Sunday, 6 July 2014

Where Once it was the Irish...

Every day we hear about immigration, and how it puts a strain on NHS resources and school places... but what's it really all about Alfie?

It's about the free movement of labour (human resources) so that it can be in the right place at the right time, for the capitalists who are holding the wage purse.

Where once, during my formative years, the Irish (including my family) came here for work, as did people from many commonwealth countries*, we now have people flocking from Eastern Europe, and of course other countries too.

When there is work that needs doing, and there isn't a steady supply at the right price in this country, our great land has a history of sourcing that labour from elsewhere.

A small bit of research brought me here:
As the historian David Fitzpatrick comments: 'The inelastic supply of native rural labour encouraged employers to dip their buckets into the bottomless well of Irish poverty whenever shortage occurred.'

By the late 19th century, most mig
rant workers came from Mayo and Donegal. This way of life has now all but disappeared.
     SOURCE: National Archives

I read the above with a heavy heart as ALL of my family are (on both sides) from Mayo, Ireland. Before you ask me whether that's North or South my answer is always the same. Tis the WEST!

That wave of immigation from the Commonwealth in the late 60s and early 70s was 100% reflected in my classmates at my Roman Catholic school. The English were in the minority. I guess that's why I have always been colour blind to racism, literally until it is pointed out to me.

So, back to the topic of this post. Where people now claim building work is being done by the Polish, it was once dominated by the Irish, but we weren't always welcome. I am not too young to remember the signs: "No blacks, no Irish" so no surprise my husband is black, when we were lumped together so. These signs, where were they? On guest houses and pubs. No small wonder then, that so many Irish pubs popped up. So we could drink some of the black stuff with our own. Where once London had many Irish pubs and shops selling black pudding, Galtee cheese, Tayto, Richmond Sausages, Mikado, Barry's Tea, red lemonade, and Old Time Marmalade, we now over 30 years later have Polski Skleps. 

Stumbling across this blog post about an Irish Shop in London has put tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat and I have no idea why. Except, I stopped, and thought, and did some emotional delving. 

The answer soon became clear.

My Grandfather, who was stereotypically called Paddy, ran a travelling shop in Ireland. He stocked all of those things, and more. 

Being that it was a travelling shop it was a truck, but my Grandparents also had a shop next to the house. 

So, every morning, it was all of our jobs, to use the produce in the shop, to fill the truck, prior to him driving off for an 11 hour day. He would also add on things people had asked for like a bottle of something, or a pair of wellies in a certain size. We had to weigh out ham, tomatoes and bananas by hand and write the weight/price on them, the former on cellophane bags, the latter directly on the skin. I can smell that permanent marker smell even as I write this. I can also feel the concrete floor of the shop beneath my feet. Our large driveway that led to the shop was covered in cans of Calor gas, which were all chained together. For us Grandchildren they simply provided a climbing frame.

My Granny ALWAYS wore a cardigan whether it was Winter or Summer, and it always had pockets, one with Silver Mints and the other with Consulate cigarettes. She chain smoked. 

At night, while I watched TV with my Grandparents if we wanted anything, you'd have to get the shop keys on the chain, and walk out in the dark to the shop. I never went alone, as I could not bear the sound of the alsations barking.

I have so so many memories of Ireland and it is because I spent all of my 6 weeks Summer holidays there, every year. It saved my Mum taking time off work. I can understand the stress that must have caused her, only now, only now that Aaron starts school in September. To me it was a jolly. For the first few years an Air Hostess would take me off my Mum and onto the plane, giving me to my Auntie the other side, but as I got older this was no longer necessary. She couldn't stay with me throughout the flight so I would always chat to whoever was my neighbour. Back then you got a complimentary soft drink and a boiled sweet at take off AND landing to stop your ears popping. I guess the price of the flight was cheaper than childcare. 

Back to the shop... A perk of all of this was we had fresh bread delivered daily from O'Haras EVERY morning. You've never tasted bread this good. Literally straight from the bakery a mile down the road!

The salesmen who knocked on our door with invoices, or samples, or to sell us something, were called travellers. I guess because they travelled nationwide. We didn't call our gypsy folk travellers, like you do. In my day, in Ireland we called them by their name, like the McGinleys, or simply Tinkers.

They weren't given housing, like here, they were tolerated on the roadside for a few days, and then when moved on, huge boulders would be put on the layby to ensure they did not return.

But back to the Irish being used as labour here. It was win:win. The Irish needed employment. The English needed labour. Much money was sent back home, which improved the finances of those at home, with the turf and the hay.

But several decades on, what is the cost? The cost is that decades of constructional outdoor work plays havoc with your health, and having the age of retirement extended does not help. 

It may be possible to continue working when you are elderly if you have an office/clerical job, but not so if you are a road/construction worker, and even less so, if you have had an accident at work, or several, as a result of the right provisions not being taken, with unsafe machinery you are demanded to use. Chances and short cuts you are expected to take. That you do, to put bread on the table. 

What then, when your body is no longer as strong as your mind? Will the great firm give you medical retirement? Probably not. And anyway what's the point when there wasn't historically a company pension. The State thanks you for your 46 years of labour, building London, that more than covers your contributions, by saying you have another 16 months till you can claim a state pension.  Disability benefit you are told takes 6 months to process. So all you have at your disposal is a possible claim for a work accident or few, to possibly keep the wolf from the door. A call to Leo Claims may just provide the answer on how likelihood a payout is.

So the price for building London, is your health and a retirement spent nursing your injuries. Yes, the streets were paved with gold, but at what cost.

I saw my Uncle pass away only 3 years after retiring.

Some 83,000 immigrants from the Commonwealth settled in the UK between 1968 and 1975, largely through gaining work permits or obtaining permission to join relatives. SOURCE: Short History of Immigration

If you are an Irish Londoner reading this, and need help, the London Irish Centre is still active, and in fact turns 60 this year!

This post was a collaboration with Leo Claims.

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