Back in the day when the UBP had control of the government, the late Sir John Sharpe, then Minister of Labour and Home Affairs, in response to the constant criticism of the then PLP political opposition over the number of foreign workers who were being let into the country, made this statement: “Look upon them as a reserve of Bermudians jobs.”

Meaning, if ever Bermuda suffered an economic downturn then these migrant workers would be send back to their home lands, leaving jobs to be filled by unemployed Bermudians.

No one during that time, not even those who were voicing the loudest criticism over the presence of an ever increasing foreign migrant workforce in Bermuda, ever thought that the day would come when such a social reality would come true.

After all, since the end of World War Two, Bermudians have never had to face a growing and deepening unemployment crisis.

Even though the standard of living that most Bermudians had begun to enjoy had more to do with a vibrant and organized trade union movement led by the Bermuda Industrial Union, it was always a given that Bermudians would enjoy the lion’s share of any job opportunities in this country, even if they did not belong to a trade union.

 And in a Bermuda economy that was dominated by tourism this, would seen to have been the truth; Bermudians were employed throughout Bermuda’s tourist-dominated economy.

But during the 1970s going into the 1980s, we saw the beginnings of a transformation in Bermudian employment patterns. Though the blue collar sector remained strong, providing employment for Bermudians, in the tourist sector there was a steady decline of Bermudian jobs and certainly the children of the generations of Bermudians who had always worked in the tourist industry now had aspirations of working in Bermuda’s new economy, symbolize by the growing international business sector.

The boom and bust nature of Bermuda’s construction industry was also having an impact of the number of Bermudians employed in this area and soon we began to see a construction industry once dominated by Bermudian workers — and having one of the strongest union divisions within the BIU — being reduced to a shadow of it’s once powerful self.

As the Bermudian presence began to shrink from these job areas, their place has been rapidly taken by a growing foreign migrant work force. Employers found them much to their liking due to the low cost of labour and also to the shortage of Bermudians seeking employment in these areas.

The current economic down turn is beginning to bite into both the blue collar and the white collar areas, with increasing job loses suffered by Bermudians.

There is a growing feeling among Bermudians that they are under siege in their own country when it comes to employment prospects. They look at the tourist industry, once dominated by their parent generation but now filled it seen with foreign migrant workers.

Increasing numbers of Bermudians are beginning to feel that doors are being closed and there is nowhere to retreat. Many are now abandoning their previous disdain for lower paid jobs because they face an employment market that has gotten use to the paying of low wages.

Bermuda remains what I call a fig-leaf society; the focus for now is on the employment priority supposedly granted to the four Uyghurs, who are in many respects merely a innocent spark to a growing discontent on the part of Bermudians unhappy about employment prospects in their own country. But soon that focus will settle on the 10,000 migrant workers that Bermuda is currently host to.

For those Bermudians who are facing long periods of unemployment, the idea that Bermuda produces more jobs than it has manpower to fill and that is the reason it has to bring in more people to work, will ring hollow in their ears.

And this is a warning to those who seek to score political points by pointing at the Uyghurs and the supposed bind that the PLP government and it’s out going Premier now face.

The same rage that expressed itself during the debate over the question of the long term residents lies just below the surface of the Bermudian consciousness that considers this country no longer respects the right of Bermudians to their own homeland.

Those who think they will win political points over this issue may find that there will be not enough water to put out the fire that their poking sticks have inflamed.