Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Same old Labour Party story

Figures show that the real value (discounting inflation) of hourly pay rates has declined by 5.5% in Britain since the beginning of the recession, one of the largest falls in the European Union.

Employers want to recruit workers at the lowest possible rates. That doesn't make them "unscrupulous". They are just behaving in what is now a normal commercial fashion: driving down costs, squeezing suppliers to maximise profits. Surplus of labour drives down wages. Individuals are encouraged to be competitive and to see their fellow workers as rivals.

The truth is that ordinary working people, whether highly educated or not, take too small a share of the cake while management, shareholders and financiers take too much. Under capitalism workers compete in a  dog eat dog style for job scraps with poorer and cheaper foreign labour.  Playing the immigration card smacks of desperation from a Labour Party bereft of ideas on how to patch up the economy. The fear-mongering and divisive politics play well on creating more  xenophobia. But those who have fallen for the propaganda should know that cutting benefits and keeping out immigrants won't make a single person any better off.

But perhaps we should not be too harsh on Bryant and others. After all, he was only following in the tradition of anti-migrant demagogues such as the Labour Party “saint” Keir Hardie.

Speaking  of the incoming Polish [actually Lithuanians] miners, he said "their habits are very filthy, six or seven males occupying a one-roomed house, and having women to cook for them"

As early as 1887 the Ayrshire Miners Union led by Keir Hardie demanded their removal on the grounds that "their presence is a menace to the health and morality of the place and is, besides, being used to reduce the already too low wages earned by the workmen".

In his evidence to the 1899 House of Commons Select Committee on emigration and immigration, argues that the Scots resented immigrants greatly and that they would want a total immigration ban. When it was pointed out to him that more people left Scotland than entered it, he replied:
“It would be much better for Scotland if those 1,500 [Scots emigrants] were compelled to remain there and let the foreigners be kept out... Dr Johnson said God made Scotland for Scotchmen, and I would keep it so.”

He suggested that the employment of foreigners by British employers should be prohibited, unless they were political exiles or had fled from religious persecution or if they came from countries where the wage rates were the same as in Britain.

Writing in the Miner,  he stated that: "For the second time in their history Messrs. Merry and Cunninghame have introduced a number of Russian Poles to Glengarnock Ironworks. What object they have in doing so is beyond human ken unless it is, as stated by a speaker at Irvine, to teach men how to live on garlic and oil, or introduce the Black Death, so as to get rid of the surplus labourers."

In Lanarkshire, there was much vitriol against the Lithuanian (who also happened to be Catholics, a double crime in certain localities). They were employed in the iron, steel and coal works, and were accused of wage cutting, scabbing, responsibility for dangerous diseases, and being bloodthirsty and violent.

In Laikas (Time), a British published Lithuanian newspaper described how “”Lithuanians, through ignorance, sometimes stand in the way of more conscious workers. On July 3rd, [1905], for example, work stopped here [Coatbridge, Lanarkshire] and an increase of a penny an hour was demanded. The Lithuanian workers did not join in and the management refused to negotiate saying that not everybody wanted the increase. That's why the Scottish hate us so as we do not unite with the English [sic] workers and agree to work for lower wages... Men, understand this, the owners exploit us without mercy and make us work long hours for a pittance.”

Nevertheless, the Lanarkshire County Miners' Union, in the space of some 15 years, went from offering support to miners willing to strike against Lithuanian workers to demanding that Lithuanian miners in Lanarkshire should not be kicked out of the country. During those 15 years, the Lithuanians had joined the union in large numbers and were active in it. Unionisation was the key to improved relations between the Lithuanian labour force and the LCMU. Once the Lithuanians began to respond positively to local strike demands the other allegations made against them were dropped or were simply not an issue. The adoption of a more class-conscious attitude and the strength of their new-found loyalty to the union was in part due to the fact that the union had taken some very positive steps, albeit tardily, to encourage Lithuanian membership such as printing the rules in Lithuanian and offering entitlement to claim full benefits.

A branch of the Lithuanian Social Democratic Party (LSDP)  was formed  in Lanarkshire in 1903, and by 1905 had organised branches in almost all the Lithuanian communities scattered throughout Scotland. Two years later, the LSDP produced its own newspaper, Rankpelnis (Worker) and, on its first appearance, reconstituted itself into the Lithuanian Socialist Federation of Great Britain (LSF) which developed links to the  Social Democratic Federation (SDF.). It was, of course, anathema to the Lithuanian Catholic clergy to have a group of socialists, the bedieviai, or "godless people" as they were commonly called, in their midst.

See more here

1 comment:

ajohnstone said...

While a postal worker there were many foreign workers in the sorting office. Some from Eastern and Southern Europe, and some from Asia and Africa. Sometimes it led to snide asides from Scots about working at the United Nations and other more racist comments.

However, whenever there was a strike, official or otherwise, they almost to a person always joined in even if the cause or the outcome would little effect them directly. They mostly understood there were wider principles involved such as solidarity against the enemy - a dictatorial management.

Also the longer and the more we all interacted during our working hours the less important our various different nationalities became. We all recognised we shared a common trait...we were all wage slaves of Royal Mail and had to stand together.