The TUC in Britain has a long tradition of welcoming – and more importantly, organising – migrant workers, all the way back to the Irish and Jewish workers who at stages in our history formed the backbone of the trade union movement.
It’s not just me, the son of a poor peasant from Kashmir, now the President of the TUC. Our General Secretary, Frances O’Grady, is from an Irish immigrant family.
We believe fundamentally that all workers deserve to have their employment rights protected and to be able to bargain with their employers through a union. If migrants aren’t organised, employers will exploit them with long hours and low pay which undercuts local workers and makes us all less secure.
Sadly today in the UK, the rights of migrant workers are coming under serious attack.
In the European Parliament elections this week, parties opposed to immigration stand to gain the most votes. Legislation has already been introduced in the UK designed to ‘create a hostile climate’ for migrants.
It’s never been more important for unions to organise migrants so that they are not exploited.
Unions in the UK have been working to organise migrants, in the workplace and in the community, often with organisers from migrant backgrounds.
The TUC has produced employment rights advice on our website. And we cooperate with unions in so-called 'source' countries like Romania, Poland, Portugal and Bulgaria to inform workers of their rights before they leave the country.
We're happy to support the AFLCIO campaign on recruitment fees and cracking down on discriminatory behaviour by recruitment agencies.
But we also have been campaigning for a change in rhetoric. If we are really going to tackle exploitation and build solidarity amongst workers we need to show that low pay and lack of jobs is not the fault of migrants.
We need to convince people that migrants shouldn’t be blamed for taking insecure contracts, employers should be blamed for imposing them. We need to show migrants shouldn’t be blamed for using up public services, the government should be blamed for cutting those services.
Blaming migrants is the oldest trick in the book. We need to change the debate so that it is about real solutions to the real problems people face over jobs, wages and services.
In all of our countries we need to force politicians and the media to focus less on migration and more on what bad employers have done to our communities and neighbourhoods.