• Dominic Allen
Location:
Glasgow
Date:
Tuesday 16th December 2008
Reference:
SWI2008/025

Dominic:

GMB stands for General Municipal, Boiler Makers and Alloy Trade Union is it’s full title. It’s the general union in the case that it encompasses everyone. So long as you’re not a member of a fascist organization, or an organisation with ambitions contrary to what the union stands for, then you can belong to it. So there’s no restriction on anyone joining the GMB. It’s kind of like the Transport and General Workers Union (T&G) in that respect, in that anyone of any field could join it. It wasn’t a craft union or a specific industrial union like the ... say, USDAW (Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers) or the Royal Marine and Transport Union. So it covers everyone.

Simon:

Give some examples of the ... Do you largely represent areas where unionisation is not so established? Or more temporary types of workers, like cleaners or ...?

     

Dominic:

Well, in Scotland where mainly the municipal union makes up a large part of the GMB’s membership, so people of the local authorities. So it’s probably a ... I’d say around about a sixty-five thirty-five split between public sector and private sector. So cleaners, catering assistants in the schools, school support workers, the bin men ... But we also do have the residual membership that’s left from the closures of the shipyards, that’s still a fairly decent proportion of the GMB’s membership. Other than that there is a lot of food processing. I mean, in Scotland you got food processing, hospitality and agriculture are probably the three major industries and so there’s a slant towards those ... representation in those industries as well.

Simon:

So, you’ve told me you generally deal with migrant workers and immigrants so the union recognises migrant labour as an important category in it’s own right or ...?

     

Dominic:

Well, I think the GMB ... I mean, I used to work for the Transport and General Workers Union and I’d say that the GMB has more of a focus on organising migrant workers and actually implementing initiatives aimed towards migrant workers, rather than just trying to go for a workplace and if there’s Polish workers or Lithuanian workers then good ... We’re actually targeting places where the migrant workers are. I think that’s probably a national thing, it’s not just restricted to this region. But yeah, there’s quite a need to get migrant workers in to the unions. Even with regards to that kind of: “Coming here and stealing our job,” type of mentality that you can ... you can go to a place like Peterhead or when I was working in Grimsby with the T&G, you can actually see where the ... you know, you go to a fish processing plant and there won’t be a native worker in there so there’s people automatically think that it’s a kind of closed shop and that you can’t speak English to work there. And there also is the ... I suppose the predominance of migrant workers in low paid jobs and so, I mean, the people that they’re vying for jobs with tend to be either uneducated or unskilled so there’s a ... you know. If we can get in and unionise them, raise the skills and raise the wages, that kind of argument of ... the kind of BNP (British National Party) argument, disappears.

Simon:

What have you found are the key needs for unionisation among that specific circle?

     

Dominic:

I mean, you’ve got things like ... We hold community meetings and this is part of the way that we found Peterhead basically. We’ve held two meetings up there and we’ve had about sixty people attend them after hours on a weekday, so it’s probably not the best time to hold a meeting but we’ve had a decent turnout. All of these people are ... you know, we’ve got a sheet that’s got fifteen of the basic rights at work, it’s just a guideline, and we open up the meeting with that and just said to them: “We can basically play bingo on this and see all of you will have encountered a breach of one if not more of these,” and they were all in agreeance. Trying to figure out one basic reason for unionising a place is a bit difficult. I mean, there’s things like social inclusion so that if ... As I was saying before you started recording, we’ve got a migrant workers branch set up and, basically, one of it’s aims is to do a lot of outreach work so that we can get volunteers going on things like cancer walks and blood drives and every time we do that we get in the paper. So it brings people into the community more and more by kind of, I suppose, by inches without them knowing, and I suppose, over time, it will reduce the barriers. Definitely in the North East there’s a real exclusion, both imposed by the migrant groups and the Scottish society as well. The migrant workers tend to exclude themselves and they tend to be excluded in society so, you know, they’ve got their own shops. Obviously the schools are provided, health is provided. For economical and financial reasons, they don’t tend to go to pubs so they’ll have house parties so that way that they could go out and meet people is also restricted. They work in places where there might be one native worker. A lot of them don’t speak English, which is another thing that we’re trying to address. As we get unionised, we’ll be having learning agreements so that we can get English tutors in to teach English to these people free of charge. So there’s social reasons, there’s economic reasons ... alluding to that a lot of them are skilled workers in unskilled jobs and with requisite minimum wage that goes along with it. There’s also family reasons. Like a lot of them are, from my experience, fairly young. I’m thirty-four and they tend to be a bit younger than I am and they’ll already have children. So even things like they can’t afford to take days off for their kids’ birthdays so ... There’s no simple answer to that unfortunately. Basically, I suppose we’re trying to unionise them to get them better wages, to get them better work conditions.

