Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Time for a one day migrant strike

Migrants are getting extremely tired of contributing to British society, whilst at the same time being vilified for their very presence in the country.

Talking recently to a migrant worker, who has been in this country for 10 years, the growing sense of exasperation and anger became quickly apparent.

A 32 year old Polish woman, Edith (not her real name), worked first in care homes on the south coast. She worked long and hard, whilst also picking up other cleaning jobs to help make ends meet. Edith took English reading and writing classes in her own time.Throughout this period, she was paying taxes, while getting little back in return.

She then moved to work as a cleaner at a hotel.  A keen worker she soon advanced to become a supervisor. At the moment she is also studying accountancy at college in her spare time. She hopes one day to qualify as an accountant. “We are here, we contribute, we pay our taxes.. I do not understand why there are these constant attacks on migrants,” said Edith, who has become so exasperated that she believes there should be a migrant strike. “Then people would know exactly what we do.”

She is not wrong. Migrants have always played a key role in keeping the wheels of the British economy turning. Some 26% of doctors in the NHS come from other countries. The NHS is also regularly seeking to poach nurses from other countries. Britain’s schools and colleges are packed with teachers from across the world. The transport system has been a ready employer of migrants, since London Transport went out in the 1950s to the West Indies looking for workers. The care sector would come to a halt if it weren’t for migrant workers.

What of catering, where in many parts of the country it is unusual not to be served by a migrant worker.

Then there is the construction industry. It is a source of constant bewilderment to hear individuals rail against migrants, whilst employing Polish workers to put up their extension or loft conversion. The phrase double standards was made for this scenario.

Migration is good for the economy. The government's own figures show, that net migration of 250,000 per year boosts the annual GDP by 0.5% (source: Office for Budget Responsibility). This growth means more jobs, higher tax revenues, more funding for schools and hospitals and a lower deficit.

A study by University College London in 2009 that looked at the fiscal impact of the migration of recent eastern European migration found that migrants contributed 37% more in taxes than the cost of the public services they consumed.

Migrant numbers go up and down generally according to the well being of the economy. This is because, in the main, they come to work, not as popular myth would have us believe collect benefits.

The economic reality of the UK is that the population is ageing, with people living longer. At the same time fertility rates are falling. Not enough children are being born to replace the current population. Today there are three people of working age for every one over 65, by 2060 the ratio is expected to change to 1:1. Academic David Blake estimates that for the state pension to remain viable, there need to be 500,000 immigrant workers coming to the UK each year.
These migrants are needed if the wealth is to be generated to sustain the present ageing population.

Yet despite all these positive elements about migration, the public discourse is dominated by politicians promising to cut the numbers. Indeed, the political discourse has become so distorted that the value and need for migration is rarely ever raised. The departure point of debate is always the need to cut immigration.

A migrant one day strike would really bring home to the population just how much those coming from other countries do contribute to this country. If all the migrants withdrew their labour then so many of the daily services that people take for granted would grind to a halt. A migrant strike would be one way that this vilified group of people could make their point most powerfully.

The growing ferocity against migrants will in the long term lead to them not coming to this country. Who wants to come and work and pay taxes in a country where you are not appreciated and actually condemned for contributing. Why not go to a country that is more welcoming?

The arguments for migration are many and varied. There are the economic positives outlined, as well as the rich diversity that different races bring to our country. London is in many ways a multicultural oasis due to the way that people from countries across the world live and work peacefully together. Business knows that the economy requires the skills that migrant workers bring.

The way that migration to this country has been managed over the past couple of decades has helped to build many of the present resentments. Migrant workers have been brought in often to undercut the indigenous workforce  on rates of pay. The construction industry provides a particularly clear example of these practices.

There need to be minimum standards of pay and conditions upheld, so that there is no such undercutting. There also needs to be proper public service provision, including house building, merited by the taxes that migrants pay.

Veteran Labour MP Dennis Skinner makes a good point as to how many different migrants settled without problems in Britain from countries like Poland and the Ukraine after World War II. Skinner pointed out how there were strong trade unions during these years, the incoming workers joined the unions and there was no question of being used as a cheap labour force. “The key to improving community relations is to guarantee everybody is on a good wage and nobody is undercut,” said Skinner. “If trade unions were stronger, the friction would be reduced and the gains enormous in terms of harmony between people from various countries.”

So there are many ways that migration can be better managed. This ageing country needs migrants to keep it going. Migrants also add incredibly to the diversity and culture of the country. Maybe people need a reminder of all these positive factors – a migrant strike would provide just such a wake up call.  Failure to heed the present warning signs will no doubt in the long term result in fewer people coming to a country where at present they feel vilified not valued. If that happens, everyone will be a loser.

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