«Population, Space, Place Special Issue. Title ‘Good relations’ among neighbours and workmates? The everyday encounters of Accession 8 migrants ...»
Respondent 1: [We mix] with Polish neighbours yes; not with English neighbours. Polish people attract other Polish people, so it is difficult to mix with others.
Respondent 2: With my [Polish] friends from school sometimes we go out together but not with my neighbours. We are polite to them, we say “hello” but that’s all.
Respondent 3: We are kind to them [English neighbours], we are waving our hand to the neighbours on the other side of the street, but nothing else, nothing more. (FG3 women, Polish new migrants) Beyond this notion of living separated lives, it is important to mention that in every focus group conducted with A8 migrants for this study, participants raised the issue of negative encounters with anti-social youths from established communities (see Authors, 2008) that can not, perhaps, be dismissed as merely symptomatic of an ‘acceptable’ level of urban incivility in diverse society (Phillips and Smith, 2006).
Although such encounters are not experienced exclusively by A8 migrants, participants in this study felt that threatening and intimidating behaviour may have been particularly aimed at them because they were perceived to be labour migrants
who competed with more established communities for jobs:
Problem is in the local neighbourhood. I can't go to shops they would want to fight with me. They don't like me they say go back to your own country. We need a place, to have some fun and be safe. It is always the young people who give us trouble. (Roma family interview 3, son) Respondent 2: [Place] is not safe. I was beaten here. When we were returning from work at 5am, we used to live in [road name], there lived English families. Some of them were alcoholics and so every weekend there would be police raids, doors broken down.
Respondent 3: The 9 to 11 year olds kids would be drunk, running riots, throwing stones. So it was not safe. (FG1 Slovak new migrants) In terms of established community perceptions, one respondent in the service provider focus groups characterised established community members as ‘reluctantly accepting’ new A8 migrants in their neighbourhoods. This sentiment of ‘reluctance’ was deemed to emanate from the economic motivation of the A8 migrants (‘different outlook, different mentality, they are economically driven’) and their willingness to move out of the often inner city communities they initially inhabit should better jobs and housing become available. Another service provider drew on this theme of population churn (Pollard et al, 2008) in many of the diverse urban communities where new migrants live, and stated that, ‘there’s no particular loyalty to communities and that’s putting a barrier between them [A8 migrants] and established communities’.
Additionally, a number of service providers were critical of the media’s role in fuelling local community tensions (leading at times to quite vociferous anti-migrant sentiments) through misinformed reports that overstated A8 migrants’ social entitlements.
This negative view of A8 migrants, however, needs to be further contextualised before it is simply denounced as an expression of simplistic ethnocentric or racist sentiment. Against the backdrop of socio-economic deprivation that exists in many of the inner city areas where the majority of A8 migrants reside; established community members often perceive new migrants as a source of increased competition for scarce jobs and welfare services that may undermine their own already precarious ability to prosper (Dwyer, 2000). As Favell notes, “where there is conflict with the ‘natives’ over jobs and resources the reaction gets expressed in populist and xenophobic terms” (2008:711). Shades of this have been seen in recent times with the ‘British jobs for British workers’ discourse being articulated in relation to employment disputes in a climate of economic decline, such as the Lindsay oil refinery dispute in early 2009 vii.
Linked to the earlier section of the paper where several established community members speculated on potential ways to enhance neighbourhood mixing with new migrants, one member of the white focus group lamented the absence of any actual
spaces for meaningful encounters and the discovery of ‘common ground’:
Can I just say something. There is a community in a conservative club, there’s a community in the bar but we wouldn’t want even to go to the flats just across the way. And there’s no community. We had a community thing at this place, maybe came in a few times a week. We come to meet a few people but there isn’t any sense of community. There’s very little sense of community anywhere you go. So where is the place you go to meet the other people, the people that you are talking about, and where are you going to communicate with them and where are you going to find common ground? Now if you meet someone like that at football or something then you can find somewhere to meet, a particular area to meet to talk about whatever. But there’s no kind of place where you can come and be with one another. (FG8 established white community)
A significant majority of the A8 participants in this study found themselves in low paid and low skilled jobs. This section examines some of everyday experiences of such employment and how they can form obstacles to both meaningful workplace encounters between migrant and non-migrant groups and to broader enablers of integration, such as language training.
The poor quality of many jobs occupied by new migrant workers is well documented in the migration literature (Anderson et al 2006, Mackenzie and Forde 2006, Commission for Rural Communities 2007, Spencer et al 2007). Low wage rates often left A8 migrants in this study with little or no option but to work long hours and accept night shifts. Structuring the working week around these anti-social shifts meant that they were unable to participate in activities outside of work during days off due to catching up with normal sleep patterns. The Slovak focus group talked of ‘living like moles’ whilst permanently working the night shift on a no choice basis.
Others similarly spoke of the ways in which the demands of their work acted to
inhibit encounters with others outside their particular ethnic group:
When I worked for the private agency they were giving me the worst hours, late nights, Saturdays, Sundays and they were saying – if you want to make up your hours, you have to take these hours. (FG3 women, Polish new migrants) Had no time when I came to England, due to long shifts in the factory, 10 hour days. So no chance to learn English. Because I was working did not learn. (Sister, Roma 1 family interview) Management is mainly English. On the medium levels we have a mixture of different nations now. On the bottom many Poles and Slovakians, Czechs.
