21. Morecambe Bay
Written & Performed by Stefano Giaccone
From the album Tras Os Montes (La Locomotiva/IODA, Italy 2006)



The life of a man, the life of a woman is light
You find it in silence
You find it drowned
In the most cheaply sold of days
And it plunges like a thrown stone, like poverty

By night in February,
In the open sea of a cost never seen
It’s not easy to escape
It’s not easy to give up
You are alone, with another hundred, only that name
And that smell of train that nobody knows

Five nights and five pounds
Another is already in line waiting
in the car of the capibastone, Morecambe Bay
In this place that sinks in the tide
Giving us no hope, giving us no sign

We’re left with twenty bodies tonight
Twenty sacks with no addressee
The sender is in the house of God
The game is broadcast in perfect time
In the most cheaply sold of days
And it plunges like a thrown stone, like poverty
‘England is not the promised land.’

Extract One

Source: Anti War Songs [AWS] http://www.prato.linux.it/~lmasetti/antiwarsongs/canzone.php?id=8371&lang=en

‘Stefano Giaccone lived many years in London and Cardiff… maybe it’s also because of this, but most of all because of his profound sensibility, that he’s the only Italian artist to have written a song about the carnage of Morecombe Bay….

During the night of the 9th February 2004, twenty-one clandestine immigrants of Chinese origin drown in Morecambe Bay, Great Britain, while picking cockles for luxury restaurants along the coast. They earn one sterling a day. Their names remain unknown. Nobody claims the bodies.’

Extract Two

Source: Study: Long Wait for Green Cards. Study entitled Legal Immigrants: Waiting Forever finds processing delays getting longer, by Selene Rivera, Eastern Group Publications. Read the complete text at http://www.myfreeusa.com/time.html

‘Timetable of human tragedy

February 6: Twenty-one Chinese immigrants who had been living in Liverpool died after being trapped by rising tides at Morecambe Bay while cockling. Early indications were that the dead were mainly in their teens and twenties.

March 8: A squad of Chinese detectives arrived on Merseyside to investigate a network of people smuggling. They believed that the Snakehead gangs were behind the exploitation of immigrants. They worked closely with the Chinese community, as well as Merseyside Police.

April 14: Lancashire police travelled to China to speak to relatives of those who died. They collected DNA evidence in an effort to confirm the identities of the bodies recovered.

May 4: The Daily Post revealed claims that illegal immigrants had been forced back to the cockle beds. Chinese business leaders said that there was no safety net for these people so they had to return to the dangerous job simply to support themselves.

May 7: Detective Chief Inspector Steve Brunskill spoke on his return from China about the anguish he felt speaking to the relatives of those who died. He also said that one more body had been discovered, but another two were still missing. He added: ‘The families wanted to know who was responsible for this tragedy. They couldn’t understand how this could have happened in this country.’’

Extract Three

Source: Stowaways tell of tortuous journey to England. February 12, 2004.
Read the complete text at english.peopledaily.com.cn/200402/12/eng20040212_134618.shtml

‘The dream of making easy money in the United Kingdom turned into a ‘hell-like’ journey, a stowaway said Wednesday. After the deaths last week of Chinese illegal immigrants in England, one man told of his months-long ordeal en route to Britain.‘It is no exaggeration at all to say that I walked to Britain,’ the man, who refused to give his name, said.

The insider said it took him more than four months to get from his home in East China’s Fujian Province to the United Kingdom. He did not take a single flight, although he and his family were asked to pay a total of 230,000 yuan (US$27,700). Instead, he caught trains, travelled in trucks and walked.

‘First we took a train from Fujian to Beijing and then to Heihe (a town in Northeast China’s Heilongjiang Province), where we were ready to cross the border to get into Russia,’ he said.

During his stay in Beijing, he and 20 or so others were told to sleep on the ground of an air-raid shelter, which snakeheads (people smugglers) called a ‘hotel,’ and were given only rice with soybean and preserved pickles to eat. Before leaving for Beijing, he paid 20,000 yuan (US$2,410) as a ‘sign-up fee’ to the snakeheads.

