By Steven Allison
It was claimed in the highly regarded Polish publication Polityka in October 2008, that an estimated 1.2 million people have moved to Britain from Poland, most of which have come since Poland joined the exciting new world of a border-free European Union in 2004. This diligent nation of workers has come here to enjoy the right of freedom of movement bestowed upon them by the EU Treaty.
Granted, they have accepted low paid, low grade work, but they undertake the 60 hour plus working weeks that they are dealt with unflagging determination to succeed. The mass exodus of Poles has certainly brought the bigots and racists out from hibernation. I have had the pleasure of meeting the acquaintance of many Poles and I have found them to be a kindly and personable nation. So this begs the question, why do so many Brits hold such a disheartening estimation of the Poles?
Suzanne Bonar, head of recruitment for 24/7 Staff, a recruitment agency in Dundee, told me that the trend seems to be that the Poles she has on her books are mainly placed in the hospitality industry.
Peter Rowlands, a 21 year old kitchen hand at the Italian restaurant in Dundee, feels that he is “experiencing the effects of Eastern European Immigration first hand”. He claims that despite having respect for them and noticing that fellow residents of Dundee are accepting of them, he feels that “attitudes seem to be changing”. He and many of his friends feel that it is difficult to find work in the hospitality industry now because most positions are taken by Poles.
Sally Marks, a 27 year old waitress at the same restaurant feels differently. She believes this sort of attitude to be one of “jealousy”, and argues that “we don’t have enough British people willing to take these jobs, so the vacancies are left open for Polish people to take them”.
Julia Suidinska, a 21 year old student at the University of Dundee, was presented with the above and laughed at Peter’s “tired old argument” saying that “this sort of attitude is ridiculous; people don’t get to choose where they are born and if moving abroad to make a better life for themselves is the way forward, then so be it”. Julia has been living in Scotland since she left Warsaw 2 years ago and was fully aware of the stigma attached to Poles in Britain before she came here. She is surprised that she has not been hit with the negativity stick herself, other than “light hearted jibes” from friends, which if taken in the wrong manner could be construed as racism, but are instead taken in the spirit with which they are supposedly intended.
Julia agrees that although there is an abundance of Poles in the country, the bulk do not have a sound grasp of the English language, which could lead to the mistaken belief that they are an “ignorant and antisocial” group of people. For Julia and her flat mate, Joanna Pyrak, also a 21 year old student at the University of Dundee, life is somewhat different. Joanna claims that both arrived with “a better knowledge of the language than most Scottish people have”, which may not be such a far cry from the truth.
Kajetan Lukomski, a 23 year old public relations representative for the G1 in Glasgow, argues that “British workers of this ‘the Polish are stealing our jobs’ mindset, are unaware of the fact that these workers have more than likely left all of their previous aspirations behind to start and work their way up from the bottom”. Versatility is vital for employment in the 21st Century, and most of these immigrants hold a strong work ethic and flexibility. Any British worker that possesses a negative attitude towards immigrant workers needs to ask themselves, “What can I do better than them?” Thy will no doubt struggle to find an answer..
The Poles have become an important part of British culture, society and economy. What would happen if the Poles left? One thing is for sure, a little Polish attitude would endure, and we should all take a lesson from it.
Joerg Tittel from the Polish Cultural Institute argues that “Polish culture means hard work…It’s a far less cynical society than here”. Poles have brought with them more than just the ability to wash our dishes to a ‘mild green fairy liquid’ standard: a simplistic work ethic that harks back to days long gone of basic hard graft.
Piotr Fila, a 21 year old student at the University of Dundee, says “I find the British very ignorant of Polish culture (and most others to boot), whereas we are willing to immerse ourselves in theirs”. He was once asked if polar bears roamed the streets of Poland. If that isn’t ignorance then you can chop off my head, boil it and serve it up for dinner.
One of the biggest ironies of this difference in culture and ethics was evidenced by a friend of Joanna Pyrak who refused to try a typical Polish dish containing meat from a boiled pig head that she made him. The irony is in what he does to bring home the bacon. Ten GBP for anyone that can guess? That’s right…he is a chef.
So, is this just a huge bundle of cultural differences or sheer ignorance of a country well known for its unacceptance of all things not British? Probably a mixture of both. The Poles must be thanked for bringing with them a fresh wave of enthusiasm towards work to this country.