1 EAGLETON NOTES: I Was an Economic Migrant

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Sunday, 6 September 2015

I Was an Economic Migrant

I was born in a city of economic migrants: from Ireland, from Wales, from Scotland, from Aftica, from the West Indes, from China. and doubtless many other places ('though, oddly, in the 40s and 50s few people from the Indian sub-continent). I expect there were plenty from other parts of England too although I rarely recall meeting a through and through English person when I lived there.

I moved to a satellite of Manchester to work in my 20s and then, to get experience and for a considerable drop in salary, I moved to the Outer Hebrides. I was called, by a few, a 'bloody incomer taking away our jobs.'. The then Convener of the Council  (a Minister of Religion) once said to me "But you're not one of our kind and you'll soon leave for better things. That's what incomers do."

I have to say that such comments and sentiments appeared to me to be relatively few and far between and I have always felt welcome by the majority and have always felt part of this Island.  I would like to think that all the many, many economic migrants from this Island, whether they went to Glasgow, Toronto, South Georgia (whaling) or Australia and New Zealand (as £10 Poms) were made as welcome where they went. 

After all almost everyone on this Island (of Lewis and Harris) is descended from an economic or refugee migrant of some sort: whether it be from a Viking who came to farm a thousand years ago or from someone who came more recently in the times of the clan troubles.

The little band of countries known as Great Britain colonised much of the world. We didn't adopt the traditions and languages of the countries we conquered: we imposed our traditions and language. And Scots were amongst the greatest explorers and conquerors that Great Britain had.

You and I have the standard of living we have now, including, in the UK, perhaps the largest almost totally free health and welfare service in the world, because of the economic migrants and conquerors of our countries' past and the toil of our forefathers.  And, yes, some got obscenely rich and some lived wretched lives in intolerable conditions. 

My generation in Great Britain have probably lived in the longest period in the last thousand years where no war was fought on our soil. We have not had to flee for our safety. 

And let the Tories amongst you never forget Norman Tebbits' words "I grew up in the '30s with an unemployed father. He didn't riot. He got on his bike and looked for work, and he kept looking till he found it." He wasn't fleeing persecution like the fathers of some of our leaders. He was an economic migrant.

21 comments:

  1. I'd just started writing a blog post with that same quote from Tebbit. His politics were/are very far from mine. But it seemed pertinent to quote a right-winger. My family and I have space here to offer a refugee - and we are doing that. I've been appalled by the hard line taken on immigration by this country. The xenophobia that our politicians have encouraged degrades us all. There they were, busy outdoing one another with their outrageous hate-speak against the very people that their policies and military strategy had visited such suffering upon - and too many of 'us' bought it (and still do). The Dublin agreement and Schengen treaty need to be torn up - they're not adequate for the times. And ironically we now face greater political destabilisation from the massing of peoples on Europes borders than we ever would have if there had been meaningful purposive strategies to re-settle and protect.

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    1. Well well well. A stupid cow? I think not! My point of view is, I hope, obvious but the problem with your comment is that I'm never sure whether politicians lead or follow. They may try to lead but, in my experience, are so often frightened at losing their next election (and power) that they go with what they think is the majority. I think the last General Election was a prime example (and, boy, did the press get it wrong in some respects!).

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  2. There is no escape of news and reports about more and more refugees and immigrants arriving here in Germany these days. And there shouldn't be - for anyone, not just for Germany. I know it doesn't solve the problem of where to house the many people coming across our borders, or how to give them perspectives of a better life, when people line up at bus and train stations to welcome them with stuffed toys, blankets and bottles of water, but it is a gesture. Needless to say, I haven't been anywhere near Stuttgart main station yesterday - I was afraid of the crowds.
    How lucky I am, still living in the same town where I was born, never having had to worry about finding a job or about being at risk of being raped, imprisoned, murdered only because I am a woman or belong to a certain religion or have certain political views!
    I wish I wasn't quite so selfish and fearful and would actually DO something to help.

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    1. Meike, as ever the voice of reason and honesty. I could have written your last sentence. I was too cowardly.

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    1. Thanks Adrian there is more that joins our views than separates them.

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  4. I wish someone would offer me a passage to the other side of the world for £10 ~ but then again, maybe not in this day and age. Very happy in the Lucky country!

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    1. Oh Carol if I had residency in Australia or New Zealand I should be well satisfied.

