I can remember growing up in Cornwall in a tiny farm workers cottage. We didn’t have central heating and our bathroom was downstairs. I would fill my time, after school, by working on my mates farm or helping local builders renovate cottages.
During school holidays I worked in Looe, selling ice creams and making confectionary. The money that I earnt helped to pay for school trips and for my first motor bike. The opportunity to work and earn money was character forming and taught me that hard work pays and that I could aspire to do better. I did.
I learnt to knock plaster of walls with a gnarled cornishman who was supporting his ever growing family by labouring. Hard, cold work but it paid relatively well. But, nowadays, British workers no longer take many of these jobs. Cheap migrant workers have put paid to that. Many labourers haven’t had a pay rise in over 10 years. If you go into a city bar, more often than not your order will be taken by foreign accents.
It is clear that Britain’s a modern country with a flexible labour market that’s open to the world. Most of the political classes would argue this to be a huge benefit but is that exclusively so? Are we hollowing out our society?
Blue collar Britain must not be forgotten or ignored. It is a strong force of social mobility and many working class people who learn the value of work early on and put in the hours are able to get on and climb the career ladder. But it feels that this vital early rung of the career ladder is under a real and sustained attack.
Many job opportunities have all but disappeared to some working class Britons. We need the training ground of blue collar jobs to instill a strong work ethic into people. We need to believe that hard work and achievement go hand in hand.
Constantly relying on cheap migrant labour is eroding the bedrock of working class pride. Our once strong work ethic is draining away and that will hurt us long term.
Immigration has been looked at one dimensionally for too long by our political parties. It is lazy to believe that only cheap immigrants can do the work we require and we can’t survive without them. The political class has convinced itself that ever growing numbers of immigrants is to be welcomed whilst most of them have never experienced a blue collar job. Most of our political class is cut off from blue collar reality. The Metropolitan elite of all the main parties simply remain focused on London and never talk about working class jobs, much less worry about who carries them out.
We all know the benefits of immigration. Our country has been enriched greatly by migrants. But there’s been far too little said about the consequences that uncontrolled immigration has on poorer, working class communities. But not just these communities. The children of poor families in wealthy parts of our country increasingly find competing with cheap immigrant labour difficult.
On both sides of the political spectrum there’s a ill founded belief that the free movement of cheap migrant labour can only bring bountiful returns.
Unlimited cheap migrant labour is wrong for business because a cheap, disposable and compliant labour force only brings insecurity, resentment and a breadline existence. It’s the opposite of the confident, proud and secure communities we should be building.
There’s no reason why we shouldn’t be training up more doctors and nurses here for starters. Can it be right we are constantly recruiting nurses from developing countries who have insufficient trained staff to provide even basic care for themselves?
Blue-collar workers know that the influx of Eastern European workers has sucked them into a race to the bottom in wages. Whether it’s the electrician who says he’s constantly being undercut to the point where it makes no economic sense to continue or the builder who says he’s been priced out by silly quotes, there’s a sense that a deeply unfair playing field is making it impossible for some Britons to compete.
The response from the political classes is often a shrug of indifference. This indifference is creating a tension in society. The problems run deep, but immigration is a critical issue and must be recognised as such.
Immigration is valuable, but it can’t be a free for all. It needs to be controlled and managed.
Getting this right would realign the playing field so working class communities can compete once again in the labour market. Politicians must understand and recognise the value of working class communities or suffer at the ballot box.