For instance, David Leslie Fruits is currently the subject of an inquiry into allegations that migrant workers at a berry farm in Perthshire live in cramped metal containers with no toilets or ­running water.

Payslips showed they had just over £30 taken off their weekly pay for accommodation. Most units sleep seven, so the company could net around £840 per month for each container.

Investigators uncovered just eight showers for 251 workers. Some workers earned a pittance, but still had £2 taken off their pay each week to pay for a bus – regardless of whether they used the transport or not.

Bullying

It is only by organising migrant workers in unions that we can prevent the bosses’ relentless push to drive down wages and conditions generally. Fortunately today, as throughout the history of immigration of workers to Britain, people are fighting back.

For instance, last week saw a strike over pay and conditions by over 100 mainly migrant workers who clean the Eurostar trains. This shows that vulnerable and low paid workers can organise to fight for better rights.

Mohamed Yellow is the RMT union rep for Eurostar cleaners at St Pancras International.

“The whole workforce has joined the union,” he told Socialist Worker. “People saw the bullying, harassment and the hard job we all faced and joined the RMT in 2002. We’ve been organising ever since then.

“A lot of people have language difficulties and didn’t understand their right to join the union and its ability to help them secure their jobs. But the RMT is helping them to go to school to learn better English.

“We are from Ghana, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, the Ivory Coast, Colombia, England, India, the Philippines and Jamaica.

“But we have all united to fight for the rights of workers. We have told our employers at OCS that the slave trade is over – and that we should be treated like human beings.”

That is the type response we need – a struggle across the labour movement to improve all our conditions and wages,

a fight against both the ravages of neoliberalism and the racism of the bosses, the media and the government.

Burston Strike School rally

The conditions of migrant workers are the theme of this year’s Burston Strike School rally, held to commemorate the longest strike in history

Sunday 7 September, 11am to 4.30pm,
Church Green, Burston, nr Diss, Norfolk
» www.burstonstrikeschool.org


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