Polish workers strike, donate blood to demonstrate their economic value

© Michael Buholzer
Polish workers living in the UK downed tools on Thursday to demonstrate the importance of the community’s contribution to the British economy. As well as a nationwide strike and march on Parliament, others will donate blood to the NHS.

The march on Parliament is expected to draw 1,000 Polish workers from across the country. More than 2,000 people have registered to donate blood as part of the #polishblood campaign.

The blood drive was conceived by George Byczynski and other members of the British Poles Initiative, who felt that positive action was the best way to highlight the importance of working immigrants.

A few weeks ago, readers of the Polish language newspaper Polish Express began discussing what would happen if 10,000s of Poles working in the UK did not go to work for the day,” Byczynski said.

“There was a discussion that it would prove how hard Polish people work and the benefits immigrants in general brought to the country. It wasn’t treated as a serious idea, but then it began to get discussed online and began to grow.”

Byczynski, who moved to London as a student and is currently associated right-wing Polish group Patriae Fidelis, said the rise of UKIP in the run up to May’s general election and the anti-immigration rhetoric used by politicians proved a worry for the Polish community

We were concerned by the rise of UKIP last year but we feel that has since lessened. There is an issue with the language politicians use and sometimes they do scapegoat Polish people,” he said.

The British Poles Initiative decided a strike may be a risky strategy, and decided to channel its energy into positive action.

“We wanted to do a positive act,” he said.

“We came up with the idea that we would ask Polish people to donate blood instead. We know the NHS needs 200,000 donors this year, so we hit on the idea that we could get 10,000 or more migrants to help.”

As part of the positive initiative, thousands of Polish migrants are signing up to give blood this week.

The British Poles Initiative explained in a Facebook post the logic behind the day of action.

We believe that a strike of Polish people in the UK could be extremely successful. Hundreds of thousands of people would not come to work for one day in order to counter the discrimination of Poles in the UK.

“Nevertheless, we believe that the relations between Poles and Brits have been good lately and it is not yet the time to organize such a strike. Poles have enormously contributed to the British economy and are thankful to have many opportunities to work and study in the UK. Therefore we are strongly encouraging all Poles in the UK to donate blood on the 20 August, instead of striking, to foster British-Polish relations.

“The #polishblood campaign is another proof of the positive contribution of Polish migrants to the UK.”