As Britain slides further into recession (or depression, according to Brown), the war cry has begun. Actually, it began in June 2007, when Gordon Brown pledged to train British workers for the plethora of jobs to become available. Now, however, his words have come back to haunt him. Under threat with the economic crisis, and foreign contractors using foreign labour, workers all over the country have staged wildcat strikes in an effort to preserve their posts.
Although it peaked this week, it's not the first time protectionism -- or xenophobia -- has raised its head in the UK. Since Poland, Hungary, Slovakia et al jointed the EU in 2004, thousands of workers have poured into the UK. In London, you can almost be assured that your server in any given restaurant will be from one of these countries -- and in most cases, more educated than you. Many have taken low-paying jobs like cleaning or working in the fields. According to the BBC, 56% worked in factories. In short, they do the jobs that many Brits don't want to, due to low pay or poor working conditions. However, that didn't stop many people from complaining that their jobs were being taking by immigrants.
I came to the UK in 2004, as well. At the time, there was a severe shortage of teachers. The perception of state schools and the behaviour was so bad that the UK was having trouble attracting its own to teaching programs. I got a job straight away on my two-year working holiday visa and proceeded to educate the youth of Britain.
As EU workers continued to come to England, I began to hear my students grumble about all the 'foreigners' and 'immigrants coming over and stealing our jobs'. Since they weren't working themselves, I can imagine where these sentiments came from: their parents. The funny thing is, they didn't realise that I was an immigrant, too -- maybe because I come from a 'colony', I look like them and my culture is similar to theirs. To them, an immigrant is someone who is fundamentally different, and who threatens the UK culture with that difference.
I do understand that there are people worrying about their jobs in these difficult times. But I don't believe we should demonize foreigners because they may be willing to accept less money or more difficult conditions than a British-trained worker. They kept the economy buoyant in the past few years, when Britain was on a consumerist spending spree. They even helped the country rebuild after World War II. It's beyond hypocritical to invite them in when we need them, and kick them out when we don't.
I love being in the UK, and I'm thankful that, as an immigrant, I've been able to stay. But I feel for all of those who came here with high hopes of building a future, only to face such unwelcoming -- and sometimes threatening -- attitudes.