 

Yeah, so there’s a variety of reasons, both social and economic, for trying to unionise them. I mean, there’s ... Also, it increases the union power in that sector of the economy so, you know ... If we go after, say, the fish sector in Peterhead, that’s probably the major fish processing town in the UK, then we can exert that pressure over the supermarkets. And if we try to go after other places in the supply chain then we can use that power there to exert pressure. So there’s a cynical kind of membership union power issue as well as the more, I suppose, immediate meat and potato issues for our members or potential members.

Simon:

What kind of obstacles have you found?

     

Dominic:

There’s always a really high fear factor because a lot of migrants are told, for one, that you’re not allowed to join a union because you’re a migrant. They’re also told that if they join a union they’ll get sacked, and us trying to prove that gets a bit tricky because a lot of the time a manager will say: “Aww, we didn’t actually mean that, it’s this guy’s bad English, what we actually said was ...” and they’ll rephrase it to a legal requirement. The way we’ve been organising it has actually been to avoid any obstacles so we’re focusing on things like trying to set up a magazine, getting funding for Polish, Latvian, Lithuanian, English newspapers being set up ... And we’re also ... because of our involvement with the Migrant Workers Association up there, we’ve been able to get to people with the employers knowing about it and we’ve been able to tell them what the benefits of unionism are and also let them know that we want to go for all these places. So, partially because we’re not very far along in our campaign ... I mean, we haven’t approached any employers about recognition or anything; we haven’t raised any grievances. What we’re actually trying to do is avoid raising any grievances until we’re in a position to go for recognition. So hopefully we can avoid any kind of employer repercussions. I mean, partially they are ... we know that a lot of them are ... I’m not sure what it is, it’s kind of like Pilgrim Brothers or Free Presbyterian, where the religion of the actual owners kind of justifies, to their thinking, why they can remain non-union or stay non-union. So we know that there are going to be problems and we know that the employer does have the resources that if we unionise one place then they can potentially shut down that place and shift the work to somewhere else, so we’ve got to be very careful in what we’re doing. So, I suppose, that in itself will be the obstacle, in that we kind of know what we’re up against and we’re trying to get around it. We know that employer resistance is going to be the main one. There hasn’t been much of an obstacle put in place by the workers themselves which is very reassuring for us because it means that ... well, it means two things: one, is that the workers see that there’s a problem and understand that joining a union is the way to fix it; and the other thing about it, is that it also means that the employer’s potentially quite complacent and hasn’t had to deal with a union so they haven’t got any anti-union or union-busting strategies put in place already.

Simon:

One thing that a couple of migrant workers have said to me is that what puts them off joining a union is membership fees, that for people on the minimum wage they can be comparatively quite high. And secondly, for those seasonal workers who might just be here for six months and ...

     

Dominic:

