Darcus Howe glimpses a netherworld

A tragic accident on a railway gives us a glimpse of a netherworld

I have been inundated with leaflets from young white men seeking work. Mostly, they want odd jobs around the home: gardening, window cleaning, painting and decorating, furniture and carpet cleaning and so on. They are mainly asylum-seekers, east European drifters seeking to alleviate extreme poverty. A couple of them told me that they endure days without food in living conditions that are unbearable.

The refugees - reported to be Iraqi Kurds - whose minibus crashed into a train last Monday, when they were on their way to enslavement on a Worcestershire farm, are the aristocrats of this underclass, even though they work from sunup to sundown, picking fruit and vegetables, for between £70 and £90 a week. The catering industry is replete with similar no-hopers. Hang around restaurants in London's West End and you will find an army of underpaid and undernourished workers. Yet propaganda drives us to believe the opposite: that foreigners deprive the British of free medical care, free schooling, council housing, and so on. I hear this mantra from friends of Caribbean origin whose hostility to asylum-seekers knows no bounds. They spit the same venom that was hurled at us 50 years ago.

The minibus tragedy, which killed three and seriously injured three others, gave us a glimpse of this netherworld. The driver was unable to read English, so he ignored the notice at the level crossing that directed him on how to proceed.

I remember how, 45 years ago, I was enlisted into a trade union from my first day at work, with the dues deducted from my wages at source. I belonged to something larger than my small Trinidad and Tobago association. I was not at the mercy of employers with their slave wages and Victorian conditions.

Sir Bill Morris, shortly to retire from the leadership of the TGWU, speaks in rhetorical flourishes in support of asylum-seekers. But where is the programme for recruitment into the ranks of organised labour? Union activists need only visit farms and hostels throughout the country where asylum-seekers are to be found - and the membership will soar. Being in the same organisation as white workers will then afford not only comradeship, but also the education to counter the propaganda put out against these new immigrants.

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