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A Shangai scrap yard / Adam Minter

A click-bait sized hole was torn off England’s fairy tale cover with the news that five workers had lost their lives in a metal recycling plant in Birmingham. The businessman said,”It’s a tragedy, the metal re-cycling world is a small one. We all know each other, a tragedy” The landlord said, “They were good people, he even helped me with my bags”
The friend said, “He watched the Wales vs Portugal game with me yesterday, then I drove him to the mosque” One of the dead, before the tragedy, “My family is coming over from the Gambia, I will need a bigger room” In fact he got a much much smaller room – the space it leaves you to breathe and do all your living in when a one and a half ton concrete block is shoved over by an unknown (because unmeasured?) tonnage of scrap iron. Right on top of you.

Of the five workers killed Thursday 7 June at Hawkeswood Metal, four were originally from the West Coast African state of Gambia and one from Senegal. They had been directly recruited in Spain, this was possible because England was still a member of the European Community, could still get cheap labour in.

The metal recycling trade? Ships arrive from China stuffed with cheap goods, the brands the natives love, and go back home with scrap metal. Thirty years ago the scrap would have gone back into furnaces to feed fresh metal to the factories in which the West Midlands natives made things. Today eighty per cent of the scrap is exported.

The market for scrap iron to China was strong but recently demand weakened so pressure on storage increased. The margins are small so you improvise storage bins which won’t necessarily stand the burden. You long ago got away from English native teams, with their unions and their tea breaks and their stubborn attachment to safe working practice.

You recruit gangs of strong young men who have already proved their resilience and initiative by braving the voyage to Europe and for whom the local Gambian community (rather say internal colony) makes up for the miserable weather and for whom the challenge and stimulation of being in a foreign culture makes up for the low, low wages and the zero hours contract.

The internal colony at Birmingham (Britain’s second city by population) is in a district called Aston. Do you like figures? Aston has an area of 6.4 km². Already fifteen years ago there was a population density of 4,185 people per km² compared with 3,649 people per km² for Birmingham as a whole. 70.6% of the area’s population are non-white compared with 29.6% for Birmingham. 36.9% were born outside the United Kingdom, nearly four times the national average.

Described as gang ridden Aston is now chiefly owned, in terms of property, by people from Pakistan who house their fellow Muslims, 44.3% of the ward’s population, in handy red brick slices served quick: here, split this house between you and be quick about it.

The phrase internal colony springs from the Brexiters world view. Nostalgia for the days when oak hearted fellows from the Shires of England buccaneered for silver in the Spanish Main – free trade under-writ by violence. The fantasy of the bush hat, the knee socks, the sambok and naked black porters toting bales. An internal colony as Empire theme park with real live nasties. Build it right there in Birmingham, with the help of entrepreneurial landlords and shopkeepers and no nonsense metal traders.

At sight of the tragedy at Hawkeswood I paused the video on three team members of a specialised rescue unit. They all had shaven heads. Workplace fashion. A white man goes for a job, not very energetic, he likes the idea of a uniform, he doesn’t mind working at night. He gets a job in the security industry and shaves his head. He has classes in first aid and intruder recognition. He takes part in exercises with the police, fire service and ambulance services. He is described in Whitehall working papers as a civilian auxiliary.

Our man is allowed, encouraged even, to wear his uniform off-duty. He is sent on an Army run course on non-lethal restraint techniques. Everybody wears the same coveralls. Each of them has been given a little bit of authority. They can drive in the bus lanes. They are called on if there is trouble in the internal colonies.

While the deepest recesses of the internal colony is allowed to be self-governing and a blind eye turned to sharia and voodoo at the margins the picture is less clear. There is a ribbon of territory whose limits are known only by doing battle there. This is how the young learn their place and where the whites get their extra-legal kicks. Plenty trouble. See this link http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x4jwnkv

But wait, who am I to say all this? I kneel before the spirit lives of Saibo Sillah, Bagally Dukureh, Muhamadou Jagana, Alimamo Jammeh, Ousmane Diabi. Your deaths were just too good to miss.

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