Well, the way that we’ve been approaching it in Peterhead, as people are minimum wage, what we’re saying to them is I suppose two things. One, is that if they sign up on direct debit, for argument’s sake, we’re asking them to sign up on direct debit cos we don’t have any check-off agreements with the bosses and also we wouldn’t want the bosses to know that they’re in a union. So what we’re doing is saying ... if it’s in a small place, if a place employs fifty people and forty of them are migrants, we’ll say: “Well, if you’ll sign up we won’t process your forms until we go for recognition.” So it’s not until we actually have to prove to somebody like ACAS (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service), the central arbitration commission, that we’ll process the form. So you won’t pay anything until we go for recognition. The other way, in bigger places, is to say: “If you sign up as a part-timer, once we get recognised we’ll shift it onto a full-time rate,” so we try and ... It is tricky, trying to ... It doesn’t sound like much but when you’re asking somebody for 1% of their income per week or ... actually, after tax it’s probably creeping up to 1½%, 2% of their gross income that you’re asking them to give to their union. So we’ve got to be ... we’ve got to balance that. But one of the ways we get round that is by saying: “Well, when we get recognised, when we start negotiating your wages, we’ll be going for 4% or 5% a year.” A lot of them are quite mercantilist so you can sell it to them on an investment basis, so by saying: “If you guys join the union, this is 1% of your income but we’re going to get you 5% on top of that,” and when they come up with the argument that the boss won’t agree, we’ve got the credit checks and the credit reports and we can actually show them what the company’s earning and ... you know, we don’t go and make promises like: “We’re going to get you 10%,” or anything like that, but if 5% is a reasonable target for us to go for, then that’s what we go for. So it’s on the basis of capacity to pay and we educate our members to that, so some of them will join up because they view it as an investment. They know that if they pay £100 then they’re going to get £500 so some of them are quite canny in that way. Others are more in a socialist vent of mind and logically believe in the unions, especially the old timers who are saying: “Solidarność,” or something like that, or even still have fond memories of the Communist era ...

Simon:

Do you not get a flip side to that? That some people feel that unions have been totally discredited?

     

Dominic:

Umm ... there is but ... Again, because we’re dealing with the community leaders and because we’ve gone and ... We’ve got the priests on side in Aberdeen and we’ve shown them what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. We’ve got the migrant workers on side. We’ve got the Migrant Workers Association on side. We’ve got the Grampian Racial Equality Council on side. Council on side. So we very deliberately, rather than going to the workers first, went to the leaders first and got them into the union. We’ll be providing them with training for shop stewards so that they can organise themselves. So we don’t have that barrier as much as you would on a green field site where you’re going up to the factory gates and asking people to join, trying to get people involved there. So we’ve been able to get around it but that’s been a very specific part of the way we’ve been targeting migrant workers. It wasn’t to go directly to the masses, it was to go after the leaders and convert those guys. Because once you’ve got them, once you’ve got the gate-keepers, everything else kind of falls into place.

 

Emm ... the seasonal workers. The seasonal workers is tricky. One of the things about the seasonal workers is that they tend to be seasonal all year round, if you know what I mean? They’ll go from one seasonal job to another seasonal job. And they can carry their card but we’ve not been focusing on things like agriculture or hospitality but that’s really due to the volatile nature of both of those industries, especially now with all this credit crunch malarkey. But it’ll be very tricky to unionise a hotel, for arguments sake, because in a week these guys might all be out of jobs. So we’re focusing on places that have sustainable membership. I don’t think any of the supermarkets have really had their profits hit badly. I know Tesco has had it’s profit reduced by 22% but that profit was taken up by Asda and Sainsbury’s, so the things in the food sector ... the entire supply chain from production to shop hasn’t really been hit but with regards to things like agriculture ... again it’s kind of tricky. A farm might employ two hundred people at the peak times of the season but that might be for three months and you’ve got to get the connections in there and a lot of them could be or, from my understanding, tend to be students who’ve come over for the berry season and then they go back. So we wouldn’t ... Unless we could get in at the start of the season and really hammer a place or unless we could get the core workers who were left at the end of the season ... So, I mean, if a farm is still employing thirty people at the end of it’s berry season, for argument’s sake, then we’d go after that there. But, you know, we’re not really trying to focus on the seasonal workers. I mean, if they came to us in numbers that we could force a recognition agreement then we’d do it, but it’s tricky because the apparatus for going for statutory recognition, the ability of the employer to drag that process out and our ability to force it on the job because these people are here for three months, they’re there for money ... Are they going to go on strike? Are they going to wildcat in any way? Are they going to do something outside of the legal processes? Probably not. They’re young, they don’t have that confidence to exert power on the job as an older and more experienced worker would.

Simon:

There’s this one Polish women who I spoke with, and her union wasn’t the GMB, but she approached the union that she was a member of and she felt that were not interested because she was a migrant worker.

