One day without us: fairness for migrants & a better deal for all
Today, Monday 20 February, is UN world day of social justice, with the global theme of preventing conflict and sustaining peace through decent work. So it’s appropriate that grassroots campaigners have chosen today as ‘One Day Without Us’, a day to draw attention to the contribution that migrants make to the UK economy and the need for unity to deliver decent work for all.
The TUC fully supports the argument that working people have more in common with each other than they do with bad bosses who exploit migrants to undercut the terms and conditions of everyone at work, and although the day’s activities cover migrants from around the EU and farther afield, we choose today to reiterate our call for EU citizens living and working in the UK to be given the right to remain after Brexit.
Bad bosses will always try to cause divisions among working people for their own profit. And unscrupulous politicians will always jump on that bandwagon for their own interests. Over the last century, we’ve seen the same trick played with religion (long before islamophobia, and with a broader impact than anti-Semitism, stirring up prejudices between catholics and protestants left cities like Glasgow and Liverpool riven for decades); gender (remember “a woman’s place is in the home”, still being played out under different slogans today?); and of course nationality and race.
The answer is always equal treatment and solidarity. Unions have been at the forefront of tackling such divisions, partly because we span those differences, but also and importantly because without unity, we know there is no strength. The only way to prevent exploitation of one group to the detriment of another is to treat both equally. That’s why Ford’s largely male unions backed the sewing machinists’ call for equal pay. It’s why unions have been the backbone of campaigns against fascism in the 1930s (Cable Street was just the most famous of numerous street battles against the blackshirts) and against racial discrimination and the National Front in the 1970s.
Tackling the divisions which helped lead to the Brexit vote, and the increase in hate crimes which followed the referendum, will never be achieved by immigration controls, although there’s nothing wrong with managing migration more fairly for everyone. It will take stronger rules against exploitation and stronger enforcement. And it will take action in the workplace and in communities. There’s nothing racist about being worried about immigration, although racists will use people’s genuine concerns to stir up hatred and division. We need to address migrants’ uncertainty about their future, black and other ethnic minority communities’ experience of discrimination, and existing workers’ worries about undercutting.
One Day Without Us is a good way to raise these issues, by demonstrating that we depend on each other for services like heath and elder care, teaching and transport, manufacturing, distribution and retail. The TUC doesn’t want anyone to put their job in jeopardy by striking without going through what industrial relations law requires, although we know some employers are working with their migrant staff to draw attention to the issues. But we do want people to reflect on the fact that our neighbours, our workmates and the people who do vital jobs we all need must be treated equally if we are all going to get a better deal at work.
So, we’re urging union members to do something on Monday to demonstrate your support for fairness, justice and unity.