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Britain's Poles Are Using Their Blood to Show Their Worth

While a small number of the Polish community deliberately missed work and staged a strike at Westminster on Thursday in protest of anti-Polish rhetoric, others have opted to donate blood.

by Sally Hayden
Aug 20 2015, 4:40pm

Photo via British Poles/Facebook

Polish immigrants living in the United Kingdom are making a bold statement — using their actual blood — about how much they should be valued by their adopted country.

While some members the UK's Polish community deliberately missed work and staged a strike in London on Thursday to protest a perceived rise in anti-Polish rhetoric and growing anti-immigration sentiment within Britain, others have opted to donate blood to the British National Health Service (NHS) to show their worth in the UK.

Heightening the conversation on immigration following his reelection earlier this year, Prime Minister David Cameron announced his intention to curb EU and non-EU immigration, saying, "changes to welfare to cut EU migration will be an absolute requirement."

Related: A Damning Report and Angry Protests Highlight the UK's Most Infamous Immigration Center

Poland is a member of the European Union, and its citizens are free to travel to and work in the UK. Research by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development found that by 2013 at least 679,000 people from Poland had moved to Britain, making this one of the country's largest immigrant communities.

As part of the Thursday's effort, Polish blood donors have been sharing their pictures with a Facebook group called "British Poles."

"We believe that a strike of Polish people in the UK could be extremely successful," the organizers of the blood drive wrote. "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… Therefore, we are strongly encouraging all Poles in the UK to donate blood on August 20, instead of striking, to foster the British-Polish relations."

Photos via British Poles/Facebook

George Byczynski, coordinator of the British Poles Initiative, told VICE News that he had given blood for the first time today. "I'm proud of myself."

Byczynski said that while he sympathizes with some of the strikers who are possibly being treated badly, he doesn't think striking in this case is constructive.

"We would want to send a positive message and I think we've succeeded," he said, noting that he had received hundreds of messages from Poles across the UK who said they would be donating blood on Thursday, or in the coming days or weeks.

Byczynski also said that he doesn't think that anti-immigration rhetoric from politicians has been escalating, and if anything Polish immigrants appear to be more accepted than they were in the recent past.

"I remember last time before the parliamentary elections we had loads of scapegoating. I think before these elections [in May, 2015] it was much better. We think there is a major improvement," he said.

Byczynski — who has lived in London for six years — said the biggest concern among the Polish community at the moment is probably the possibility of Britain leaving the EU.

"We don't really know if a Brexit [British exit] happens whether some people would be asked to leave, we just don't know this," he said. "Nobody came up to us and said in case we leave the EU you're going to be just fine. We haven't had that message from anybody."

Writing in the Guardian, Polish campaigner John Zylinski said he supports the labor strike as an attempt to "show that without the input and work ethic of the UK's Polish community this country, or at least London, could grind to a halt within three hours."

Zylinski added that this is also a demonstration against a rise in anti-Polish and anti-immigration sentiments in the British media over the past few years — including that by UKIP leader Nigel Farage as well as Cameron. He notes that the proportion of foreigners in London is now at 37 percent.

"We work hard, pay taxes and keep our heads down. It's time we got the recognition we are due," he said.

Related: 'Everyone Will Make It One Day': Meeting the Calais Migrants Who Dream of England

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