Immigration: who is trying to avoid competitive wages?

Immigration seems to be a big issue in America at the moment. Many economists from many points of the political spectrum have signed an open letter on immigration, outlining “the hard-won consensus that economists have come to” on the issue.

While it might be a hot topic in America right now, here in Britain it never seems far away from the front pages, particularly since the EU increased its membership to 25

A few months ago at university we were asked to go outside and as an experiment ask people to name members of the EU. We got some pretty strange answers — almost everybody said Iceland, and one person even said Crete! But almost every time, without fail, one of the first answers people would say was Poland. When I began to notice this pattern I asked one person why he said Poland. “Well, I read the paper, don’t I?” His lips said that one, although I could sense his brain adding, “And they’re going to take my job, and my girlfriend.”

My mother is one of those people who is convinced that the whole country is now covered in eastern Europeans. I can’t say I’ve noticed it personally. But my mum insists the supermarket is filled with Poles “or somebody with that sort of accent”. I always respond, “Mmm,” which is my polite way of saying, “I disagree.”

Tourism signs Perhaps my mum just thinks anybody who is white and has a foreign accent must be from Poland. They could be tourists for all we know. Tourists coming to visit Kirkcaldy? Nah. Mind you, whoever is responsible for putting up road signs (the council?) seems to think so anyway, as these new tourism signs near the railway station demonstrate. Michael Portillo recommends Kirkcaldy Museum and Art Gallery for its teas — fact!

Back to Poles though. I think I’ve only ever actually noticed one Pole working. I’m not certain about it though, but she did have an accent that sounded vaguely eastern European. It was a woman pushing a trolley in the train, and she was such a delight! Usually the trolley people are the most miserable people imaginable: shoulders slouching, feet shuffling. Their mumbling is barely audible, and they seldom apologise if they accidentally knock you with their trolley.

On the contrary, this woman was an absolute delight! She had a huge smile on her face, and she was engaging in conversation with the passengers. I’ve never seen anything like it. She lit up the entire carriage. It’s almost as if she was — gasp — happy to be pushing a trolley on a train. Who’d have imagined it! When I mentioned her to my brother he instantly knew who I was talking about. How many trolley people do you ever remember?

Apart from this, I have never had any experience of any Polish workers. One person I knew, though, said that when she was having building work done in her flat the British workers were all lazy slackers, turning up late and generally being half-arsed. But when they got Polish people in they were cheaper, quicker and happier. As a country, we would have to be absolutely bonkers to refuse these people the opportunity to work here.

I have such high respect for immigrants like that who do a decent job and contribute to society. It must take an awful lot of guts to decide to move halfway across a continent, into a completely foreign country with a different culture and where nobody speaks your first language — all to lay bricks or push a trolley on a train. I reckon somebody prepared to do that must be really desperate to do some work, and they deserve every chance they get.

Coincidentally, on the same day as the open letter on immigration emerged, Chris Dillow posted on his blog: For free immigration.

And then there was this post at Small Town Scribbles. She’s had a similar experience to me!

Leading a small life I’ve noticed nowt around here, but my mom who always has her finger on the pulse has noticed an intake in two of her local supermarkets.

But I’m afraid I may have to Fisk a bit.

One thing I have to pick a bone with though (oh didn’t you just know there was a “but” coming?) is this thing I keep hearing that immigrants do the jobs “that the British won’t do anymore.” Where the hell has this come from? Where are all these thousands of British people going, no, sorry, I’m not doing THAT!?

Well, here’s where it’s come from. It’s quite simple really. If British people wanted to do jobs as much as people from eastern Europe then the firms would jump at the opportunity to employ British people. But many immigrant workers are able to do some jobs more efficiently and for a lower wage than British people are willing to do. It is as simple as that. If it wasn’t the case then Poles obviously wouldn’t be able to work for lower wages.

It’s not about the British working classes being over-educated and all wanting plum white collar jobs really, is it? It’s about companies figuring that immigrants will take less wages.

Aah! Bingo! Correct answer, ten points. But…

Yes, those upperty working classes want fair pay for a fair day’s work, but foreigners know their place and won’t try and rattle the company’s piggy bank like those greedy British pigs. Grateful for what they can get, immigrants, they know what real suffering is. Not like the bolshy British.

…And this idea that companies are being “forced” to get immigrant labour is a white-wash to hide the fact that these compaines are ready to exploit whoever and however they can to make more profit.

I am sorry, but who is being exploited? As we have established, many immigrants are desperate to get such jobs. They wouldn’t choose to travel halfway across a continent if they were going to be exploited.

They call it the free market, they call it globalism, but without some kind of conscience being in play doesn’t this just fuck everything up for everybody long term? WMT can pay decent wages to local people, or it can misuse the people of a poor country by getting them to do the job at a cheaper rate. Isn’t it morally wrong to do the latter?