     

Dominic:

Well, that’s not uncommon. We’ve been able to get around that because we’ve got a network of Polish, Lithuanian, Slovakian, Latvian activists, so we can get around that pretty easily. We can dedicate the time to people. We can also speak to people in their own language. What one of the problems, generally, is that there’s a ... definitely with the Polish, they like time spent on their problem. So when they go to a doctor, they get a bit upset because there’s a fifteen minute consultation with the GP. They like half an hour or an hour and they like to know that they’re being looked after. So I think it’s more of a cultural thing and definitely unions like the T&G and USDAW I think are being fairly slack in understanding the cultural requirements that these people have. I mean, definitely if we had a migrant worker come to us we would spend a lot of time on them, especially if it was an unrecognised place. We’d be trying to see if there was an angle for us to get recognition in there so we’d be spending a lot of time with that person. I mean, definitely, if a union doesn’t have translators to hand it can obviously be a bit tricky because of the language barrier. Also you’ve got the difference in expectation. I mean, a lot of the migrants are coming from a Communist or post-Communist economy. If you’ve got a problem, go to somebody at the top and slip them a fiver or a tenner and the problem goes away. That’s not uncommon. And a lot of them don’t understand why you’ve got the processes you’ve got to go through here, and why things might take two months or three months to get a resolution when back home they can go and talk to somebody at the top and clear it all up. It’s not uncommon for migrant workers, especially from non-English speaking background ... I mean, definitely in the North East, the people that we’re going for, we do hear ... I mean, we know of one large unionised company. A lot of people joined a union there or joined the union that was on-site but didn’t actually realise that they were joining a union. They thought they were signing up to something else and were completely stunned when they started paying union dues. So I think that ... basically it’s because, as I was saying earlier, I don’t really think that many of the unions have really developed specific initiatives to organise the migrant communities. So, as a result, there hasn’t been that process of educating the workers. There hasn’t been a process of really ... well, I suppose that education is a two way thing. One is getting to know their culture and them getting to know ours. So bottom line is that wouldn’t be an uncommon occurrence for a lot of migrant workers, to not feel they’re being given the full attention.

Simon:

In the past year or two years there’s been a number of groups arisen from within migrant worker communities, as kind of representation groups. And they’re different from members of the Polish Ex-Combatants Association ... (inaudible) ... Migrant Workers Association is one example and there are a few others, which is quite recent, which are set up and run by the migrant working communities ... maybe facilitated by someone else, a community worker quite often. What impact do you think they could potentially have in terms of working conditions of migrant workers and, secondly ... (inaudible) ...?

     

Dominic:

Well, the impact on working conditions, unfortunately it’s quite limited. I mean, what we’re trying to do is make contact with as many of these groups as possible and then provide them with a level of funding. Partially because a lot of them are volunteers; a lot of them don’t have training and so on and so forth. So we try and get in, provide that training, provide that funding so that it can be a bit more professional in it’s approach, rather than a group of volunteers doing it as and when they can dedicate time and resources to it. But the ... and this is one of the main ways we’ve been able to put in our involvement or kind of marry up with these groups is because we can tell them: “Well you go and represent one person who’s been hurt on the job and once that person leaves, if it’s in a workplace of say a hundred people, you’ve still got ninety nine other people who this issue affects, so although you’re actually doing what you set out to do in looking after these individuals, the actual collective still gets neglected.” And if it’s a collective issue and if it gets sorted out, then all that happens is, give it six months or a year and it’ll be back to the same place. So we need to be able to say to them: “Look, we’ll go after the collective we’ll train you in that kind of collectivist approach.” So they’ve actually been really handy. I mean, I’ve got no problem dealing with them whatsoever because it means that a lot of our job is actually done. I mean definitely with the Migrant Workers Association in Peterhead, they’ve got three or four hundred members out of a community of four thousand or two thousand, depending on what day of the week it is. So their ability to get to these workers that we’re trying to organise is far in excess of us and also, as I was referring to earlier, they’ve got a position of trust because they’ve got rungs on the board as far as solving individual work issues, but they’re now trying to convert that individual servicing approach to a collective organising approach. Basically, they are really, really handy, there’s no understating of it. And I think you’re definitely right, over the last year there has been a lot of self-organisation throughout Scotland. I mean, there’s a group called Intercultural Forum in Falkirk who provides a similar ... probably a bit more advanced. They’ve got a far greater deal of funding that the Migrant Workers Association, for argument’s sake, does. But ... the level of self-organising, I think it has increased and that’s partially because I think the community leaders are ... I think there’s a younger breed of community leaders who are coming through. Like what we were saying about the Combatants Association, definitely those guys tend to be quite reluctant to give up any kind of power. And this isn’t ... I’m not referring to the Aberdeen Polish Association. They’ve been quite helpful for us or to us. But I would say, overall, the people in the already established community organisations tend to be real gate-keepers and they don’t want union involvement because it means ... Say for argument’s sake, you’re the head of an organisation, if somebody has a problem and you go and fix it up, that reinforces your power and standing in the community. If you start referring people to another organisation, it then reduces that power and that standing.

