Thursday, 25 February 2010
Celebrities and Polish Workers
Last night the BBC aired a documentary presented by Evan Davis called The Day The Immigrants Left, in which 11 unemployed British people took on the jobs regularly done by immigrant workers.
The unemployed Brits were to spend between one and three days in a range of jobs in Wisbech, Peterborough, including an Indian restaurant, a potato factory, and an asparagus farm. According to Evan Davis, what came out of the program were 'mixed results', 'Some, you could see that the British workers were up to the job and could do it. And quite a few where you could say that the British workers didn't put their backs into it, didn't want to put their backs into it, or couldn't put their backs into it.'
For anyone who did watch the program, it was disconcerting just how far the rot had actually set in.
In Wisbech around 2,000 local people are claiming benefits; the standard riposte to this by those featured in the program was that 'the immigrants have stolen our jobs; there aren't any opportunities for Wisbech people'.
The reality however pointed more to a lack of desire for many of the jobs on offer and an unwillingness to get one's hands dirty or do anything felt too menial; worst of all to be told what to do by a foreign supervisor!
Considering the BBC had actually arranged trial periods in local jobs for the unemployed that were taking part in the program with little of their own effort required, viewers might have been forgiven for thinking it somewhat contradictory for the participants to, on the one hand, blame immigrants for 'stealing our jobs', yet to turn up late or not at all on the very first day on the job itself, citing a 'headache' or 'my sick kid'.
It was perhaps not hard to sympathise with the employers distinct lack of a bleeding heart when subsequently deciding whom to employ.
Undoubtedly the benefits system plays a role here: the very fact that you can turn down a job is only possible because of the payments available from the state for remaining idle. If as in the past there was even the prospect of extreme squalor upon rejection of a job then self-preservation would prevent many from being quite so blase about making such a pitiful and pathetic effort whilst on the job at hand. Clearly a social safety net is important; but it's always nice to remember that the main contributors to that base level of sustenance are the mass of people who probably don't like their own jobs too much either, but rather than not turning up they grin and bear it.
More problematic than the benefits system however, as after all there probably is the public support to reform that, is the almost total unwillingness to do any job which is seen as menial, unglamorous, and not for one's own immediate gain or personal gratification. Also worrying in the program was an imperial mindset whereby the worst thing that could possibly happen to a British worker was to be told what to do by a 'foreign' supervisor, whom one worker subsequently walked away from in the program to cool off 'so I didn't lamp im'! And all for politely asking the British builder to do the work in the proper manner!
While the improvement in conditions for those living idly is one thing, the denigration of any type of unskilled or 'average' job by the culture at large - as well as that of an end goal requiring effort - has made anything less than living a life resplendent with glamour and celebrity something to be seen as abnormal and to be shunned with insolent imperial arrogance - especially when it involves a foreign worker being better at something (or more importantly, more willing to become better at something) than a jobless Brit.
Television and marketing constantly promote as desirable the vacuous virtue of being feted and idolised, or in a word 'famous'. Although something always apparent in any society with an independent media, up until now it has never been the sole purpose in itself - the means all wrapped up in the ends: the only purpose of one's fame being to become more and more famous - with no process or journey in between that actually involves the small process of actually becoming good at something.
Slightly detached from unemployed labourers in Wesbach maybe, but on the whole is it any surprise there are those that do not wish to struggle at the bottom in a menial job when from every angle they are constantly spat on from the great heights by 'cultural commentary' which tells them that the only worthwhile thing to do in life is to be simply known for being known? Taught to idolise plastic non-entities who's glory stems not from creating, making or producing, but from sucking the life out of those only too willing to latch onto these 'icons' as a form of escapism from the grim nightmare of endless work and consumerism?
The debate about immigration itself is brimming with ironies: those sections of the left that most decry 'globalisation' are champions of immigration without seeing that the latter is inherently a part of the former: the free movement of labor is the globalisation of labor; just as the free movement of capital was the first part of what is now resulting in mass migrations of peoples.
While it is certainly possible to decry the exploitation of foreign workers by multi-national corporations, globalisation is also beginning to confer the right of movement on that very group of workers situated on the world's 'periphery'. It is the desire of capitalists, especially that of smaller entrepreneurs, to encourage the movement of labor, because as was seen in the case of Wisbech, the market for labor will favour those with more to gain from a job - the poorest members of the job market which, in the case of the European Union, are those from the former Eastern Bloc.
Our own problems involve confronting the worrying fact that there are so many in our society who have gone through a free and universal education system yet can't cut asparagus.
Or mightn't it just be easier to turn on the T.V., relax, kick back and dream of becoming an X Factor contestant or a WAG (Wives and Girlfriends)?
You can watch The Day The Immigrants Left on BBC iplayer