Socialist Worker

Organising among the abused and exploited

by Kelly Hilditch
Issue No. 1983

Polish workers in west London waiting early in the morning for casual employment. Migrant workers need decent work and accommodation.  (Pic: Guy Smallman)

Polish workers in west London waiting early in the morning for casual employment. Migrant workers need decent work and accommodation. (Pic: Guy Smallman)


The plight of migrant workers, who perform essential work in Britain, but who are treated like second class citizens, could get even worse if the Bolkestein Directive is introduced.

Dr Sonia Mackay has recently worked on a report into the conditions faced by migrants employed in the east of England. She points out that many of the workers are highly skilled.

“We found that people brought skills that were in short supply, but which were not utilised in the types of work performed by migrant workers,” she told Socialist Worker.

Many of the migrant labourers were employed in low skilled jobs such as food processing or agricultural work. Many had to pay exorbitant fees to agents who arranged their travel.

Dr Mackay added, “There were many cases where Polish workers, who had every right to come here, paid £300-500 to agents.

“We also found that most people knew there was a minimum wage in Britain, but did not know what level it was set at.”

Tomasz Laskowski, an organiser for the Polish Solidarnosc union, said, “I have heard lots of stories about Polish workers in Britain being exploited and I know that they are very vulnerable.”

He recently spent three months working with the TUC in Britain in an attempt to “improve communications between Polish and British workers, and help people learn about their rights”, he said.

An example of unity between Polish and British workers was seen in Staffordshire last autumn when drivers on First Bus took action over pay and conditions — and won.

The desire for unity in action is echoed by Angelika, a Polish cleaner at Canary Wharf in east London. She is involved in the fight for a living wage, which has brought together migrant workers with British workers.

“Most of the workers in my building are not from Britain, but some are, and I think it’s important that we stand together and fight,” she said.

“I think it’s incredible that these rich companies think they can treat us so badly and that we won’t stand up for ourselves.

“We should fight for better wages and conditions and should be loud about it, so that other workers can hear.”


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Features
Sat 14 Jan 2006, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1983
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