We read in the media that on 20 August thousands of Polish workers in the United Kingdom will walk out of work to strike against the anti-migrant rhetoric that has been on the rise in the last few years.
As I am a Polish migrant and chair of Labour Friends of Poland, I was asked by different media outlets to comment on this. The strike, not connected to the unions in any way, has been suggested online by some Polish workers who are fed up with the harmful and untrue rhetoric that eastern Europeans are a burden, are benefit scroungers, ‘taking our jobs, homes’ etcetera. I am sure you know the propaganda very well and I do not have to repeat it all here. The strike initiators and hundreds of others who seem to support the strike idea on various online forums are coming from the perspective that if thousands of Polish workers, perhaps joined by other migrants, walk out of work just for a day, it would bring many industries to a standstill and show how many aspects of daily life are organised. Then, those who criticise migrants will understand the value of migrants to the British economy and to British society.
I think we all can imagine how transport, NHS, care homes, schools, police, factories, shops, cafes, restaurants and many other industries would be affected if all migrants – not only the Poles – walk out of jobs. Migrants bring so many positives not only to the economy, but also to our society. They are our colleagues, bosses, neighbours, friends, partners, husbands and wives. It is a shame that we – as a society – make them feel like outsiders, so undervalued, so unwanted, so frustrated that they have to come up with radical ideas, like the strike, to prove that they are as worthwhile as everyone one else – that they should be respected – their contribution to the economy and the society valued and treasured.
I fully understand where the strike initiators are coming from, I share their frustrations and understand their sentiment. However I do not support the strike, mainly because it would jeopardise peoples’ jobs. For that reason I do not think that people will actually walk out of jobs. But one thing the strike idea initiators have been successful at is the fact that this has actually taken hold in the British media and we are talking about it. Migrants are unheard in society and now their message has finally got through.
We need to find some sanity in all this. I hope that now the migrants’ message has been heard, the politicians and the media will find a positive way of working with the migrants together for a common goal, that is to make a better society.
The response to the strike from many Polish organisations and community leaders, including me, was a call to Poles not to go on strike on 20 August but instead to give blood that day. There is a very popular hashtag, #polishblood, trending on Twitter. It seems that thousands of Poles and other people have joined the Polish blood campaign, not just in opposition to the strike but to show that Polish and migrant energy can be harnessed to achieve positive and extraordinary things – and that is what we should be aiming for. Not for division, not for hatred, not for inequality – but for inclusiveness, positivity and tolerance.
We should be striving to give everyone a chance to play a full part in society and we, as the Labour party, should be encouraging that. Only when we will mobilise our efforts, when migrants and non-migrants will come together, when we work together for common goals, can we achieve the society we aim for: inclusive and just, where everyone feels valued and respected and where every one can fulfil their full potential. It is the job of everyone of us to make this happen. This is what I will be encouraging if elected to the National Policy Forum and this is what every one of us can do in our everyday life. We do not have to wait for the politicians and the media to make that move – we can carry out those everyday acts of kindness and tolerance towards others and we can do it now, starting with those who are around us.
This way and by acting together we will defeat the hate.
Ella Vine is a candidate for the National Policy Forum
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