Treatment of EU migrant workers justifies terrorism

This June 2005 letter to EU anti-terrorism coordinator Gijs de Vries complains about the treatment of migrant workers in the EU, and presents the the impossibility of improving their situation without political violence, as an ultima ratio justification for terrorism. An earlier letter gave a general justification for terrorism. Others involved in anti-terrorism policy received a copy of both letters, including DAC Peter Clarke of the Metropolitan Police in London, and Max-Peter Ratzel, the current director of Europol.

Amsterdam, 6 juni 2005

Gijs M. de Vries
Council of the European Union
Wetstraat 175
B-1048 Brussel

treatment of EU migrant workers justifies terrorism

In an earlier letter I gave four general justifications for terrorist campaigns in Europe, to force changes in policy on specific issues...

This letter is about the treatment of migrant workers in the EU, and the impossibility of improving their situation without terrorism. That factor - the absence of any alternative - can be considered an additional ethical justification for terrorism.

I enclose a copy of an article by trade union representative Marcel Nuyten, about the treatment of Polish workers in the Netherlands. The complaints are not specific to the Netherlands: they are typical of the treatment of legal migrant workers within the EU, especially from the new member states. (Illegal migrants, of course, are treated much worse). The cases show that formal guarantees of equal treatment have no value in practice, where there is no will to enforce them. In the present xenophobic climate in the Netherlands, the democratically elected government is not only unwilling to assist migrants, but is actively hostile to them. That too, is not specific to the Netherlands: the threat of the 'Polish plumbers' played a large role, in the recent referendum campaign in France.

The article complains about the exploitation of Polish migrant workers by employment agencies, which use all possible legal tricks to evade equal treatment. They exclude the migrant workers from the collective bargaining agreements for Dutch agency workers, and use their own version instead. Almost no social insurance contributions are paid in the Netherlands, but none in Poland either. If the worker is sick, the contract is simply cancelled, and the worker is sent back to Poland. As an additional deterrent, the Poles have to pay more for their accommodation if they report sick - in one case ten times more. (This system seems designed to force them to return to Poland if they are sick or injured).

Costs of housing, and transport to and from Poland, are deducted from gross pay. That should result in a tax advantage for the employee, but instead the agencies keep the difference for themselves. In some cases the costs are apparently deducted twice - once from gross pay, and again from net pay. All these tricks result in workers being paid as little as € 600 per month, instead of the € 1260 legal minimum wage. Additionally, they can face Polish tax claims when they return. The workers can be obliged to work 12 hours per day, and up to 14 hours per day if they have several employers. That is illegal, but the Netherlands government does not enforce its own working-hours regulations.

It must be emphasised, that the employers have a racist attitude to their migrant employees. The agencies impose conditions on the workers which are reminiscent of former South African conditions - they are sometimes forbidden to have contact with Dutch women. That obviously contravenes the right to a private life, but the political culture of the EU is actively hostile to claims by individuals on the grounds of such rights. The procedures are extremely complex and cases can take ten years. In reality, in the present xenophobic climate, there is nothing the workers can do. The degree of racism toward migrant workers was illustrated by a recent case in Belgium: an illegal Moldavian worker was injured at a construction site in Brussels. Instead of taking him to hospital, the employer dumped the injured man outside the city, and left him to die (he was found by a cyclist, in coma). Such incidents reflect a widespread attitude in western Europe, that East Europeans are inferior - Untermenschen in Nazi terminology. The European Union is unwilling to intervene to protect migrants, partly because many in the EU political elite share these attitudes.

You say, that if a democratically elected government approves unequal treatment of migrants, then their decision should be accepted. You say, that a democratic decision should always be respected, even if it is xenophobic or racist. You say, that if a democratically elected government refuses to concede equal treatment to a minority, then the minority must accept this. You say, that there is never any justification for terrorism - no matter what the EU or its members states do to migrants, no matter how racist or xenophobic their attitudes and policies are. These positions are morally untenable: they are themselves primarily motivated by racist superiority theories, and by ethnic nationalism.

Paul Treanor

Gijs de Vries, European Union anti-terrorism coordinator
DAC Peter Clarke, head of counter-terrorism, Metropolitan Police, London
Max-Peter Ratzel, Director, Europol
M. van Erve, national anti-terrorism prosecutor, Netherlands
W. van Gemert, Netherlands Security Service AIVD
Josep Borrell Fontelles, President of the European Parliament
Lorenzo Salazar, cabinet of Franco Frattini, European Commission

Gijs de Vries / justifications for terrorism