Thursday, February 5, 2009

British Jobs for British Workers?

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.


Grumpy Old Ken said...

Very sensible blog but I bet you get some stick. In fairness a lot of people are fearful, frusrared and afraid.

Grumpy Old Ken said...

And frustrated as well!

philw2009 said...

Why this post bothers me:-

1. You describe the strikes as protectionism. British workers are not allowed to even apply for these jobs. Surely the protectionism is reserving the jobs only for lower-paid Italians?

2. You talk about this not being the first time that 'xenophobia' has 'raised it's head'. I think it's insulting to imply the strikers are xenophobic without at least examining the specific issue they are striking over, which you don't, and coming up with a reason why the strike xenophobic in nature.

3. Is an objection to immigration and objection to the policy itself or an objection to the foreigners personally? You don't seem to make any distinction.

4. 'Most' immigrant serving staff 'more educated' than... who? Evidence? If you've got no evidence about it, isn't it as prejudiced as saying that most of them are less educated?

philw2009 said...

Should be "an objection". That what you get for not using preview.

Marsha said...

All very good points, Phil - thank you for elaborating outside of the Twitter realm.

This was strictly an opinion piece - surface, yes, I admit - but this blog, for me, is not the forum to provide journalistic evidence for every viewpoint I express. Irresponsible? Maybe. Uninformed? Maybe, too. I don't confess to understand everything about the issue and you seem to have a stronger grasp of the details than I. I am interested in some of the larger questions it has brought up about protectionism in the context of tough economic times. And - it being my personal blog - how those issues have affected me and other immigrants.

Thanks again for your comments and the resulting debate! I look forward to more in the future! :)

Criss said...

I grew up in Chile, but I have a US passport because of my USian mom. And, my skin is "white" (as is the case for most Chileans and Argentinians, since there was such a wave of European immigrants to South America during/after the wars).

So, I'm Hispanic. In Texas. And an immigrant - I was born in a foreign country and I lived there until I was 14. But I look "American" and I speak English without an accent.

Here, in Texas, we've been dealing with the anti-immigration stuff for a while.

What royally ticks me off (about the situation here, I don't know how it is in England -- what the laws are, etc.) is that people want to build a wall on the US/Mexico border to keep immigrants out (when most of them come over with valid visas, then overstay them; and anyway we already have a huge river -- a wall? Really?) and they get all up in arms about the immigrants "stealing our jobs" when the jobs they're "stealing" are jobs the people whining are not ever going to even try to apply for.

AND, not a word is said about going after the businesses that HIRE the illegal immigrants. Nobody would come over to get a job is there were not jobs being offered, now would they???

(Again, I think our situation is quite different from yours; also, we're dealing with illegal immigrants while it sounds like the ones in Europe are legal. Either way, I feel a lot of the hate directed at immigrants, legal or not, is anger about something else, but the immigration hot-button is an easy target.)

KimB said...

Amen Marsha!