But after arrival in the capital, they asked his family to pay another 30,000 yuan (US$3,600) for certificates, which they told him would let him leave the country legally. But the money seemed to have gone elsewhere, because he did not get into Russia legally as promised. Instead, he and others were walked across the border between China and Russia by another snakehead. At the end a truck was sent to pick them up to Moscow.

‘In Moscow, there are a lot of stowaways like me waiting to go to different destinations. The boss (snakehead) almost robbed us penniless there. We were asked to pay for everything,’ he said. The man learned from some experienced stowaways how to hide money in half-empty toothpaste tubes to keep it safe from the snakeheads.

And women may have lost more than money. ‘We often saw women stowaways summoned to the snakehead’s room and crying when they got out,’ he said.

In Moscow, no one was sure how long they would have to stay before moving onto their destinations. It depended on the mood the snakehead was in and how friendly he and the stowaway were, the insider said. ‘When the boss (snakehead) finally informed me that I could go to Britain, I was so happy,’ he said, adding he didn’t expect the journey that followed to be even more tortuous.

He said he and the other stowaways had to go to Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Germany and the Netherlands before finally arriving in the United Kingdom. ‘Usually a snakehead sent us to the border of a country in a truck, then gave us to a new snakehead who would walk us across the border to another country. We have climbed mountains and trudged across rivers on the way,’ he said.

In the last trip from the Netherlands to Britain, they were seated in a truck which was hidden on a ship and reached Britain by sea. Recalling the journey, the insider said they had almost walked themselves to death.’

Extract Four

Dead in the Sand: Racism, Greed and Tragedy in the UK, Dimsum, the British Chinese Community Website. Read the complete text at

‘The deaths of 19 Chinese people, aged between 25 and 42, in the treacherous waters of Morecambe Bay in the north west of England has caused outrage among trade unionists.

But the tragedy is not a one-off. Immigrants working both legally and illegally in the UK are falling victim to a complex set of factors that at best lead them into unregulated exploitation – and at worst to death.

Here in China, weak implementation of labour laws and the government’s refusal to allow working people to organise or bargain collectively has led to cases of employers extending working hours to the point where employees have died on the job from sheer exhaustion. The phenomenon of being ‘worked to death’ (guo lao er si) and whether this can be proved in a court has been widely discussed in the mainland media following high profile compensation cases.

Migrants in the UK can face the same levels of exploitation. Just two months ago in the town of Hartlepool, Zhang Guohua died after working a continuous 24-hour shift followed by a 16-hour shift. Zhang was putting labels on Samsung microwaves, a Korean company that ‘boasts of record UK factory profits through ‘unit cost reduction.’

Migration in the Era of Globalisation

Outgoing migration by Chinese nationals looking for work abroad has a long and often bitter history. While escape from rural poverty has been an important underlying factor over the last two hundred years, the current era of globalisation is altering the migration map.

Push Factors

The last twenty five years of economic reform has brought much praise for the Chinese government from neo liberal-inclined economists. But behind the dynamic economic growth lies unemployment, a large and widening gap between rich and poor, a privatised healthcare system and an export-dependent manufacturing system that is notorious for appalling working conditions and low wages. To be sure, some workers in China have done well. But the privatisation of state-owned industry and the willingness of local governments to ignore labour laws in favour of attracting foreign capital have led to widespread despair and insecurity in working class districts all over the country.


A Racist Reality

The hand wringing that has followed last Friday’s tragedy begins to sound a little hollow when one looks at the record of successive governments – Conservative and Labour – on immigration and asylum. Ever since workers from the Caribbean and Asia were asked to make up a shortage of workers in post-war Britain, governments have all-too-often pandered to bigotry in unashamed attempts to ‘play the race card’. The current immigrant and asylum laws in the UK are among the most exclusive in the Europe.

The result is a climate of fear that forces even legal immigrants to accept dreadful working conditions and exploitation that are the logical result of generalised attacks on trade unions in general and racist immigration laws in particular. The media and politicians have rightfully condemned the local British gang leaders who organise housing and work for migrants, legal and illegal. The human smuggling gangs and Chinese ‘snakeheads’ who charge huge sums of money to arrange transport for migrants from China are also guilty criminal and evil behaviour. And the Chinese government’s blanket and violent refusal to allow workers to organise and defend their interests at home or abroad is equally at fault.

