Socialist Worker

Polish migrants can organise

Natalia Wardle is a Polish-born organiser for the T&G union in Yorkshire. She spoke to Socialist Worker

Issue No. 2016

Polish workers can organise and fight alongside other workers

Polish workers can organise and fight alongside other workers

‘I came to Britain in 2000, before Poland joined the European Union (EU). So I had to wait six months before I could get the right papers and was allowed to work.

I wasn’t even allowed to do voluntary work. Can you believe that? I was so bored, I thought I could at least do something useful, but I wasn’t allowed.

When I was given permission to work I found a job as a lab technician in Yorkshire.

When the union shop steward at my workplace left, we didn’t replace him for two or three months. I wasn’t sure about becoming the shop steward. I didn’t know if my English would be good enough.

I was the only Polish worker at the company, but I was elected to represent the workforce.

Soon after I became the shop steward we had to go into negotiations. My company had been taken over and our new employers wanted to change our shift patterns and allow us less holiday time.

Last year I became a full time organiser for the union. I had always wanted to be able to use my language and now I can help people.

I can only talk generally about the problems that the people I am working with are facing, but many Polish workers are facing the same problems.

Because of what I do I see people who are treated very badly, although that is not the case for everyone.

One of the big problems I see is that a lot of people come here through agencies.

Most of the time there are lots of big promises - a beautiful life, nice accommodation, plenty of work and holidays, and all the help that they need with doctors and so on.

But this is rarely the case. I have seen people living in containers. You have people living three to a room in a three bedroom house, and three more in the living room - all being charged £40 a week.

Agencies take on more people than they have work for, so sometimes people take out huge loans to get here and to pay the agency’s fees. And then they only get enough hours a week to cover their rent and bills.’

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