Migrant Workers Organising in Scotland

Creating Self-Reproducing Movements: #Justice4Carers, migrants’ struggles and beyond.

Submitted by Rory Reid on December 19, 2016

As we know, after the Brexit there is not just #bregret but also an alarming rise in incidents of racist abuse and harassment which is threatening many citizens in the UK – Scotland included. We must speak out and condemn such inhumanity, and we must seek concrete ways to enable a resistance. With this third installment of our weekly Tribe of Moles column then we urge all to speak out loudly and act to oppose any such racism wherever and whenever it shows itself – and we want to provide you with a new story from the front-line of resistance created by migrant communities in Edinburgh and beyond.

We believe the first step is to work on ways that all of us working class people – whether long-term residents or more recent immigrants – can come together to collectively struggle for improvements that would give us a better life. Let`s then start looking more closely at what is happening within the working class and let`s think about how we can rethink what the working class actually look like (working class for us means not only manual workers but all dispossessed of the means of production, from single parents to call-centre workers to office workers to the unemployed, and many more but certainly also migrants and People of Colour oppressed by racism).

The Justice4Carers Campaign – that we present in our article today – has this potential to dig deeper in this direction. Launched by Oficina Precaria, a solidarity group for Spanish workers in Scotland, this Campaign could both win important improvements in careworkers pay and conditions, and in the quality of care, AND can be an example for other workers of how workers from different geographical and ethnic backgrounds can make common cause.

In the end it wouldn`t be the first time that migrants would lead the way in working class struggle. In the late 60’s and 70’s in Italy workers migrated from the south to the factories of the north of the country were subjected to discrimination, oppressive working conditions and racist abuse. Disparaging insults such as terroni – earth people – were hurled at them (and still are by the bampots of the Northern League). But these workers were to the fore in the massive struggles which moved from the car factories of Fiat to rock the whole of Italian society. These immigrant workers were central to the creation of new innovative ways of autonomous organising which developed into the hot autumn of 1969 and the near insurrection of 1976 / 1977. (See the original Tribe of Moles – a work by Sergio Bologna analysing class composition and autonomous class struggle in this period).

Then and now any workers’ movement capable of challenging the bosses must go beyond the tired old trade unionist model, incorporated into the system. Right now immigrant workers in London are blazing this trail. Cleaners and others organised in the United Voices of the World grass-roots union have been taking direct action and winning victories against ruthless employers backed up by the state. The mainly Latin American workers are at present on all-out strike in the City of London. Similar inspiring action is being taken by immigrant workers in Las Tres Cosas campaign.

The tremendous actions of these workers gives the lie to the falsehood that immigration is somehow responsible for lowering wages and conditions. On the contrary the immigrant cleaners and others are showing all workers how we can organise ourselves – without the hierarchy and division of the official trade union structures which have proved so ineffective in resisting the onslaught of casualisation, speed-up, zero-hours contracts etc..

Justice4Carers Campaign in Scotland is at an earlier stage… And so all the more reason for us to throw our weight behind this excellent initiative – we have asked the fantastic women behind Oficina Precaria de Edimburgo to explain us a bit more what the Campaign is about….it is a long read, take a cuppa and enjoy!


Imagine you`re at the cinema with your friends, enjoying your time off work…then a call…it`s your manager telling you to drop anything you are doing and go to work. This is not because you`re supposed to be on call but simply because of short-staffing. What do you do? Ah, yes, you`re a migrant, you`re on a zero hours contract and cannot lose your job, or you`ll lose the room for which you`re paying extortionate rent, You can`t access any benefit.

You say yes to your boss, leave the cinema, take your bike and sadly and humiliated you go to work.
This is just an example of how care workers are treated everyday by the companies that employ them, based on one of the real stories collected by Oficina Precaria, a migrant solidarity group based in Edinburgh. It is estimated that over 1200 people in Edinburgh work as carers for the City Council and many more do the same job for private companies in the sector.

The work that these people do is very important for the local community: not only do they assist those who can no longer look after themselves, making sure they are healthy and safe; they also provide human companionship and emotional support. These are aspects which are often overlooked when talking about the subject of care work, even if they are crucial for the well being of the people being cared for.
In this way, it would be logical to think that the job the carers do day after day is well regarded and well rewarded, but alas, it doesn’t seem like this is the reality. At all. A good number of reports from homecare workers speak of the poor conditions in which they have to work, and that eventually contributes to poor standards of care for the people in need of these services, even if the same workers do everything in their power to avoid this.

Private care – a bleak picture

Personal reports from care workers themselves to the Oficina Precaria de Edimburgo also known as PIE, an organisation who provides support and counseling to the Spanish speaking community in Edinburgh, provide a bleak picture of the private care workers sector in Edinburgh. Some workers denounce having visits in locations far apart from each other, yet scheduled at the exact same time, making it physically impossible to be punctual, let alone being able to work without feeling continually stressed out.
These are not isolated cases. A survey conducted by UNISON – the public service union – in 2012 in which 431 homecare workers participated, showed that nearly 80% of respondents felt that “their work schedule was arranged in such a way that they either have to rush their work or leave a client early to get to the next visit on time”.

