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Colin Barker

A Seventh Man

(June 1975)

From International Socialism (1st series), No.79, June 1975, p.38.
Pictures by Jean Mohr, taken from A Seventh Man.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

A Seventh Man
John Berger and Jean Mohr
Penguin, £1.00.

SINCE THE war, the advanced capitalist countries of Western Europe have become totally dependent, for their continued expansion, on immigrant workers. In Germany and Britain, one manual worker in every seven is an immigrant In France, Switzerland and Belgium, immigrants constitute a quarter of the industrial labour force.

Picture by Jean Mohr

Immigrants are ‘naturally’, the most exploited members of the West European working classes. Their civil rights are less than those of indigenous workers; their pay is lower; their housing conditions worse; their promotion prospects weaker; their accident rates higher. Insofar as the native-born working classes have experienced an improvement in their job-prospects, they have done so thanks to the immigrants’ taking the most menial, low-paid and lousy jobs.

Picture by Jean Mohr

John Berger the writer and Jean Mohr the photographer (ably assisted by the artist Sven Blomberg and the designer Richard Hollis) have produced a book which tries to capture the reality of the migrant worker’s life. They focus, in words and pictures, on the movement of those migrant workers (’guest-workers’ as official German policy laughably calls them) who are drawn out of Southern Europe’s poverty into the cities and factories of booming Western Europe. These workers, in a sense, are even more disadvantaged than the majority of immigrant workers in Britain, for they nave little right to establish residence or bring their families. They are pushed and pulled from Turkey, Greece, Yugoslavia, Portugal, Spain, Southern Italy, into and out of West European industry entirely at the will of capital The sackings this year at Volkswagen will be felt most sharply, not in West Germany, but in the villages of Anatolia.

Picture by Jean Mohr

This is a fine, imaginative study of the fate of the migrants, of the humiliations of their experience, of the exploitation they live, Of the hopelessness of their journeys. The text is clear and powerful, and supported by evocative photographs of the two worlds of the migrant worker, the poverty of the lands from which he comes – lands that have been ‘underdeveloped’ by the West – and the riches of the advanced capitalist world that he enters and services but can never finally touch.

... full of the excitement of arrival, he said, ‘Here you can find gold on the ground. I am going to start looking for it.’ The friend who had been in the city for two years answered him: ‘That is true. But the gold fell from very high in the sky, and so when it hit the earth, it went down very very deep.’

Almost without exception, the trade unions have failed the migrant workers, taking their subscriptions but effectively ignoring their problems.

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Last updated: 16.2.2008