Socialist Worker


Issue No. 2025

Polish workers wait for work in London. New Labour has refused to give Romanian and Bulgarian workers the same rights (Pic: Guy Smallman)

Polish workers wait for work in London. New Labour has refused to give Romanian and Bulgarian workers the same rights (Pic: Guy Smallman)

New wave of xenophobia

The possibility of Romanians and Bulgarians being able to travel to seek work when their countries join the European Union (EU) in the new year has been greeted by the usual xenophobic noises.

The British government is already saying that there will be restrictions on the employment of Bulgarians and Romanians. The German government wants a minimum two year ban.

The Polish government favours no restrictions. Employers are complaining that so many Poles have left to look for work in Europe that there are gaps that need to be filled - despite Poland having the highest unemployment in Europe.

So if it suits the European employers, jobseekers will be allowed the “privilege” of taking poorly paid jobs. If not, or if governments need a handy scapegoat, then bad luck.

Recently British trade unions participated in an employment fair in Warsaw. They wanted to recruit jobseekers even before they left for Britain. In Britain and Ireland Polish unions are working with their British counterparts. This applies also to Norway (not a EU member), where foreign agency workers were recently covered by a union agreement.

We need solidarity - union action and cooperation, protests against racist politicians and a politics which treats foreign workers as friends. And what the hell is wrong with travelling to other countries? Nobody says the rich can’t do it.

Karolina Borowska, Warsaw, Poland

I’ve been reading Socialist Worker’s coverage of immigration for some time, and, while I agree with your stand against scapegoating, I wonder if you’re right about the economics of migration.

Surely the arrival of large numbers of foreign workers into the labour market must drive down the wages of those already here.

Karl Marx wrote about the “reserve army of labour” - the pool of unemployed and underemployed workers whose existence poses a threat to employed workers and helps the bosses impose wage discipline.

It seems that today, immigration provides global capitalism with its reserve army.

Margaret Wilder, Exeter

Having read the ministerial statement on immigration from Bulgaria and Romania, it looks like it does not really matter if there are too many “unwanted” economic immigrants, but it does matter which country you are coming from.

There were no restrictions for the A8 countries - the eight “accession” countries that joined the European Union in 2004 - but there appear to be restrictions for the A2 countries - Romania and Bulgaria.

So, if you are Polish national, although Britain does not need you, you can come and work. But if you are a Bulgarian national, Britain does not need you and you cannot come.

Natalia, London

Veils and the exotic ‘other’

Sadie Robinson’s article about women, imperialism and colonialism (Imperialism and women, 28 October) was fascinating. The portraits of Egyptian women that illustrated the piece were also interesting.

Unlike the images shown on the page, it has been a tradition of colonial powers to represent colonialised women as an exotic “other”.

Malek Alloula has written in his book The Colonial Harem about the phenomenon of postcards made in the early 20th century by French colonial photographers.

These cards represented Algerian women as stereotypically exotic. There was an unequal power relationship between the white male photographers and the women pictured.

The colonialists could exert control over the way the women looked and the way they were represented.

The cards were often presented as genuine representations, claiming to have scientific value in classifying the “types” of women who made up Algerian society.

But research shows they were posed and constructed studio images of models or prostitutes.

Sometimes the same woman is shown in different styles of dress to represent a different “type”.

The images follow the conventions of early Western pornography, putting Algerian women into coy and submissive poses while wearing traditional clothing.

Some postcards even show women wearing the veil but with their breasts exposed. This kind of combination reveals the fantasies of white male colonial intentions.

They wanted to make non-Western women conform to their own sexist visions of femininity while satisfying their desires for the exotic “other”.

This shows how far from reality claims of bringing women’s liberation were.

Angela Stapleford, East London

We need new leaders for our trade unions

Tony Blair’s government has vigorously followed Margaret Thatcher’s path of privatisation of the public services so that big business and the financial corporations continue to maximise their profits.

Since 1997, the trade unions have given £100 million to the Labour Party, but it has not altered New Labour’s allegiance to the corporations in any way.

Billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money are being spent on unjust wars. Yet we are constantly told there is no money for public services. Why should our unions support such parties?

