Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Organising Migrant Workers


I have been extremely fortunate to have spent 2-6 July in Coimbra, Portugal attending an event that witnessed the roll-out of an EU-wide training package aimed at recruiting migrant workers and encouraging their activism within trade unions.
These materials followed an extensive prior research exercise that more broadly investigated good practice in encouraging migrant workers into civic participation. I am pictured here with Rakesh Patel who heads Thompsons Solicitors Migrant Workers' Unit as well as the firm's operations in the South East.
Also attending from the UK was Ian Fitzgerald from the University of Northumbria who has led the TUC's research on migrant workers and who is eminent in this field. Also attending from the UK were Jenny Webber and Lesley Howard from the GMB.
Both Jenny and Lesley have been instrumental in developing new, radical methods to engage with the needs of new migrant workers and to ensure their participation in the union.
A question I would like to pose in response to this work however, is the extent to which you might feel in the UK that we need to 'normalise' this work and simply recruit all workers regardless of their status.
As ever colleagues, your comments are welcome.


Jaswant said...

Hi Ian,

Glad to hear that you were working hard in Portugal - please let me know the next time you are going and I'll carry your bags for you.

More importantly though my view is, as we have discussed many times, that we need to be honest about migrant worker recruitment and acknowledge that whilst it helps the unions get more members, it creates new problems.

I am really worried that the racism Eastern Europeans bring with them is caused as they are so unfamilar with being so close to black-skinned people.

We need to get past this, and quick, or else there will be much tension in the communities where both sets of people are residing.

Sorry to be pessimistic Ian but you know this what the picture is.


Ian Manborde said...

Hi Jas,

Good to hear from you brother.

No worries, I don't feel you are being pessimtic at all.

It is true that some migrants bring with them some bigotry, but then you'll know that many Indians have unfavourable views of Africans also, for example, - so be honest.

We can't expect new migrants from Eastern Europe to be perfect citizens in the way that we have never expected Jews, Jamaicans etc also be be perfectly formed.

We must engage with people and hope to change their prejudices.

All being well Jas I might see you at the next trades council meeting?



Val said...

Hiya Ian,

All being well I'll see you on the 1st.

Although Jas has raised some important points thse are really just simple distractioins.

No body of workers is perfect.

The answer simply is: organise


Ian Manborde said...

Val Hi,

Yes indeed, the 1st is in my diary.

You are a great Internationalist and you are right to say that we must organise workers regardless.

All being well we can convince people as we 'carry on down the road'.

If you have lost that track I'll re-send as an MP3.


Alan said...


So, a few days in Portugal eh? What a hard life you teachers lead.

As the saying goes, those who can do, those who can't, end up teaching trade unionists.

Not to be too harsh on you though I agree, for once, with what you say.

we must treat all workers the same and just organise.


Ian Manborde said...

Hi Alan,

I can't believe that you have put into writing that you agree with something that I have said!

Even more radical, you agree that migrant workers should be unionised.

Truly Alan you have come a long way in your thinking and I am grateful.



Neil said...

I am proud to say that the TGWU has led the way in the UK in organising vulnerable migrant workers - particulalrly those from Eastern Europe.

Ian - as you know, Omar Ahmed, as head of our Migrant Workers Support Uniit has worked hard to build a solid, strategic organising model around migrant workers and this has paid off.

As ever, the T&G in the vanguard.


eamonol said...

Hi Ian,

Seems like an interesting conference; good to see a EU-wide initiative on such an important issue.

As previous posters have commented organising migrant workers can throw up many other issues in the UK.

Did the UK participants identify any of these difficulties in their experiences? If so did they share how they were overcome?

Also are there any papers that you can post/share or a website where they are already posted?

Cheers Eamon.