A few weeks ago when David Cameron our Prime Minister called forth the European migrant devil, he followed a path that others have trod before him. A succession of senior politicians have used immigration as a political tool without worrying about the consequences of their action to those European, mainly Polish, migrants who have done so much to help our country. We should remember that it was only some four to five years ago when the reality of Polish migration was being celebrated with a series of government reports and comments that commended immigration as being good for our economy. But then we witnessed the failure of the UK financial system and the growing recession, thus a need to lay the blame at someone else’s door….
So what is the reality? Well I will start by saying that I grew up in a global city called London, there differing races and languages mix and without doubt this is where culture, music and most importantly food can be enjoyed and celebrated. So how did I come to be linked with the Polish community? Well even though I grew up in a global city I had never met any Polish people. The first time I had this pleasure was when I undertook work for the TUC in the North of England here I found Polish people who had been treated very poorly. But I also found people who had great courage, sprit and a strong sense of identity. Allied to this was their capacity for friendship and willingness to work with me and other colleagues to help those who were less able to help themselves.
So at an early stage I found Polish people were prepared to help each other and work with outsiders, like myself, to try to make things better for all. There are a number of heroic stories I could tell about Polish community activists and Polish trade union organisers who helped so many of their own people. But what is important is that they were also prepared to help other English and foreign workers. So there was clear integration at an early stage as Poles made British friends and this of course included past migrants who are now part of our multi-cultural society. Integration was enabled through our pubs and clubs, through the workplace and through sport. Most importantly it also involved Poles paying their taxes and contributing to our civil society through their community and political activities. What also became clear at an early stage, as Clare Courtney has recently identified, was a rich Polish culture. This goes further than my love for Polish sausage; it goes to my respect for a people who within a very short period were setting up Polish cultural networks which discussed and enjoyed Polish poems and films. So what I found at that early stage were a people who not only wanted to play an active role in our society but also held a strong sense of identity.