The day the immigrants left

To test if UK needs so many foreign workers, immigrant employees are temporarily removed from their jobs, and the work given to the local unemployed

Strangely charming documentary on BBC1 last night - “The Day the Immigrants Left” - which I flagged up on the MRN Facebook wall a week or so ago. I thought it made a good case that the new economy that has come into existence in places like Wisbech - a small town in rural Cambridgeshire - hasn’t treated the local working class well and there is a whole category of people who have been sealed out of the jobs market.

The ‘blame the immigrants’ mentality was pretty entrenched amongst these people and there was a lot of unpleasant attitude, but that was mostly broken down over the course of the couple of days they were given jobs in the immigrant workplaces. The migrants themselves came across as people who’d scrambled aboard a life-raft in a stormy sea, grateful for the small security they had got from low-paid jobs working long hours.

Another programme might have asked them if this is what they really wanted for the rest of their lives, and I’d expect the fiction that they are content with their lot would begin to break down very quickly when we began to hear answers to that. And it’s hearing the answers to exactly that which makes you think that the migrants and the native workers might have a lot more in common with each other than they seem to think at the moment.

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I agree, it was a very thought-provoking programme.I read a review of the prog by a Guardian journalist this morning who had been very unimpressed by the performance of the local Wisbech unemployed in trying - and, for some, failing - to successfully replace migrant workers in local businesses for 48 hours. Read that review here

Sure, a couple of participants didn’t try very hard to take part. One didn’t even turn up for his trial job at all. But most really did, and largely motivated by a visible sense of frustration at being unemployed. I came away feeling that both residents and new arrivals to Wisbech are caught up in much bigger problems arising from economic demands for cheap and flexible labour in often back-breaking conditions.

It is migrants, rather than locals, who are inevitably willing to provide it, but can either be blamed for that? After that prog was a lively Newsnight interview which saw Immigration Minister Phil Woolas pitted against his Conservative counterpart Damien Green… and also facing a dressing down from a local unemployed man called Paul from Wisbech, who had taken part in the main show with gusto.

Paul was angry and said he’d been let down by the lack of support in getting him back into work - comments which Woolas dismissed, insisting that the government is already providing adequate support to get the long-term unemployed in the UK tooled up for jobs. You could practically see Paul’s blood start to boil as he started shouting at the minister that none of this support had come his way. Green’s response to Paul was even worse - he talked pompously about the importance of forcing lazy ’scroungers’ off benefits and into work. With such political responses, it is no wonder that the ‘blame the migrants’ argument holds some currency among unemployed people in areas like Wisbech, however unpleasant it may be.

This program felt like a failed reality TV episode, mixed with a bit of chattering classes tut-tutting and some dubious politics about alleged dole scroungers. A lot of the reviews and articles it inspired do show the big problem with a lot of left and liberal politics at the moment. I get the impression that the dominant strain is embarrassment about and dislike of actual proles. Lot’s of the coverage in papers like guardian has been along the lines of “migrants are so hard working, unlike our thick, idle bigoted lot, despair woe and whinge”. The other point is, is just me who finds the infatuation with eastern-European migrants from both the left and right a little bit “Aryan supermen our heroes”, Like, these are good migrants, these a white migrants!