Err no. As above — nobody is being “misused”. No worker is being forced to do anything — immigrants are choosing to work here because they want to.

And if all the brightest and fittest people are leaving Poland to get a better life in Britain, where does that leave Poland?

Here is where it leaves Poland:

Many Poles abroad are learning new skills, languages and attitudes that will stand them in good stead when they return, as most do. Freedom of movement inside the EU means that, unlike previous generations, most Poles are not emigrating for ever.

Back to Scribbler:

And I know it’s market forces or whatever, but isn’t it just damn unfair to pay immigrants less money than they deserve for any given job just because we can?

Well here is the question: why would any firm in its right mind choose to pay higher wages for worse workers? Because in the end that would mean higher bus fares for all of us, and everybody — British workers, eastern European workers, bus firms, the lot — would end up worse off.

And remember this. Maybe to some British people the wages might seem to be “less than they deserve,” but why would anybody be willing to work for less than they thought they deserved, never mind travel across the continent to earn it? If the Poles stayed in Poland they would be earning even less. So why deny them the opportunity to earn some money here?

This is the concluding sentence that made me write this post though.

I would like however to at least have a little less talk about the British not wanting to do certain jobs, and a little more talk about companies not wanting to pay competitive wages.

In what sense is the company trying to avoid paying competitive wages? By employing Polish workers they are actually finding the competitive wage level. If anybody is trying to avoid competitive wages, it is the British people who call for less immigration because that locks perfectly able workers out of the market, thereby artificially raising wage levels. The only way I can think of (I’m sure somebody will correct me if I’m wrong) where firms could be paying less than the competitive wage level would be if they were using slave labour, which I assume WMT are not doing.


  1. I live in Crewe. There are something like 3000 Polish workers here because as soon as Poland joined the EU a local employment agency opened a branch in Warsaw. There has also been a Polish club here for donkey’s years so there’s a long connection. I have heard that their building skills aren’t quite what they’re cracked up to be and they do tend to drive around with scant regard for the highway code although neither of those things is uniquely confined to the Poles.

    Nobody has yet to point out one of the main reasons why they settle for lower wages. It’s mainly that they don’t live on credit or need a 48″ plasma screen telly in every room. They earn to pay, not earn to pay off. It makes things much simpler when half your pay packet isn’t spoken for straight off.

  2. I’m sure I read some article a couple of days ago that said 6% of Crewe’s population were now Polish.

    Anyway, there’s been an explosion of Poles (and Portugese for some reason) here in the Fens. Last year Polish youths and the local lads fought and a riot ensued. Not a major riot, but for these parts anything more than a simple spilt pint glass and pub brawl is big news. My town has seen several large factories and businesses close in the past couple of years, and yet immigrant workers are pouring into the area. A massive agricultural employer laid off a massive number of staff a year or so ago also, most of them British. However, the number of immigrants working there has increased. I think these things fueled the fallout between the existing locals and the immigrants. The agricultural employer gets the immigrants in, pays them as little as it legally can, but makes the money back on charging for ‘housing’ facilities for their new workforce. Very clever.

    I don’t mind immigration, but I think if you allow mass immigration at a fast rate, then tensions and problems will arise when the two cultures haven’t had chance to adapt. Anything up to 3/4 of a million Polish have moved to Britain in 2 years. That’s an incredible figure. There’s Bulgaria and Romania coming to the EU. Such rapid high shifts in a population’s culture will always cause trouble. There needs to be some kind of balance because not every one of them is a necessary skilled worker which Labour keep trying to tell us is the case.

  3. Its funny; when the Iceni, native americans or Maoris tried to resist immigrants they were described as “savages” and massacred by the ancestors of those crying fowl about immigration today. Jared Diamond might be onto something when he writes about “Guns, Germs, and Steel”…

    Frankly, I take the rather simplictic view that anyone with the gumption to get off their arse and travel long distances on a shaky promise just to try to get ahead should be welcomed. Smart parents should offer up their daughters to Polish plumbers who made it from Gdansk to Crewe, rather than to some frosted-haired tosser who gets lost on his way home from the pub.

    Then again, I do have a dog in this hunt; as a legal immigrant to the United States I’m naturally inclined to side with those who wandered to the air- or ferry port with a suitcase and a vague idea that they might do better elesewhere. I get it easy- I’m educated, white, male, and I speak English as a first language, so apparently I’m somehow “different” from the Mexicans in the eyes of the local red necks. I can’t shake the feeling though that those who crossed the channel or the Rio Grande are better men than the sedentary fools who oppose their entry.

  4. Come to Crewe.

    There’s hundreds of them.

    I’m not against any race, creed or nationality, but Crewe is becoming overrun with polish.