Breaking the Bullshit Barrier

Yet the hand ringing and sound bytes have all but ignored the climate of racism and fear that stops immigrant workers from getting a fair deal. Denying migrants from China and other countries an employment permit forces workers – already in debt to snakeheads – to work illegally, and this in turn permits gang masters to drive down the wages of both legal and illegal workers. At a time when we in the trade unions are told, by governments and employers alike, that there is no alternative to globalisation and the free movement of capital and investment anywhere in the world, this is sheer hypocrisy.’

Extract Five

Another Morecambe Bay is waiting to happen, by Hsiao-Hung Pai, The Guardian, Tuesday 28 March 2006.
Read the complete text at http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2006/mar/28/comment.immigration

‘Long before cockle picking became a job option, at least 70,000 unauthorised Chinese workers were already toiling away in food-processing chains, agriculture, catering and construction across Britain. These were made up of three groups: failed asylum seekers, destitute asylum seekers waiting for Home Office decisions, and migrants who were never known to the immigration authorities. Twenty of the 23 drowned cocklers were impoverished farmers and workers from Fujian province – the home of most Chinese workers who have fallen foul of New Labour’s immigration policy.

With asylum rights curtailed and manual-labour migration discouraged, the workers resorted to cockling. In some cases they were looking for better-paid jobs to send money home; some moved from job to job because of the casual, seasonal nature of work demanded by multinational retailers; others were driven out of urban centres into higher-risk occupations by fear of police raids as a result of their vulnerable immigration status.

Chinese workers were discovered by local gangmasters as ‘a half-price … more punctual and productive workforce’, in the words of a local businessman, and cockling was developed into a profitable business not by Snakeheads (as often assumed) but by local middlemen supplying large seafood-processing businesses. The middlemen controlled the workload and set production targets for the 30-40 Chinese cocklers in each team, and were referred to as ‘bosses’. Contrary to the picture painted in much of the media, the Chinese cocklers, first recruited in 2002, were making huge profits for the seafood industry, not the people smugglers. The industry in effect endorsed the working conditions under Chinese gangmasters and played a decisive role in their exploitation.’

Extract Six

Source[s] www.http://artthreat.net/
Cinema Politica – Screening Truth to Power www.cinemapolitica.org/films/196

‘Nick Broomfield is a filmmaker used to controversy and his newest film, recently released on DVD by Tartan Video is no exception. GHOSTS tells the story of Ai Qin Lin, a Chinese migrant who pays a large sum of money to have herself smuggled into the UK in order to find work to put her small child through school. After a harrowing journey Ai Qin quickly realizes that England is not the promised land, and is eventually ‘escorted’ to a small dirty townhouse where she will live with 11 other Chinese migrant workers. From there the film follows her through one gruelling job after another – in a duck processing factory, on a spring onion farm, and the last job 23 workers did before drowning off the coast at Morecambe Bay at night.

GHOSTS is a work of social realism: Broomfield hired non-actors, put them in real scenarios (such as the migrant house where all the performers lived for one month), and based the script and storyline on real events that have occurred recently in the UK. The film credits Guardian journalist Hsiao-Hung Pai’s stories for inspiring this gritty, digitally shot narrative.

Broomfield has produced a masterpiece of understated cinema. GHOSTS is a documentary waiting to be born: it is fiction only insofar as scenes are recreated with some creative construction. The British filmmaker, who up until now has stuck with the documentary genre, has retraced the steps backward from the real-life 2004 tragedy of the 23 Chinese workers who – after being beaten and driven off the sands during the day by white English cocklers (a tiny shellfish) – returned in the evening only to misjudge the quickly moving tide and drowned. The families of the victims are still paying off their debts, totalling 500,000 pounds.

On the recently released DVD a 64-minute making-of featurette shows Broomfield, his crew and his ‘actors’ actually being bullied and driven off the beach by white workers as they try to construct the scene that depicts the same events […].’