Polish workers in Britain may strike

POLISH workers in Britain are considering a 24-hour strike in protest at anti-immigrant smears and accusations of being “benefit scroungers” to demonstrate their importance to the British economy.

The proposed date for the unprecedented unofficial walk-out is 20th August and organisational discussions are taking place on internet forums and in the pages of Britain’s largest Polish language newspaper, which is offering tacit support.

More than 500,000 Poles are currently employed in Britain and any concerted action could cause widespread disruption to businesses and services across the country, with the construction, food and health care sectors in particular hit hard.

But supporters of the plan are calling on other groups of immigrant workers to join them. Official estimates show there are now 1.3 million people born in newer EU member states living in Britain, just over half of them, or 688,000, Polish.

Separate figures estimate that there are 508,000 Polish born people in Britain’s labour force.

Poland is now second only to India as the birthplace of most foreign-born residents of Britain. The last census also showed Polish becoming Britain’s effective second language as the most widely spoken “main” language in the country after English and Welsh.

No individual or organisation has taken the lead in organising the proposed strike but online polling suggests support could be strong.

The idea came from one post on a Polish expat internet forum by a British-based Pole frustrated at antiimmigrant rhetoric in Britain and a perceived lack of appreciation towards their contribution to the economy.

“Once in America in the 1980s immigrants didn’t go to work for just one day,” she wrote. “The result? It stopped everything: the metro, communications, cafés. And it stopped the moaning. Maybe now is the time for us.”

The post prompted a deluge of responses and was noticed by Tomasz Kowalski, editor of Polish Express a British-based Polish-language news and community website. A strike supporter, he has since covered the story.

“I think it’s a good idea,” he told The Telegraph. It’s not about anger; it’s just a way to show people in the UK that immigrants are an important part of Britain.

“We want to make the point that we are here and that we want to feel appreciated.”

He added: “It’s also a matter of pride; Poles like living in the UK, they like their jobs but we don’t like people saying we’re only here for benefits.”

Many Poles in Britain are angry at the excessive focus by the Government on EU immigrants claiming benefits, and feel they have been smeared in some quarters as “scroungers” when their labour actually contributes to the British economy.

An official study published last year showed that Polish people living in Britain are almost 20 per cent more likely to work than their British-born counterparts. The study, based on analysis of the most recent UK census, found that 81.2 per cent of working-age Polish born residents of England and Wales on census day were working, compared with only 69 per cent of their UK-born counterparts and only 59 per cent of those from outside the European Union.