by Ross Walker
In the last week a series of articles in the mainstream media have claimed that there will be a walkout of Polish migrant workers throughout Britain. The strike if it is to take place will be in protest to anti immigrant rhetoric and T-shirts are being produced saying “Enough: Stop Blaming Us”
The Tory loyal Telegraph said “More than half a million Poles now work in the UK and any concerted action could cause widespread disruption to businesses and services across the country, with the construction, food and health care sectors in particular hit hard.”
In doing this they not only exposed the fear of the capitalists and their right wing media but also mistakenly reminded its readership of the potential power of the working classes, specifically in this case of the Polish migrant workers in the UK.
The situation is unclear just now as it does not have consensus from all British based Polish organisations some of whom are promoting the idea of collective blood donation instead.
The Express released an article with the headline “Britain set for first ever migrant workers strike because Polish people feel UNAPPRECIATED” (why the caps?) quoting a UKIP politician telling British people to feel “personally insulted” giving a perfect example of the kind of anti immigrant rhetoric which Polish workers frequently come up against.
This action shows a great degree of self sacrifice and potential militancy. If successful it will be a big lesson and inspiration not just to Polish workers but to other migrant workers and even Scottish, English and Welsh workers. However we do realise that this proposal in its current form is far from ideal. It is very difficult for workers to take this kind of wildcat action and the fact that it is even being proposed is a sign of just how bad things are for migrant workers here. This is points towards a failure in the current official trade unions.
Since Poland’s 2004 entrance into the EU and the mass immigration to the UK, there have been efforts on the part of some trade unionists to organise this new layer of the working class. When Polish church based community group Polski Bristol raised the problem that Polish people were having to pay taxes not just in the UK but also back in Poland, the South West TUC launched a campaign which pressured the governments of Poland and Britain to sign a treaty ensuring that this will no longer happen. In 2008 the TUC and Polish union organisations Solidarnosc and OPZZ signed a protocol to help Polish workers in the UK. A Polish language website was launched (http://www.pracawbrytanii.org/) including guidance on worker’s rights. The following excerpt from a LibCom article shows a successful strike of Polish cleaners in Northampton in 2007.
“The mainly Polish workers employed by cleaning company Glenn Management to clean offices on the Moulton Park industrial estate, Northampton, had not been paid properly for around four months. However after only one day’s strike action they were paid the money that they were owed. One employee told Libcom:- “We had been trying to get hold of our manager again and again but he was not interested in talking to us. Within half an hour of going on strike, however, he suddenly became very interested in what we had to say. First of all he told us that what we were doing was a disgrace and would endanger our jobs. When it became clear we would not be intimidated he tried to pay only those of us who spoke good English. When we made it clear that this wasn’t good enough we were all paid in full.””
As welcome and inspiring as this is, there is still a long way to go. The trade unions have barely touched the surface in terms of recruitment of Polish or any other immigrant workers in the UK. The labour movement must use this opportunity to back the strike and use it to recruit and unionse currently non unionised and extremely exploited workplaces.
The bosses may take this is as a warning. You can’t exploit people working people to this degree forever. Whether unionised or not working people will always fight back. Its not a matter of if but when.
Polish workers have a long radical and revolutionary history. From the Warsaw uprising in 1944 which almost defeated that Nazis to the Solidarnosc movement in 1980. Even earlier this year we saw miners in Silesia taking on the right wing government and partially winning.
In the UK, we are in particular need of an internationalist outlook given the high numbers and poor treatment of immigrants in this country. Immigrant workers are one the most exploited layers in society. Vulnerability is exploited by the ruling classes to divide home born workers with immigrant worker and is further fuelled with the use of reactionary, racist and slanderous media. We at the Scottish Socialist Party fight for a society not just in Scotland but internationally where the wealth created by the worker is owned, controlled and distributed by the workers. This protest is extremely welcome development on the road for to this society and we will support our Polish brothers and sisters in this struggle.