The World Cup runs on migrant workers
In this photo taken May 12, migrant workers prepare a lawn in front of the World Cup stadium in Rostov-on-Don, Russia. | Pavel Golovkin / AP

While the Trump ‘baby blimp’ floats in the London sky, casting a “bigly” shadow over this latest disastrous overseas diplomatic venture—do we expect anything else?—by Donald Trump, it comes as no surprise that as soon as Air Force One’s wheels touched U.K soil, his foul mouth began spewing hate.

It isn’t enough that Trump’s administration orchestrated the separation of undocumented immigrant families, for which he then turned blame onto everyone else—the Democratic Party, former President Obama, immigrant families themselves. No, Trump also attempted to use the uproar as a way to sell his benevolence and humanity through signing an executive order…to reverse his own policy.

But then, to announce all eligible small children who were separated from their families as a result of his zero-tolerance immigration policy have been reunited with their parents as of yesterday, when the truth is nearly half of the children under the age of five remain far apart from their families due to “safety concerns, the deportation of their families, and other (unspecified) issues” is absurd.

Sadly, not as absurd as Trump’s comments to The Sun tabloid regarding Brexit and immigration in Europe:

“I think what has happened to Europe is a shame. Allowing the immigration to take place in Europe is a shame. I think it changed the fabric of Europe and, unless you act very quickly, it’s never going to be what it was, and I don’t mean that in a positive way. So I think allowing millions and millions of people to come into Europe is very, very sad. I think you are losing your culture. Look around. You go through certain areas that didn’t exist ten or 15 years ago.”

And we can’t forget his swipe at Sadiq Khan, the first ethnic minority mayor of London by saying the mayor was “responsible for terrorism in that city—because he allows immigrants to live there.”

So why am I saying all of this?

Because Sunday will reveal who takes home the 2018 World Cup. Will it be France or Croatia? (Our prediction is Croatia will take home the cup in PKS.) But, guess what? The championship stadium and pitch will be immaculate for the fans streaming in, the restrooms will be cleaned, merchandise sold, and this year’s World Cup will go down as another successful one—thanks to migrant workers.

That’s right, behind the scenes are thousands of migrant workers performing menial jobs across the whole of Russia daily while facing police harassment, racism, and ethnic profiling.

They are blamed for stealing jobs, decreasing wages, and plotting terrorist attacks—the same type of complaints heard from far too many in America these days, emboldened as they are by Trump’s loving embrace of xenophobia. Yet, despite all that, Russia has not once mentioned its desire to build a wall; it’s not separating families, or planning to kick them out. Migrant workers in Russia form a large part of the economy and actually strengthen Russian President Vladimir Putin’s geopolitical plans.

“This country took us in and gives us work,” said Bobur Ulashov, who left his village in southern Uzbekistan five years ago in search of a job.

Of course, the work is not always safe for migrant workers, despite FIFA’s promises.

Building Workers International reported 21 people died on World Cup construction sites. Human Rights Watch documented hundreds of complaints from World Cup workers, finding that many had no written contract of any kind and some were working in temperatures of minus 25 degrees Celsius (minus 13 Fahrenheit) with one indoor break in a nine-hour shift.

“Abuses included non-payment of wages, significant delays in paying wages, very unsafe working conditions in some sites, and also retaliation against workers who complained,” said Yulia Gorbunova of the group’s Moscow office.

Those risks are worth taking for migrant workers in Russia and here in the U.S because the jobs they get provide a better stream of income and allows them to send money back home to their families.

“Migrants made up the main workforce in the construction of stadiums and transport infrastructure for the tournament,” said Valery Solovei, a professor at Moscow’s MGIMO foreign policy institute and an expert on immigration and nationalism, speaking with the Associated Press. “Without migrant workers, Russia couldn’t have built all these things so quickly.” The same goes for the U.S. when it comes to a lot of work done here.

Some migrant workers make Russia their permanent home, while others remain as long-term guest workers, heading home every year for a few weeks at a time. You see the same pattern in our farmlands and fields, as migrant workers head home at the end of the harvest season, willing to travel back every year in order to provide for their families.

Currently, Russia has more migrant workers than any European nation, some 10 to 11 million by some accounts. Most of those coming in are from former Soviet republics, thus they already have long historical ties to Russia. But like nationalist U.S. politicians, some in Russia also campaign for immigration reform and stricter entry laws.

But the truth remains: Migrant workers are a vital part of almost every advanced country’s working economy.

Now, I’m not the first to say this, nor will I be the last, but for those reading this column who happen to support building a wall, or believe migrant workers are stealing jobs, go find out for yourself.

Get a job working the fields or the poultry plant, do some landscaping, then answer this question: Are migrant workers actually stealing jobs? Or are you just ashamed of being seen working a menial one?

To learn more about working conditions for migrant workers in FIFA World Cup host countries, check out this review by Chauncey Robinson.


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Al Neal
Al Neal

Award winning journalist Al Neal is PW associate editor for labor and politics. He is also the chief photographer for People's World. He is a member of the Chicago News Guild, Society of Professional Journalists, Professional Photographers of America, National Sports Media Association, and The Ernest Brooks Foundation.