Sunday, June 14, 2015

Blonds 2

I already knew the man's name was Biondo, because he'd been on the same train as me from Milan, drinking from a 75 cl bottle of Peroni and discoursing to some German Expo workers in English about freedom. When they got off the train they gave him a round of applause, but although the train was full no one else came to sit in the four seats around him.
However he wasn't blond but black, probably from Senegal I guess. He had a small rucksack and looked like he'd been sleeping rough. At Gallarate he stayed around the station, chatting to a couple of Moroccan boys smoking out the front.
'I'm a Musltian,' he said in Italian. 'I'm a Muslim and a Christian and  a Jew. I come from Egypt but one day I will be freed, w'Allah.'
I didn't hear the response but when he got on the ground to pray Muslim-style, calling out to Jesus and Mohammed, they seemed to become a bit uncomfortable and moved off calling back 'Salaam, brother, good night.'

Blonds 1

Gallarate station is not a particularly attractive place at any time,  and after the last train at 12.45 is utterly without charm.
I was waiting for the bus home to Varese, and smoking with two men in their fifties, taxi drivers on their way home from work.
'You shouldn't be waiting here alone. There's a lot of ugly people around  at this time of night.' When people say this to me I always wonder what evidence there could possibly be that THEY are not among the ugly ones.

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Luxury: Zero Hours Stories #4


‘How the working life?’ asked my dad that evening. 

‘It’s OK. My boss is really nice.’ 

The agency hadn’t found me another office job although I’d been on their books for six weeks, waiting around to find work every day. Instead I’d eventually been given a Christmas shop assistant job, a few weeks working in the small central London flagship store of a luxury British food brand. For shop work, it was a great gig- the shop hadn’t changed its opening hours for decades, so it was closed at the weekend and every day we were mopping the floor by 4.45, unless a tourist chose to linger among the china, ignoring our practised British hints (up to and including pointedly mopping around their feet). 

‘Frank, no boss is nice. They stop being nice once they become a boss. Whatever they’re giving you, you can be assured they’re getting it back twice over in your labour. That’s what bosses do.’

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Office Worker - Zero Hours Stories #3


This was 2000, in the days before London’s employment agencies decided to deck out their premises with garish colours and wall-length photos of happy workers like a cross between Foxtons and the first class lounge at Heathrow Terminal Five, and even though this was a well-known international employment agency the waiting area was shabby, like a national health dentist’s office, with potted plants and stacked plastic in-trays.

I was waiting in the Strand branch, sitting uneasily on a plastic chair as people rushed busily past me. People still had smoking areas in offices then. It was 8 am on a Monday morning and the agency was busy supplying emergency cover for receptions and telephones across London. They forgot about me pretty soon.

I’d been at home since I left the hotel job. I’d been writing (the novel is still on a floppy disk somewhere, where it can stay forever as far as I’m concerned) and every day around 11am when the Evening Standard was delivered to the Woodgrange News around the corner, I would get 30p off my dad and go and buy it to look at the ads section, circling everything that seemed likely with a highlighter. I’d applied for every job I was half-qualified to do but got nothing other than interviews in a few seedy warehouses with even seedier bosses. ‘We’re really looking for someone more experienced,’ was better than ‘What do you want a job for with grades like that?’

Sunday, May 24, 2015

The Zero Hours Stories: Introduction


In my working life of 16 years I've done 36 jobs. (Lots of overlapping/ working three jobs at the same time so not as bad as it seems).
Of these jobs, 6 were abroad. For all of those I had a contract.
Of the remaining 30, two were freelance.
Of the remaining 28, 21 were Zero Hours. So 3 out of 4 jobs I've done in London at every level, from working at Greggs as a teenager to teaching in an exclusive private school, offered absolutely no guarantee of hours or pay and no security whatsoever.

'Hungry' - Zero Hours Stories #2

I left the hotel when I became unable to go to sleep at night. I would lie in bed watching the red numerals of the alarm clock dripping slowly towards another day and finally drift off to dreams of bathroom sinks and hospital corners when I knew it was already too late to get a full night.

Another morning getting up at 3.45, making coffee and then slipping unshowered (no point in washing if you’re doing a cleaning job) onto my bike and slogging the 8 kilometres through the summer dawn to the City. Many colleagues got in early to avail themselves of the free breakfast in the staff canteen but I rarely made it. It was as much as I could do to get in to the break room, change out of my shorts into my green polyester pinny, the pockets still full of miniature toiletries, cleaning cloths and used tissues from the day before. My nose ran all that summer, and I had headaches all day at work.

Dressed and ready to go, I would join the 5am queue for printed sheets of our days’ rooms. If you hadn’t worked fast enough the day before or a manager had asked you to do a room over, you would get fewer rooms to clean that day. The printer was old and beige and ran faint green print over that old kind of paper with spool holes on each side. Towards the end I often came in last in the morning queue, with 10 or 12 rooms to do while other women had 25 or 30. Ten rooms was £20 before tax. A good-looking Italian couple, only five or six years older than me, who were living in London for the summer and had the rather more prestigious job of cleaning the corridors and the lobby, told me it was because I wasn’t ‘hungry’.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

An election fought on migration?

The Grapes of Wrath- Large scale waves migration is a recurring phenomenon within  the capitalist system.
Europe’s shame fills the headlines today. The shame of our politicians who treat some lives as more important than others. The shame of a Tory government firefighting against UKIP and constantly embarrassed by its own inability to reduce migration during its last term. The shame of Labour’s decision to engage with this anti-immigration rhetoric at its own sordid level.

Now more than 800 migrants – otherwise known as human beings – have died, less than a hundred miles from Europe and following swiftly on the EU’s reprehensible decision not to finance a continuation of Mare Nostrum, Italy’s search and rescue policy. Italy is in the spotlight, having scaled down its operations considerably after Mare Nostrum was abandoned. But everyone is guilty. In particular Germany and the UK’s callous and illogical claim that migrants were encouraged to continue coming by search-and-rescue missions has led, directly, inevitably, horribly to these deaths.  (see Parliamentarydebate from 30th October 2014)

So why do they keep coming? Maybe I have an unusual perspective: I grew up in an area where as much as 84% of the population comes from a migrant background, and has done so for all my life. The last census revealed that 53% of Newham is foreign-born, yet according to some estimates (based on school attendance) as many as one person in four in Newham is undocumented. However migration and its effects over the last twenty, fifty, two hundred years have become increasingly visible in every remote pocket of the country. There were 2.8 million foreign-born people in London in 2013, almost a third of the city’s population.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Got it maid - Zero Hours Stories #1

My first job was as a 'room attendant' (cleaner) in a large London hotel firm. Rooms cost (in 2000) upwards of £300 per night. I was the only British born person I ever met working there. The rates were £2 per room and I used to clean around 14 rooms per day, although some amazing women did up to 30. I guess nine out of ten colleagues were women. I would start work at 5 am and finish when I finished, usually in the early afternoon. I just came across this blog (thanks Leo Doran) and it took me back- every detail is exactly the same- the triangular point on the end of the toilet roll, the toxic blue powders which caught in your throat, the way we were constantly told to wear gloves but as everyone including the supervisors knew, gloves would slow us down to the point where we would lose money we couldn't afford to lose.