Category Archives: servitude

Why the West has to import labour

Despicable work, according to the UK newspaper the Guardian

Despicable work, according to the UK newspaper the Guardian

People, especially young people, in the better-off countries of Western Europe very often have completely the wrong attitude to work, if they work. The result, writes Dalrymple, is that,

despite mass unemployment, we have to import labour

in order that certain kinds of work be done. In Ireland, for example, Dalrymple says that

an old lady of my acquaintance needed 24-hour attendance, and this was provided by a Filipina, even at a time when there was 15% unemployment in Ireland.

An important factor is the

system of social security and unemployment benefits. The economic difference between doing this type of work and not working is not great enough to entice any native to do it.

There is also a

psychological, cultural or even religious difference. The change in the title of the senior nurse in a hospital ward from sister to ward manager is indicative of a change in sensibility, from a residually religious notion of serving others to a technocratic one. In the popular imagination, the distinction between service and servitude has been more or less eliminated.

Dalrymple cites a sentence written by a columnist in the London newspaper the Guardian:

So when a girl at 17 decides to go ahead and have a baby, there is no tragedy of lost opportunity other than the local checkout till waiting for her low-paid labour.

Such a sentence, Dalrymple notes,

breathes snobbery and disdain for those who do such work; it assumes that once a checkout cashier, always a checkout cashier, a fate worse than death. That there might be people for whom such work is suitable and potentially not odious does not occur to the writer. What makes the work odious is not the work but those who communicate their disdain of it. Snobbery thus makes the import of labour necessary.

Take hotels. In Britain, Dalrymple points out,

all good hotels employ exclusively foreign labour. If you want to go to a really bad large hotel in Britain, find one in which the staff are British. It is guaranteed to be ill-kept, with slovenly service, not very clean, with atrocious food, grubby staff, inattention to detail. Even a foreign telephonist is likely to be better, and to speak better English, than an English telephonist. If you want a good or even only a decent hotel, you must find one in which all the staff are foreign. This is so whatever the unemployment rate, high or low.

Dalrymple says he asks people to imagine that they are employers who seek an employee to perform work that is not skilled but requires such characteristics as punctuality, politeness, willingness to oblige.

The imagined employer has two applicants about whom he knows only two things: their age (shall we say 24) and their nationality. One is British and one is Polish. Which of the applicants does the imagined employer choose? Not a single person to whom I have put this question has hesitated for a moment: he chooses the Pole.

Our need for migrants

has a cultural, not an economic root.

But of course,

this does not mean that we need all the migrants we are likely to get from wherever we get them.


American suburban ennui

Screen Shot 2016-01-05 at 07.34.56It was, writes Dalrymple, the

deadness that disturbed me.

The city had a centre,

but nobody lived there: after work everyone decamped to the suburbs, where they seemed to live in isolation from one another and where human relations, if they existed, were shallow and unrooted, as if everyone expected the neighbours to move away soon and so avoided deep attachments. The suburbs, quiet and spacious as they were, seemed to vitiate the purpose, or at least the pleasures, of living in a city, while not compensating for their loss by the pleasures of real country living. Even their comfort seemed suffocating, as if it were a kind of bribe, or an offer that no one could refuse, in return for living in the way that they did.

Screen Shot 2016-01-05 at 07.42.15Dalrymple’s reaction

was purely conventional. I little thought that my complaint was that of hundreds or thousands of intellectuals before me. I was still a long way from my present realisation—it has taken many years and much voyaging to attain it—that every place is interesting.

Public transport

Screen Shot 2016-01-06 at 07.40.00existed only in a token way, and was useless if you couldn’t wait all day for it. To go anywhere, to do anything, a car was essential. Without one, you were like an anchorite in the Syrian desert. The suburbs were far too spread out for effective public transport without massive subsidies. This struck me as disastrous from the standpoint of quality of life. The car, supposedly a symbol of individual freedom, became an instrument of an informal servitude, adding two, three, or four hours to the workday: it added periods of isolation, frustration, irritation, and—frequently—rage. It is one thing to drive on the open road; another to be but one driver in a seemingly endless procession, thundering or crawling to and from work, five days a week, 50 weeks a year, spending a tenth of one’s waking life behind the wheel. The very sight of the traffic appalls me, and it would terrify me to have to participate in it. Perhaps such traffic is a quid pro quo for the great benefits of modern existence, and perhaps my horror of traffic is idiosyncratic, a personal taste, or merely snobbish; I have been fortunate in having been able to arrange my life so as largely to avoid it.

Screen Shot 2016-01-06 at 07.44.27The possibility of living without a car has become for Dalrymple

a personal criterion of desirable city life. For this, a good public transport system is necessary; and that can exist only in a city with a dense enough population. Many have written about the problems of overcrowding, with psychologists performing experiments on rodents in cages to demonstrate the bad effects on conduct of lack of space; but the negative consequences of undercrowding in cities are less often emphasised.