Many companies expect their workers to do all the tasks involved in a visit in only half a hour. With a typical client, these can include getting the person out of bed, changing the sheets of the bed, escorting them to the bathroom, assisting them with a full body wash, helping them get dressed, clean their teeth and brush their hair, escorting them to the kitchen, making breakfast for them, prompting medication and making sure they take them. There is barely time for a chat, there is barely time for the human contact some of these old and lonely people so desperately need.

Time to Care

In a later report published by UNISON based on the survey’s findings – entitled ‘Time to Care’ – workers talk about having to leave clients suffering with depression, to leave clients who were crying, because of the lack of time.

Thus, this work schedule is impossible to maintain without it taking its toll on care workers’ health. Feelings of guilt for not being able to attend to the emotional needs of the clients mix with the anxiety of knowing their managers will not understand why they are late to the next visit and the physical exhaustion of having to do too much work in too little time.

Lack of proper training is also an issue raised by the UNISON survey. Almost half of those who participated, answered that they had not received enough training before being left on their own to work and were not given adequate resources to deal with clients with special needs, such as dementia patients.

“My training to distribute medicines consisted on two sheets of paper detailing the name of the medicines and what they were used for,” Anna Johnson told the PIE.

‘Time to Care’ also shows that more than half of respondents to the survey stated that they were paid the minimum wage for their job and again more than half did not receive any payment for their traveling time between visits, nor were they paid for the travel expenses. This translates to spending more time on the job than they are paid for, which has consequences for their personal life. Many workers are called to work even when they are on their days off..

“One of our co-workers was called when she was already in the cinema, enjoying her time off” John Smith reports to the PIE. “The manager told her to drop anything she was doing and come to work because they were short-staffed. And she did because she was too afraid to say no”.
How can these workers maintain a good work-life balance when they are expected to be available to work at all times?

Careworkers come forward

Workers of the sector have come forward to PIE and to ECAP – Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty , an organisation that combats poverty on the principle of solidarity and self- activity in communities and workplaces – to seek help and support. Many of them are from outside the UK, as the home care sector seems to “prey” on immigrants and offer them the most precarious conditions of work, taking advantage of their – supposed – ignorance of United Kindgom employment laws. Moreover, some private companies, when it’s time to hire, target individuals from countries that are in a poor economic state or that have worse working conditions than the UK, trying to make sure that they get “compliant” employees.

One of the private companies, whose abusive treatment was reported to Oficina Precaria de Edimburgo, published job adverts in the EURES Spain portal – EURES being the European Jobs Network – the conditions of which were radically different from those the successful candidates found themselves in, once they started the job. These people left home and their loved ones to work as occupational therapists for a new project the hiring company was supposedly developing in collaboration with the Edinburgh Council.

But once in the city, the new workers were told that the project was temporarily suspended and that they would be working as carers until further notice. They were pressured and deceived into accepting the new conditions and it wasn’t until much later that they found that, even though the project really existed, the hiring company had nothing to do with it and never had.


Thus, Oficina Precaria de Edimburgo, in collaboration with ECAP, considered we had more than enough reasons to launch the campaign Justice4Carers. This campaign seeks to achieve fair and dignified working conditions for those in the homecare sector, in that way helping maintain a high standard of care for those who most need it.

“It is urgent, that social justice movements, including radical scholars and activists, intervene on this terrain to prevent a triage solution to the crisis at the expense of the old, and to formulate initiatives capable of bringing together the different social subjects who are implicated in the question of elder care—care workers, the families of the elders, and first of all the elders themselves—who are now often placed in an antagonistic relation with each other’.

We are acutely aware of how this particular fight, in the light of Post-Brexit Britain, could be framed to blame the non-national workers for the lack of quality provided by the companies that hire them – so their main course of action is to get both carers and clients, whichever the place of origin, involved in the campaign and to get them to demand these rights themselves in an active way. Voicing the faults of a system is not enough, it must be followed by actions.

Ultimately, the campaign also hopes to raise awareness of what this type of job really entails and what the workers have to endure; to make the public realise that this is not a fight that concerns only those employed by the care sector and their clients, but everyone. Everyone deserves to be treated and cared for in a human way, as everyone deserves to be paid fairly for the work they do. As everyone deserves to not be exploited because of their country of origin, as everyone deserves to work without feeling guilt or anxiety. As everyone deserves the same rights.

Gender oppression in the care sector also should not be overlooked. The Italian feminist activist Silvia Federici writes about paid caregivers that they ‘are affected by the devaluation of reproductive work, forming an “underclass” that still must fight to be socially recognised as workers. In sum, because of the devaluation of reproductive work, almost everywhere women face old age with fewer resources than men, measured in terms of family support, monetary incomes, and available assets”. Federici’s insights perfectly capture the reality of care workers’ condition. As Federici suggests:

“It is urgent, that social justice movements, including radical scholars and activists, intervene on this terrain to prevent a triage solution to the crisis at the expense of the old, and to formulate initiatives capable of bringing together the different social subjects who are implicated in the question of elder care—care workers, the families of the elders, and first of all the elders themselves—who are now often placed in an antagonistic relation with each other’.

Responding to PIE’s call to demand and fight for #Justice4Carers is a first step in this direction.
NOTE Names of the carers have been changed, to protect their identity.

PIE blog http://piescotland.org/blog/

PIE Facebook https://www.facebook.com/Oficina-Precaria-de-Edimburgo-PIE-889545761064859/