Simon:

I spoke with one woman who is herself second generation Polish and she said that a lot of the second generation Polish who are in these long standing groups just don’t understand the circumstances of the younger migrant. They don’t know what it is to live on the minimum wage and many of them tend to be within better paid work ... they tend to be more middle class.

     

Dominic:

I definitely agree with that. There is a tendency to view the younger generation as a bit of an upstart. You know, that kind of traditional generation gap thing, that a lot of these people view themselves as ... them or their parents have come over here and they’ve had to work hard to establish themselves, or they took all the crap jobs and they had to work their way up to be middle class, and these people come over and want to ride on their coat-tails. So there’s a bit of class snobbery and there’s a bit of the generation gap as well. I mean ... yeah. There is definitely that element to it. Very, very definitely we’ve noticed that. That’s part of the thing that the younger breed of community leaders tend to be upper-middle class in their own country and have come over here and ... They don’t do badly. I mean, a lot of them are self-employed or work as interpreters or will be in some kind of professional job but yeah, they do tend to be a bit more in touch. Because most of their friends will be in those minimum waged types of condition. In Inverness, for example there’s been a split between the established Combatants Association and the younger Scottish Polish Union in the Highlands, who are all young professionals around about thirty. So there is definitely more of an emphasis now from those younger people on the issues now that are facing them, rather than being a ceremonial ‘bringing out the Polish flag on St Andrew’s Day’ kind of organisations.

Simon:

Just to come back to the work. A lot of the structures and relationships, working relationships, that exist in some of these places are quite nebulous in some ways. There seems to be a few factors, agency employment is a key one. The other is that a lot of the time, where problems have occurred, it’s people dealing with a middle layer, a supervisory level of employee who sometimes themself is also an agency worker or who is also ... In some cases they have also been migrant workers who are there on temporary positions and that’s ... quite unstable structures that people have been employed within. Do you feel that these contribute to the work based problems?

     

Dominic:

Umm, definitely. I think it really puts people in a situation where they’re not willing to speak up about anything which is ... In Peterhead there are two main agencies supplying the fish supply chain. So we’re not targeting those workers. What we’re doing is targeting the core workers from each place. The strategy is to try and get permanency for the agency workers because the agency workers have the ability to undercut the core workers, in terms of conditions, but also because there is that really precarious nature of their employment that if an agency worker speaks up about an issue in the job, you’re kind of guaranteed that they won’t be there the next day. So we’ve got to find a way to insulate or buffer them.

Simon:

I’ve heard quite often agency workers don’t have contracts. A few people have said that they’ve for some time stayed within the same company. They’ve come as an agency employee and shifted to a direct employee. That makes a big difference to their wages, for one thing. Also their stability and entitlements and ...