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  5. And my late brother and I grew in a home without a father. I was born in 1944 and Graham was born in 1942. Our mother and her mother, our Nana raised us. Mum was never without work, other than perhaps at times "in between jobs". She didn't waste her time rioting - she just went out and found another job. Nana cleaned the homes of others during our school hours, and at one time for a pub in which my Mum worked. Throughout our childhood and teen years, our mother worked as a barmaid...and she was damn good one, too. :)

    Dylan's lyrics keep spinning in my mind...."Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall".......


    My ancestry is Scottish and Irish...so across the oceans they came in the mid-1800s and early 1900s to find a better life in this fair country...ours, the Lucky Country as it is called so often. I'm glad that they did.

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    1. I was born in 1944 too Lee. I think people have to accept that we are a world that has been migrating since mankind was able to walk and sail the seas.

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  6. Think about Canada for a minute. We certainly came for economics reasons. My German ancestors came from the Ukraine.

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    1. Red everyone in the 'New World' who is not an indigenous person (whatever indigenous actually is) is an immigrant. That's the reality of history.

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  7. We have migrants trying to find a better life coming to our shores too but in smaller proportions. We cry out about them utilising our free health system, diminishing our scarce water supply, having many babies for naturalisation and the list goes on and on.
    I am so very very thankful that the slave ship that arrived with my ancestors landed them here in Barbados and though we have endured hardships it was nothing like what the others endured in some of the other islands, hence quite a few persons now want to live their dream lives here.
    I'm not sure how I would react if we had droves of migrants arriving but I do know like the poster "aglaiketstirk" I would want to help somehow.

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    1. Yes Virginia I am one of the 'academic' socialists who believe that things should be done and people should be helped but am too selfish (or afraid) to open up my own home to migrants or refugees.

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    2. I don't think I could open up my home personally but I would be willing to donate some needy provisions.
      Help is help in whatever shape or form.

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  8. An interesting point of view and mostly I agree with the sentiments of this post. However, I think we should always remember that while the British state and its ruling class were building their powerful empire, they were also exploiting working people at home - miners, steel workers, dockers, farm labourers, weavers, masons, fishermen and so on. When people talk of "our" empire and pay back time I think of the millions who grafted for so little reward at home.

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    1. Neil, you and I are living well on the backs of the empire of our forefathers. I thought of you (and aglaiketstirk) when I wrote the sentence "And, yes, some got obscenely rich and some lived wretched lives in intolerable conditions." And, although you don't rate The Ragged Trousered Philanthropist, I think many of the current generation would learn from reading it.

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  9. A thoughtful and thought-provoking post, Graham.

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    1. Thank you Frances. I may not campaign about death row or even about the problems of refugees but I do have views on the subjects.

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  10. I think one of the main problems with the current crisis (beyond the obvious humanitarian aspects) is terminology. Are these people migrants (economic or otherwise) or refugees? The BBC seems to be using the term migrant throughout their reporting but including the following at the bottom of every article

    The BBC uses the term migrant to refer to all people on the move who have yet to complete the legal process of claiming asylum. This group includes people fleeing war-torn countries such as Syria, who are likely to be granted refugee status, as well as people who are seeking jobs and better lives, who governments are likely to rule are economic migrants.

    To me that seems perfectly sensible, although I know that other media outlets have been getting at the BBC for not referring to the groups from Syria etc. as refugees.

    I agree we need to help these people regardless of why they are migrating, but I think many of them that claim to be refugees are actually economic migrants. A refugee is someone escaping their homeland due to war or political/religious persecution. Once they have escaped from that then surely they would accept the first offer of help that they were given? The current influx of people to the EU however are all focused on reaching Germany as they view that as the better option for their future prospects rather than settling in Hungary or Austria. Now they may well be right but having made the choice, once safe from persecution, to push on to another country in hope of a more prosperous future doesn't that turn them from refugees into economic migrants?

    There is of course nothing wrong with being an economic migrant. As you say most people move where a job or a better life takes them. However most people do that legally. For example, while I could move and work within the EU there are many countries I could arrive in where I wouldn't be able to immediately start working as I would have no legal right to be be there other than as a tourist.

    At the end of the day our personal views don't really matter these people, whatever their circumstances, need help, but for once I agree with the current government that resettling people directly from refugee camps is a much safer approach than them trying to cross the Mediterranean to reach the EU and hopefully it will both deter people from risking their lives and focus the help given on those people who truly are refugees escaping with just their lives from war torn regions of the world.

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