Migrant workers – enduring relevance

Seventh Man

 

From the brilliant Verso Publishers website: http://www.versobooks.com/books/533-a-seventh-man

‘I have to turn this prize against itself’—John Berger on accepting the Booker Prize for Fiction, 23 November 1972

In 1972, John Berger won the Booker Prize for Fiction for his novel G. He shared half of the proceeds with the Black Panthers, “the black movement with the socialist and revolutionary perspective that I find myself most in agreement with in this country”. The other half funded A Seventh Man, his study of migrant workers in Europe.

Making a direct link between Booker McConnell’s involvement in colonial exploitation of the Caribbean and the modern poverty of the region, Berger declared his intention, “as a revolutionary writer, to share this prize with people in and from the Caribbean, people who are involved in a struggle to resist such exploitation and, eventually, to expropriate companies like Booker.”

Given the current pre-occupation with ‘migrants in motion’, and all the related constructions of risk that discourses are utilising (terror, economic and cultural drain, problems in ‘over-crowding’, more terror), it seems wise to remember that this world we occupy is, has been, and continues to be built on migrant labour. The very victims of global politics and economic decisions (usually underpinned by agendas related to the long term financial and political ‘stabilisation’ of Eastern folk), are on the move, eventually becoming ‘migrant’ labour in whichever country they settle, for however short or long a period. To strip their experiences of humanity, and reduce them to numbers, ‘movement’ statistics indicated by diagrams with arrows ‘coming in’ and arrows ‘going out’ is reducing the full capacity of the human spirit. Hannah Arendt wrote about the banality of evil in relation to the holocaust and in particular the trial oin Jerusalem of Adolph Eichmann (Eichmann in Jerusalem: A report on the Banality of Evil) and as the world watches millions of people risking lives, moving, falling, crying and dying – just to seek safety, the world is at risk of perpetuating a type of banality.

Berger’s book (and other work) perhaps reconstructs that breakage for us – the disruption in ethical-biographical continuity (a play on words borrowed from Bury and Glaser and Strauss’s medical sociology terms). Putting it bluntly, there’s been a breakage in how we connect with populations undergoing suffering – it is neither new nor surprising. In fact, as Sociologists have constantly told us, we are living in an era of unprecedented rate of social change, and so we have in the middle of deep social, emotional, psychological and personal turmoil, become rather immune to those issues that don’t directly impact us.  However, our connection with suffering populations is not extinct or impossible – it is selective. We select, choose, opt to connect with lives similar to ours, not because ‘thats human nature’ – that would be playing into the cold, sociologically limp hands of cultural essentialists who argue hey, “we prefer our own kind…” (see my article at “New Diversities”). No, we choose these selective modes of connection because of a two way, dialectic: it requires less emotional energy to connect with suffering experienced by people who are similar to us in a variety of ways, and the discursive formations around which these representations are produced make them more salient, are hurled at us in specific ways.

 

When I read the sentence “Europe is literally the creation of the third world” (Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth”), I don’t simply see the vital resistance and empowered self governing machinery being articulated in the identification of first world riches generated (literally) on the backs of slaves; I read the on-going generation of capital, suffering, and constant repetition of bonded lives, generation after generation, and the many blind eyes whose averted gaze perpetuate the misery. Migrant labour is still creating the lives of people the world over who enjoy the pleasures of safety, stability, and the luxury of being. 

 

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Not just another child, not just another day. In memory of Jai Patel.

_74784167_jaiOn the 8th May 2014, my dear friend Paresh Patel, lost his beloved 4 year year old son, Jai, in a fire in Liverpool. The fire ripped through a 2 bedroom flat killing Jai and his mother.

Blogs. Articles. Reports. We can do so many clever things with words and sentences, theories and ideas, satire and caricature. Yet in the face of this tragedy, it all fails to achieve anything of consequence.

Paresh, ‘Paz’ to his friends and myself for the last 25 years, was, is a devoted father, who fought tirelessly for his son’s happiness, welfare and protection. Jai’s Dad, aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents were devoted to him. With his family, Paz ensured that little Jai had the kind of environment where he would grow into the kind spirited, gentle, generous, happy child that is the result of being in the heart of a loving and caring family.

Jai’s life was cut short by a brutal, violent act of cowardice, that must have been committed for the sole purpose of destroying all that was good. In this aim, it was only partly successful. Each and every person whose life had been touched by Jai, was changed forever, because that part of you which is touched by the love of a child is forever secure, even against the most destructive elements life can throw at you.

Over time, questions will be asked, reviews will be conducted, and answers will come forth. As with so many child tragedies over the last few years, mistakes may well have been made. Vigilance may not have been prioritised. ‘Joined-up’ working may not have happened between agencies. And finally, a report may well be published which concludes that ‘mistakes’ like this should never happen again. And again. And again. The tragedies need to stop, and agencies need to stop the ‘learning’ process, start putting all these countless lessons into practice. How much learning do agencies need to do? Jai and his family have paid the dearest price for this ‘learning’.

Like all those who have lost a child, Paz, his family, his friends, and all who knew this lovely little boy, have lost something so very special. Words seem to be of no conseqence. I know this because when I went to see my friend, I could do nothing to make it better. Nor could I take any of his pain away. One simply stands by and waits for the grief to come and go, and return. All I could do was remember one thing. Jai, in his short life, absolutely knew that no matter where he was, or what was happening, had a family with his Dad that completely loved him for the wonderful being that he was and continues to be in memory.

There is little else to say, because sometimes words are so utterly pointless. But they are also sometimes all we have.

In memory of littel Jai Patel, rest in peace.