Related News

Home » Business » Economy

An economic nudge for nationalism

AT the Job Center in Grimsby, a hard-knock town on Britain's east coast, security guards man the doors.

Inside the government-run office, dozens of men and women, many in their teens or early 20s, crowd the waiting area, hunched over computers scanning the job listings.

Outside, others gather to smoke, drawing hard on their cigarettes before coming in to search for the latest opportunities, then drawing even harder on their way out when they have discovered once again that there is nothing going.

All the while, security staff watch for trouble.

"There's always a few problems in here," said Danny Brewitt, a 19-year-old who has been looking for construction work for weeks without success, thwarted by an economy that has dragged Grimsby and the rest of the country deep into recession.

Asked to put his finger on why there seems to be so little work available, Brewitt does not hesitate in replying.

"It's the foreigners," he said. "The Poles and other immigrants who come here will work for less."

He is quick to explain that he has no problem with Polish people, or immigrants in general, it is just the fact they will accept the minimum wage (about US$8 an hour) for most work, whereas skilled or semi-skilled British workers expect more.

"They're undercutting the market," said Brewitt frankly.

Whether or not that is true - and there is plenty of evidence that hundreds of thousands of migrant workers from new European Union states who have come to Britain in the past four years have added much more to the economy than they have taken away - it highlights a worrying aspect of the downturn in Britain: an accelerating drift toward economic nationalism.

Since the global financial crisis began in late 2007, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, a former finance minister with a long economic track record, has cast himself as the man to lead Britain - and even the world - in uncertain times.

In that role he has wasted no opportunity to urge other states not to resort to protectionism to defend their economies, and will host a meeting of the 20 largest economies in London in April when that message is likely to be strongly reiterated.

It is comments he made before the crisis began, after taking office in June 2007, that have undermined his anti-protectionist credo and given British workers, traditional supporters of Brown's Labour Party, a reason to feel aggrieved. Speaking to Labor supporters in September 2007, Brown promised "British jobs for British workers," a pledge that even at the time made the jaws of some Labor faithful drop.

Now the phrase is a rallying cry for British workers, who have held a series of protests at power plants countrywide in recent weeks, demonstrating against the employment of foreign contractors to work on critical energy sites.

Some of the most drawn-out demonstrations have been at the Total-owned Lindsey oil refinery near Grimsby, where British workers have criticized the employment of imported Italian and Portuguese laborers on the construction of a new plant.

"We've fought tooth and nail to get a decent deal for ourselves and now others are being brought in to do the work," said Paul McDowall, a disgruntled British worker.

"It's got nothing to do with racism. You have to protect our workers and their rights, otherwise what are you going to do?"

As the economic downturn deepens, with Britain's gross domestic product forecast to contract by as much as 2.8 percent this year and unemployment edging above 6 percent, Brown and other Labor leaders are aware it will be a struggle to placate British workers while avoiding protectionism.


Copyright © 1999- Shanghai Daily. All rights reserved.Preferably viewed with Internet Explorer 8 or newer browsers.

沪公网安备 31010602000204号

Email this to your friend