Bosses use discrimination against migrants as a weapon against workers. But this summer they have met with resistance, including a successful strike by migrant workers.
Hundreds of people protested outside a central London branch of George Osborne’s preferred burger restaurant Byron on Monday. It was organised by the Unite union.
Byron’s bosses had colluded with the Home Office in rounding up migrant employees on the pretence of a training day. Some 35 workers—from Albania, Brazil, Mexico, Nepal and Egypt—were detained and at least 25 have been deported so far.
One deported chef told the protest in a written statement, “It made me feel like I never had before. My heart was completely broken about everything.”
The deportees included a worker whose partner was pregnant and who never got to say goodbye.
The company says it was only following the law, but protester Sasha told Socialist Worker, “There are a lot of things in history that have been legal but weren’t right.”
She added, “It’s disgraceful how they profited off these people and then basically threw them away”. Protesters chanted, “No one is illegal” and, “How do you like your burgers? Without deportations!”
Marta, a cleaner from Ecuador, told Socialist Worker, “What this company has done is completely unjust.”
The outcry over Byron followed a victory for migrant workers at Esso’s Fawley oil refinery near Southampton. The Unite union members have won equal pay from contractor Nico after striking last month. They called off a second planned 24-hour walkout last week after bosses agreed to meet their demands.
The workers, mainly Italian and Bulgarian migrants, will now receive £125 a day like the site’s other workers and Nico employees elsewhere. They had previously been on less than half this rate—£48 for a ten hour day.
Unite regional officer Malcolm Bonnett told Socialist Worker, “We got a result there—the strike was the key.” The strike involved around 20 specialist workers. Their 160 percent pay rise will be backdated to last September and their union will be recognised for collective bargaining.
Though a small dispute, the strike is a warning to other bosses who discriminate against migrant workers.
Malcolm called it a “victory for fairness in the workplace and pay parity”. He said, “A combination of our members’ solidarity, support from other Fawley workers and the media attention all contributed to breaking the logjam.”
He added, “I’d like to think that other construction companies would now look again before taking workers on terms that are less favourable.”
Politicians such as Labour leadership contender Owen Smith say immigration pushes down wages.
Even research published by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation last week that largely refutes scapegoating of migrants says there is some limited truth to this.
But where wages are brought down it’s not because migrants are here but because they can be discriminated against.
And as Fawley and other struggles have shown, migrant workers’ battles benefit the whole working class.
Many protesters on Monday pointed the finger at Theresa May, whose time as home secretary was spent pushing through draconian anti-immigration policies.
Green Party deputy leader Amelia Womack told Socialist Worker, “This is about two issues—a company that doesn’t treat its workers with dignity and respect, but also the government’s Immigration Act that turns burger bars into border guards.”
Trade unionist John added, “What we need is an amnesty for all migrants—no-one should be declared illegal.
“If capital can go all over the world in search of profit, why can’t workers go where they need in search of work?”