[…] English people who start job on the bottom they will leave within 3 or 4 months because it is hard work. Long hours. Small money. Overtime not paid. (FG2 men, Polish new migrants) The difficult structure and character of such employment meant that many A8 migrants were keen to find better jobs, however their ability to do so was severely constrained by their current employment. In particular the shift patterns made it difficult for them to attend the English language classes that they felt were central to their abilities to interact with people and to enhance their broader experiences of encounter, and hence feelings of integration, in their new city. In this sense many of the participants expressed feelings of being trapped in poor quality jobs and interpreted their current employment as being one of the key barriers to greater mixing with established community members.
Despite the earlier mentioned ethnically diverse A8 migrant workplaces in this study, occasions when A8 migrants routinely mixed with co-workers of different ethnic or national backgrounds (including any British workers) were the exception rather than the norm on the factory and warehouse floors. Generally, the majority worked with fellow nationals and tended to stick together at work. The Slovaks we interviewed all worked alongside each other as did the majority of Polish men in various employment
At work I did not have any problem with the language because I worked with Poles. The warehouse was divided in half - Polish part and English part. (FG2 men, Polish new migrants) It is perhaps too crude to suggest that new migrant workers enter low-paid labour sectors, work ferociously hard for a set period with limited encounters with others and are then chewed up and spat out within the de-regulated and flexible neo-liberal UK economy. This scenario seems to apply to some of the migrant workers in this study, most particularly the Slovaks, whose labour mobility appears not to be controlled by themselves but by their employers or employment agencies (Anderson, 2007). Yet across the board, the combination of many employers failing to recognise qualifications attained outside of the UK and the consequent structuring of the majority of A8 migrants into the lowest paid jobs, means that the inclusionary potential of new migrants’ current work remains severely limited. When these factors are examined alongside the segregated character of migrants’ workspaces; the opportunities for meaningful engagement and integration for many within the workplace are limited. Additionally, the extent to which paid work occupies a large proportion of migrant workers lives means that mixing outside of the workplace is also constrained by the structure of their current working lives. The restrictions this places on the ability of these workers to learn English and thus attain better jobs means that, in the short term at least, many A8 migrants are trapped in poor quality jobs.
The social practice of encountering ‘others’ is, like integration, a two-way process that requires an element of co-operation on the part of host communities (Castles et al. 2002). This may not be forthcoming in the type of A8 migrant workplaces of this study for several reasons. First, established workers are more likely to occupy line management or supervisory positions and may, for a variety of reasons, favour those who they are used to working with which again limits the space for encountering others (see more on workplace hierarchies in Authors, 2009). Second, established workers may resent the A8 newcomers in their midst, particularly when they are praised by employers (as in our study) for their superior work ethic, i.e. ‘going the extra mile’ (KI4 services manager, logistics/distribution company) and ‘being very obliging’ (KI5 training manager, transport company) compared to the ‘mollycoddled’ (KI2 manager, hotel/hospitality sector) pool of pre-existing workers. A third reason why mixing and encounters between new migrants and established workers might be somewhat superficial, is linked to ideas of the ‘self-segregation’ of particular groups that were raised in the introduction to this paper. Employers in this study were keen to stress that all workers, regardless of their ethnic background, were treated equally. As managers of diverse workforces they were aware of their duty to actively promote a discrimination free working environment, but they all commented on the preference for most A8 migrants to gravitate towards their fellow nationals at work. KI5 (a training manager for a transport company), for example, stated that initially at least new A8 workers tended to ‘stick together’. Others noted that, although a reduction in the tendency to self-segregate can occur over time, the warehouse or factory floor is
rarely a site for meaningful interactions that traverse ethnic or national lines:
You get the pockets of indigenous population who won't talk to people with a different accent. You've got Polish people who just want to come to work and not integrate. […] And in fairness, there's no hostility, there's just a lack of integration. (KI4 services manager logistics/distribution company) [The]Polish, because they are quite cliquey, it alienates other people in their department. So one of the things we have done is we've banned them talking in their own language. We've said when they are on their breaks, they are not in our employment, it’s their own time they can speak however they like. But if they are on public corridors, in the restaurant or anywhere then they need to speak English. (KI2 manager, hotel/hospitality company) Such cultural clustering, which often relates to structural inequalities in settlement and employment patterns, is a noted feature of many post-migration experiences (Musterd, 2003; Burholt, 2004). Studies of previous groups of migrants have demonstrated how migration brings about a process of rebuilding communities and social networks in new locations, often around shared cultural practices, ethnic communities and religious organisations (Moriarty and Butt, 2004; Maynard et al., 2008). The tendency of A8 migrants to gravitate towards fellow nationals in the workplace most likely represents a pragmatic coping strategy in the light of sociospatial inequalities rather than a rejection per se of a desire to mix and integrate with others. Some A8 migrants in our study with limited English language abilities felt trapped in particular jobs and discriminated against; reflecting the spatially segregated and racialised geographies that emerge from people’s inabilities to cope with everyday encounters of difference (Smith, 1993; Herbert et al, 2008). ‘Sticking together’ with those who speak the same language and share everyday pressures can be a vital source of informal support.
Also, for those A8 migrants who only plan for short, transitory periods of working in the UK, mixing more widely with other groups in the workplace may be perceived to have little intrinsic value.
The overall aim of this paper has been to firstly explore what the enhanced, “temporary and circular migration trends” (Favell, 2008:706) of A8 migrants mean for grounded experiences of interactions between immigrants and host communities.
Secondly, the paper aimed to explore such interactions in terms of ‘everyday encounters’ in both neighbourhood and work spaces and asked whether such spatiotemporal practices and experiences serve to enhance or inhibit the building of ‘good relations’ between established communities and newly resident A8 migrants in a multicultural city.