Today we feature Paul Salgado, Community Organiser for London, in his own words. Paul joined Migrants Organise in November last year. He starts 2017 by helping bring together a big, bold action on January 20th: Bridges Not Walls. Join Migrants Organise on Westminster Bridge at 8:30 am on the day to stand together and say: “London Welcomes Migrants”.
by Paul Salgado
For more then three decades, the decimation of British working class communities and industries that actually made something continued without respite. Steelworkers, dockers, shipbuilders, miners, print workers, rail workers – their unions, their families and their health and their futures, have been shattered.
Most of the survivors of this devastation have been forced to fight amongst themselves over the scraps of precarious, minimum wage and short term contract work that is offered to them, like the crumbs from a banquet lavished on the wealthy celebrating their success at creating a society of unconscionable inequality.
I was a child when our workplaces began to be shuttered. The memories I have are not of football or cartoons, but of coming home from school to see, night after night for an entire year, grainy television film tinted orange from the streetlights illuminating that day’s pre-dawn picket lines in a mineworkers’ town.
The film showing black uniformed police beating unarmed men – men like my grandfather and my father – into the ground just for trying to defend their jobs, their families and their communities. Night after night my grandfather and my father watched angry and silent, the light from the television screen on their faces.
They didn’t have to say a word for me to know whose side I was on. They didn’t even need to explain that there were sides to be taken.
I took that anger into the first workplace I stepped into, joining the union the first day on the job and becoming the union rep because all the other men working there had spent exhausting years fighting hard to keep standing, but could barely do so any longer. No one else stood in the union election, and I tried to hide the fear that I felt at having to represent men like my father – proud, experienced, skilled engineering men – who knew that it wouldn’t be long before their futures would also be either beaten into the ground like the miners’, or swept away by the indifference of the bosses.
The engineering workshops were swept away, to be replaced by casinos and skyscrapers of crystal that proclaim the names of banking corporations, but which might as well also be called casinos. Those who revelled in ever-widening divisions and inequality demanded migrant labour to work in their restaurants, hotels and luxurious apartments, while the old engineers and craftsmen stood in the shadows, a future filled with constant panic over money before them.
I had to take low-paid nightshift work in the casinos, working as a direct servant of the wealthy beneath their glittering chandeliers, but their indifference served only to sharpen my anger into a response – organising a union.
This angry British worker united with confident, combative migrant workers from Russia to Brazil and the Philippines to Iran; passed the word from casino to casino, and met in clandestine meetings in Mayfair and the West End to organise our response to the bosses’ contempt – unionising British casinos for the first time ever.
This lesson in solidarity never leaves anyone who experiences it. A raucous meeting of migrant workers talking in Portuguese, Russian, Tagalog, Farsi, English, Spanish and Arabic, but coming together to demonstrate their power and be single minded in demanding – and winning – respect, recognition and dignity.
That experience led me to work at the Catholic Worker in Los Angeles, to unionise Latin American workers in London, to work in communities and barrios in central America, Colombia and Mexico… and brings me now to Migrants Organise.
I don’t need to explain that there are sides to be taken, and I don’t need to tell you whose side you should be on.
Those who want to divide us need a response – Migrants Organise is my response.