     

Dominic:

Yeah. We’re only really starting to scratch the surface when it comes to what’s going on in Peterhead. Currently we’re looking at twenty-one companies and we’ve had meetings with people from ten of them and I’ve yet to see a contract. A lot of these guys don’t have contracts and the bosses don’t feel any great need to give them any. So yeah, I know that it will make a difference to some respect but the major danger is that if you can get an agency worker to do your job for minimum wage and you’re paying someone holidays, sick pay and whatever else, whatever the company rate is, why wouldn’t you just get the agency in to do all your work. Because the way the agencies operate, especially in food, is supplying in bulk. So if you get an employee provided by the agency ... An agency will provide you with a hundred people at minimum wage plus 10% and the agency keeps that 10% so they can make a pretty decent profit by providing in bulk. But then you get things like if an agency worker asks for holidays, they won’t have a job when they come back. If an agency worker goes off sick, they won’t have a job when they come back. All that kind of stuff. So if you take into account what a company would be paying a worker in terms of any pension, training, wage, sick pay, holidays, all the rest of it, it’s a lot cheaper for them to just get in the agency workers. There’s very few agencies that really do anything legitimately, or there’s very few ethical job agencies.

Simon:

The bigger picture, one of the interesting aspects of this is ... (inaudible) ... Peterhead. It’s quite a remote town and some people might say ... (inaudible) ... and yet the industries that are there are really part of big global ... There’s a lot of money there and there’s also a lot of networking. So when you start talking to the companies about who they trade with and look at who their owners are, like some of them are owned by multi-nationals that are outside of the UK. Some of them have business interests in other parts of the world like Thailand. Quite a few of them seem to have ...

     

Dominic:

Yeah, the Far East.

     

Simon:

And they’re often suppliers on a global level. They are global businesses, these businesses.

     

Dominic:

Just to expand on that, even the ones that aren’t global still have a pretty decent domestic share in big supermarkets as well, so they’re not short of a dollar basically because ... I suppose, other than Peterhead, you probably have the Humber, Hull and Grimsby as a fish producing area, and then I think you’re looking at Cumbria and that’s about it outside of ... that would actually rival Peterhead. So it’s actual positioning in the market is quite strong as far as that goes.

Simon:

Are there quite strong monopolies in place?

     

Dominic:

Yeah.

     

Simon:

I spoke to some retired fishermen who were active during that transition from family-based small industry into the large ... and they say sometimes there were three or four families in their whole district.

     

Dominic:

I’d say it’s seven families. What we’ve noticed is there’s a high degree of cross-ownership or co-ownership. Like these twenty-one companies; they’re the actual fishing boats; they’re the cold storage facilities; they’re the transport companies, as well as the fish processing places. So they’ve got the whole supply chain pretty well stitched up. So basically any money they ... in a way they’re charging themselves because the fish processor pays the fish company. They also pay the cold storage facility, who pay the transport company. And all of them are getting paid by the supermarkets so it’s not a bad little earner they’ve got. But that relationship they’ve got with the supermarkets is actually their area of weakness. For argument’s sake, all the major supermarkets have signed up to the Ethical Trading Initiative Based Standards, which guarantees workers a right to organise. There’s a Freedom Of Association clause in it. Now, some of the companies ... especially now, as there’s a lot of economic uncertainty going on, all the supermarkets don’t want bad publicity. Let’s say for argument’s sake that we walked up to an Asda and these companies were supplying Asda and we started leafleting the customers there asking them not to buy the fish, because the company that supplies Asda fish is denying their workers the right to unionise. Supermarkets would probably come down very heavy on them. That’s definitely in the process of education for the workers, is that we try and let them know why they’ve got some power and how to exert it. But there is very definitely seven families who all of them will own their own factory but they’ll also co-own one or a number of factories with the other families. We haven’t done much research with the actual client base of the factories but that’s something that we’ll uncover as we go on. Some of them are set up as a kind of boutique industry that they’ll supply ... There’s one company, I just can’t recall the name of it, that supplies purely to delicatessens and only employs about thirty people and is a little smoke house. And that’s owned by two of the companies. The cold storage facilities tend to be co-owned between a number of families. There’s four families that co-own one and three families that co-own the other, and it stands to reason that all their product will come through that place, so strategically there’s a lot of weak points on the supply chain. So as long as we can actually convince the workers that they’ve got power, we can kind of use these relationships to undermine the companies or at least unionise the companies.

Simon:

The fact that GMB is this big union, do you think it enables an individual worker to have a sense of their place within that bigger system and that they have some kind of leverage within it?

