I read a very interesting article in The Guardian last week about Eastern European workers living in Wisbech on the Cambridgeshire fens.
It wasn’t just about the immigrant community, it covered the host community and went into some detail about the crooks that brought the workers here, exploited them and made everyone’s lives a misery.
It was a superb example of ‘long form journalism’ written by Felicity Lawrence. Taking time and space, it ran over three broadsheet pages, to tell a complex story. Too often we want our stories in quick ‘soundbites’, maybe a paragraph at most. Apparently if you want to be ‘read’ on Facebook you need to produce a video, people can’t be bothered with words anymore. Truly the cute cats have taken over the asylum.
Anyway, back to Wisbech. The workers turn up at a petrol station at dawn to find out if they will be picked for work. The lucky ones get a 12 hour back breaking day in the fields, the unlucky ones sink deeper in debt to the crooks who control where they live and if they work.
As with most things in life it’s worse for women. Once you’ve been trapped into a debt you have two options to pay it off – sham marriages in India or prostitution here.
Living in overcrowded terraced houses the workers get drunk, argue and fight. It’s a nightmare for the law abiding neighbours, who feel like outsiders in their own town. Damn those evil crooks!
Except … except that like crooks everywhere, they are just exploiting an opportunity.
Most of us probably don’t think much about immigration policy when we’re browsing the fruit and veg in our local supermarket, but perhaps we should. The supermarket profit margins demand ‘just in time’ delivery of produce. They don’t hold stock, so what they need on the shelves is communicated to the farms only a day or two ahead of delivery.
That means the farmers may need 50 pickers one day and none the next, so they can’t afford to keep a permanent workforce. The workforce has been ‘casualised’. I grew up on horror stories of how the docks used to operate like this and that how as a civilised country we got rid of it. Well it’s back – big style. Not just in the fields of eastern England but in every zero hours contract.
The two key point I took from the article is that crime, anti social behaviour, non-payment of the National Minimum Wage, human trafficking, modern slavery, prostitution, etc are all going on and not being interrupted let alone prosecuted because the agencies that regulate life in our country are starved of resources. Whether it be the Police, the Health & Safety Executive, the Low Pay Commission, the local council’s housing or environmental health departments – they don’t have the staff to be effective.
This is the opportunity that the crooks are taking advantage of. There’s another name for it – austerity.
When it comes to the EU referendum, lots of people in Wisbech will vote to leave and I don’t blame them. But I don’t agree with them.
A vote to leave is a vote that will strengthen the right wing, whether it’s UKIP or Boris’ branch of the Conservative Party. These are the people that want to push austerity even further than Cameron and Osborne. They want wholesale privatisations, ending the few remaining trade union rights and reducing local councils to a rump.
There are lots of left wing arguments to leave the EU, but these will not get heard in the current climate and it will be the rich (and the crooks) that win and ordinary people like us that lose.
I’ll be back next week with more of my views from South of the River. If you’re on Twitter, you can follow me: @BeestonJeremy.