South of the River – Ballad of Tom Joad

Compass-SouthComment logo 2I 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.


4 Replies to “South of the River – Ballad of Tom Joad”

  1. Your last paragraph suggests that you’re predicting a win for the leave vote..
    I must admit, apart from some younger colleagues and a few public sector workers I know, I’m not seeing much support for the remain camp.

  2. Interesting piece. Another one in which an assumption is made about people on the right (such as myself) that we are somehow lesser people because we don’t subscribe to views that might be labelled as socialist or left wing.

    The EU doesn’t protect us from those evil, nasty Tories – it protects the interests of big businesses through over-regulation and free movement of people – when you implement a policy like that where many of the countries are poor, ex communist/socialist countries, linked to the likes of Britain and Germany an oversupply of unskilled workers is inevitable.

    Where supply of a commodity outstrips demand, the price of it falls…

    The word austerity or the concept of it is a bit of a red herring – the total amount saved by the cuts is £36bn – yet our net contribution to the EU in that time is significantly more…. and because the EU is such a protectionist racket imposing tariffs on African imports we are forced to give guilt payments to bent governments and pay more at the till for a wide range of goods.

    It isn’t for an unelected, unaccountable body to protect us fron those awful Tories. It’s up to Labour as the main opposition to come up with coherent policies. I read the manifestos of all five main parties before the last election and theirs was the worst, by a huge margin. And they got the thumping they deserved.

    Make people want to remove the Tory government by voting for a coherent alternative, rather than an authoritarian Blairite mess of a party, as was the case in 2015.

    My own view is that there does need to be a bonfire on certain elements of the public sector – non clinical staff in the NHS for a start, and ‘politically correct’ jobs like equality and diversity officers. We are living in a more open and tolerant society than ever before – Britain in 2016, rather than South Africa in 1995.

    Ask yourself… is it a suitable use of our money? The answer is surely no.

    Leaving the EU would allow Britain to re-take it’s place on the world stage, rather than being a tiny stakeholder in an increasingly irrelevant and gaffe prone body which has veered off in the wrong direction.

    The left wing case for leaving is just as strong, champions of social justice will point out what has been done to Greece, confined to being a third world country forever unless it regains its freedom.

    The country that invented democracy reduced to having people begging in the street in huge numbers, and its leader being forced to back track on his flagship policies.

    It’s time to acknowledge that the European Union has failed and a period of renewal for the continent is due, and it is up to the UK to lead the way.

    Once we’ve gone and prospered, hopefully others will follow, and the whole thing be consigned to the dustbin of history.

  3. Jeremy

    So let me get this straight. You think we should vote to remain in an inherently anti-democratic institution because you fear UKIP or Boris Johnson might do better if we exit. Well, that would be up to the people of this country to decide wouldn’t it? Which is exactly what the remainers fear more than faceless bureaucrats.


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