     

Dominic:

Yeah, I think that’s what I mean. You’ve got the region, you’ve got the district office and then you’ve got the branches. The migrant workers’ branch is very much focused on the grass roots and tries to educate it’s members. A lot of the organising we’re actually doing, as I’ve alluded to, is done through our activists. It’s not done through me. Anyone who’s in this branch has a say in what gets organised. You know, if I can’t get out to a factory I know that, throughout Scotland, I’ve got people who can hold meetings, who know how to talk to workers ... all that kind of stuff. So it’s ... it kind of harkens in some ways I suppose back to the more syndicatilist unions in the 1930s where everyone’s an organiser, type of stuff. I mean that’s definitely the focus, that we don’t want the officer or the office being seen as being the union. We want people to realise that what union membership actually means, rather than just being a card and services. But definitely that grass roots emphasis allows people really to identify, and what we’re trying to do is get people to identify, that if you’re a migrant worker you belong to a union and, if you belong to a union, hopefully you belong to our one. And also to understand why. Definitely trying to get kind of identity politics into the migrant communities is what we’re focusing on. Does that answer it?

Simon:

This is a thing Ron brought up. He said that he thinks, because of the recession, there’s going to be greater pressure on jobs and there’s going to be, he foresees, some kind of increasing tension between migrant workers and local ...

     

Dominic:

Yeah, that’ll definitely happen. That’s a historical thing. You can look back at any industry, in any country, in any year and you’ll see that when economic conditions are good, no one really complains. I suppose the obvious and most extreme version is Nazi Germany. When things go bad, everyone wants a scapegoat and it’s only a matter of time before they find one. There’s enough pressure and tension in the North East between the two communities so I wouldn’t try and contradict him on that one.

 

One of the things we’ve been doing is not focusing entirely on industrial issues. We’ve also been on issues such as housing, the NHS, educational ... What we’re doing is making people aware of what they can do. We were also holding, basically, voter registration drives. It’s another thing that we’ve been doing. So we’re focusing on anything that reduces the distance between the two communities and reduces the isolation of the migrant communities. A lot of them aren’t aware that they can vote in the local elections and it’s because ... From the GMB/Labour kind of access ... I mean, I think there’s about four hundred thousand migrant workers, depending on who you speak to. There’s probably at least a hundred thousand Polish workers in Scotland, so if we can get the majority of them voting in local elections then it’s a good return to the Labour party cos we’re the party that ... that’s the party that most of them are going to vote for. But things like with the NHS, a lot of migrants think that you’ve got to pay for any medical attention so tend not to, or avoid going to a doctor because they don’t understand it’s free. And housing, because it ... especially with the agency workers, because there’s a tie between bonded housing being linked to their jobs and of course the exploitation that goes along with it. For example, the rent and then meeting people who have been charged for carpet cleaning and they’ve got linoleum floors and all that kind of stuff. Basically it’s not restricted to what goes on in the workplace. For a lot of the migrant workers, being on the minimum wage and having exploitative conditions in the workplace isn’t a huge issue because they see it as part of life here. So there’s a kind of stoic acceptance of what happens in the work place on a lot of occasions.

Simon:

As a union, can you do a lot directly on housing issues?

     

Dominic:

It’s like any campaign. There’s a lot you can do. If you’re talking about direct action, you can occupy houses or, you know ... We’ve been involved with ... em ... in Falkirk. One of the things we’ve been doing there is stopping an eviction of a family there. And that’s been through working with the Intercultural Forum in Falkirk. We’ve been able to or, more to the point, they’ve been able to halt an eviction there. So there’s ... You can directly intercede with the councils or whatever other agencies for people. There’s also the industrial thing that directly you can, if a company’s employing an agency and they’re putting people up in shoddy housing, you can take it back to the company and say: “Why are you guys encouraging this?” You know, you can put pressure on from a number of different angles.

Simon:

Have you got many ... Do you have many migrant officers within the union?

     

Dominic:

No. Most of the ... Well, we’ve got a large activist base but no actual paid employees. But again, the migrant workers branch is set up to provide funding for the activists so it’s a kind of quid-pro-quo type arrangement we’ve got with these organisations.