Saturday, 18 October 2008

Organising Irregular Migrants


I am just back from three days this week spent with officials of the Maltese General Workers Union ( One of the topics for discussion was the union's approach to organising what is referred to as the illegal or irregular migrants arriving on the island from North African countries.

For a country as small as Malta, and with a relatively low degree of ethnic diversity, it isn't surprising that the country's right-wing is exploiting the highly visible growth of the new community.

For the GWU there is the significant challenge of attempting to organise a wholly new layer of member that is primarily employed within the informal/un-taxed part of the economy. Unsurprisingly the GWU's initial attempts at making contact with the new migrants was met with a great degree of suspicion.

Following migration recently into the UK from Eastern European countries a lot of my work has been with trade unions in devising approaches to organising these workers and ensuring that trade union activists were well placed to support their needs. We were working though in a climate largely that had sufficient experience of migration and emigration and recognised that as a significant feature of British culture.

Where though do our colleagues in Malta start?

I'll be maintaining my links with the GWU and any comments to this post will be fed back.




red said...


How do you manage to teach in the UK whilst globe-trotting? A very nice job I must say!

Seems to me that the significant problem here is not just the new position of these people in Malta but there illegality.

This is what the right can play on and surely it means that technically the unions cant organise them.

Tell me if I am wrong but can UK unions recruit and represent people who have no legal right to residence in the UK?


Ian Manborde said...


You raise an interesting technical query but have missed my point.

On the issue of representation I tend to think that a TU would fall fall foul of the fact that the illegal migrant and employer would have entered into an unlawful contract and as such may not be an 'employee' for much of employment law. It's an interesting point though and I can find out more definitively the answer.

On the broader point though I don't see why a trade union, as seen in the model of social movement unionism which is typical in South Africa, couldn't organise workers into some form of collective - even if this isn't strictly speaking as full-blown TU members.

The critical point with reference to Malta is the concept of organisation in a very basic sense of articulating concerns, grievances etc on a social, political and economic level, and there is no reason, I think, why a TU can't do that.



TGWU Rep said...

Good luck with this work Ian.

I understand how it might be difficult for the Maltese (and I have holidayed in Malta for about 20 years now) to understand/integrate with those from a massively different culture or ethnicity.

Whatever you do, do not simply blame the Maltese for not understanding the issues. You cannot expect a people, as you say, with relatively little experience of migration, to absord a body of people with a significantly different ethnic, religious and social background.

I am just being honest.