Monday, 2 September 2013

Is this a d!ldo which I see before me?

Reading the deliberately provocative quotes about the British work ethic taken from the Jamie Oliver publicity stunt, I reckon he had the beginning of some points, just not the ones he was trying to make. This is because what he’s quoted as saying conveys a profound ignorance of poverty and the Eastern European migration that seemingly keeps his restaurants open.

My personal experience based on the Eastern European migrants I’ve encountered is many do indeed work harder and more effectively than their British counterparts. Fer instance, I can usually tell by the length of the queue in the staff canteen whether its Polish or British people behind the till. Similarly, I remember getting a fridge delivered by a British driver with a Polish assistant; the driver initially didn’t want to humph my old one away because it was too awkward until his assistant essentially shamed him into doing so. Then there was the time I walked past a cafĂ© advertising for staff and couldn’t understand a word said by any of the people queuing up for interviews because, I’m guessing, they were all Polish, Latvian, Lithuanian etc..

These examples tell me absolutely nothing about country-specific attitudes to work. First off, Eastern European migration was and is economic migration and economic migrants are by definition self-selecting; they’re people with the drive, ambition and means to get on by getting out. To give an alternative example of how powerful self-selection can be,  the Rangers fans who went to Manchester were not representative of Scotland as a whole.

Second, migrants, particularly when it kicked off, are frequently massively over-qualified for the jobs they take on arrival. One example was the Italian restaurant in Edinburgh whose kitchen porters were to a man (and women) doctors, medical and otherwise. Another was when I was sifting thru CVs recruting for a job where I was after a decent/good graduate with 2-3 years vaguely relevant work experience. By contrast the top Polish candidate was a former university lecturer who’d gone on to advise the Polish government on privitisations before becoming a management consultant. Judging by the post-arrival silence in his CV, I’m guessing he was working as a kitchen porter or delivery man at the time. So yeah, you put that amount of human capital behind a till and you bet you’ll get your change calculated more quickly than you would by an unqualified Brit on minimum wage.

Third, and following directly on from the second, the low-skill, no-skill jobs Eastern European migrants typically take are often temporary stepping stones to something else. This matters a lot. I know this because for most of my 20s I was poor, which to me meant being physically scared of opening a leccie bill.

But, I was not and never have lived in poverty because poverty means being poor, having no or negligible resources to draw upon when life events - like a leccie bill - hit and not having a credible means of escape (hence terms like poverty trap). By contrast, once I finished the low paid work I’d chosen to do, I used my resources and opportunities to get a job and hey presto - in a completely predictable lower/middle middle class way - I've subsequently found myself earning a chunk more than most people. Go me. 

Except, internally, I always knew this would be the case; all I did, after a few years gadding about, was fulfill the class specific assumptions I was brought up with. My passing experience of being poor was that it was shit, but I never experienced the days stretching into years, then no-escape  decades grind that defines poverty. And much the same applies to many Eastern European migrants; the doctors left the kitchen and I'm guessing the management consultant also got a good job in due course. For them, as for me, the situations they found themselves could only ever be understood as being finite. And its profoundly easier to work hard in a shit job - what Jamie Oliver appears to think is "toughness" -  if you just know you'll not being doing it this time next year.

For me this account of migration and poverty shines a different light on the Jamie Oliver chat. His argument seems to be we should all get a bit more Eastern European. Really? I’ve worked alongside Polish (and latterly Greek) migrants for years, people who've made the transition from low skill, low pay jobs into white-collar careers that actually match their qualifications. None of them leave work any later than me, none of them work any harder than me before they do, partly, am guessing, because they want to enjoy having escaped from ignorant, exploitative, grasping shits like Jamie Oliver.

1 comment:

  1. Best description I've ever heard of Jamie Oliver. I've no idea if his food's even tasty - bet you it is right enough, but he's still a shit.

    Awesome post!