The Gate Gourmet workers, and those involved in other recent struggles, have tasted the bitter fruit of betrayal by some union leaders in alliance with the big corporations and New Labour. That is an unholy alliance.

It is important for workers to bring forward genuine leaders who uphold the interest of fellow workers, are accountable to them and subject to recall if they fail to uphold their interests.

These leaders must implement an agenda set by the membership.

All organisations representing working people should send delegates to the historic Organising for Fighting Unions conference on 11 November. Details are on the Respect Coalition website (

Salvinder Singh Dhillon, Indian Workers Association (GB)

Labour’s war on young people

David Cameron is not known as a man of substance, but one has to wonder whether there was any evidence whatsoever for his recent claim that New Labour has favoured young people.

Any examination of New Labour’s reign will show that young people have been neglected and scapegoated.

During its second term New Labour argued that “feral” young people were out of control. It introduced anti?social behaviour orders that made it illegal for teenagers to stray into busy shopping malls or congregate in groups of more than three.

For many teenagers, everyday activities now attract criminal consequences. Things got worse during last year’s “hoodie debate”. A simple garment of dress was made out to be a symbol of criminal behaviour.

It’s not just hoodies who deserve a hug. Plenty of other young people have had a tough time. A new system of top up fees has turned the higher education system into a twisted stockmarket.

Tony Blair’s broken promise of “education, education, education” has failed those who needed it most.

Robert Jackman, Chair of University of East Anglia Respect Society

Israel’s ethnic cleansing

“Ethnic cleanser” Avigdor Lieberman has now joined Israel’s coalition government. As minister for strategic threats, a key member of Israel’s security cabinet, he will be in charge of the Iran portfolio.

Lieberman is best known for his openly declared wish to “transfer” Palestinians from both outside and INSIDE the 1967 border.

This dangerous escalation coincides with the publication of one of the most important books ever to be written about Israel/Palestine - The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, by Israel’s leading anti?Zionist scholar, Ilan Pappé.

Pappé documents, Arab village by Arab village, the extreme violence used by Zionist militias in 1948 to “cleanse” the new Israeli state of its Palestinian Arab majority.

Pappé concludes that peace in the region depends upon Israelis confronting the racist roots of their state.

Socialist Worker readers should use this book to warn of the inevitability of an even greater spiral of genocidal violence, unless Israel is forced to change direction and confront its past.

John Rose, London

Don’t fool yourself

Traditional Labour voters who opt for the Blair/Brown nightmare, fearing that the Tories will get in otherwise, are fooling themselves.

They are only masking the truth - Tony Blair and Gordon Brown ARE the Tories.

Traditional Labour voters don’t mind getting run over by a car - as long as it’s their own.

Phil Reilly, Wirral

Losing sight of oppression?

As a feminist, I also oppose the veil. I think Socialist Worker is wrong when it implies that this position makes me a supporter of George Bush and Tony Blair’s “war on terror”.

While a minority of women may voluntarily wear the veil, a far greater number do so because of oppression.

Of course, war is not the answer to ending this oppression.

But let’s not fall into the trap of saying that those women who wear the veil all do so by choice.

Jessica McGregor, Glasgow

Where now for Short?

I wonder why Clare Short MP, who has resigned the Labour whip, has not thought about joining the Respect party instead of becoming an independent?

Colin Wilson, Halifax, West Yorkshire

The roots of sexism

Sally Campbell’s column on the origins of women’s oppression (Not natural or age-old, 28 October) sought to provide a materialist explanation for sexism.

But it seems too simplistic to claim isolated factors such as the development of the heavy plough were responsible. The reasons given are specific to certain kinds of society.

For example, the Polynesian society encountered by colonial settlers, which had a very different form of agriculture to that which developed in Europe, was deeply gender divided.

Female gods had been displaced in favour of male gods.

Clive Barton, Leicester

Madonna and her child?

Am I the only one who is appalled by the banal coverage of pop star Madonna’s attempt to adopt an African child?

The brutal fact is that the continent of Africa contains enough orphans to repopulate the whole of England.

These children are the bitter fruit of decades of exploitation and Western intervention.

We do not need a new trade in children. We need an end to imperialism.

Marcus Mussa, South London

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Article information

Sat 4 Nov 2006, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 2025
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