On Wednesday 11 July Camden UNISON members on the NSL parking enforcement contract mounted their first ever day of strike action. And what a day it was! Between brief spells of sunshine and the occasional downpour striking NSL workers, along with branch officers and shop stewards from across the Council, maintained solid picket lines for nearly five hours at all six of the NSL workplaces across the borough. During the course of the day at least half of the more than 160 UNISON members on the contract took part in picketing and/or the vibrant rally outside Camden Town Hall.
Branch secretary George Binette, a Camden UNISON member for more than 16 years, described the day as “among my very best as a trade union activist. I was both astonished and moved to hear strikers spontaneously singing ‘Solidarity Forever’ in addition to the incessant chants of ‘Low Pay, No Way’ and ‘What Do We Want? Pay Rise and When Do We Want It? NOW!’ ”
While NSL seemed to have brought in strikebreakers from its contracts in Westminster and Lambeth, there is little doubt that it was only able to operate a skeleton service throughout the day with the whole of the CCTV operation effectively paralysed from midnight onwards. There is little doubt that among our members the strike was exceptionally solid by any recent standard in Britain.
More than 40 strikers from the biggest workplace (Holmes Road) along with strikers from the Regis Road car pound and the Kilburn base marched together through Kentish Town and Camden Town en route to the Town Hall in Judd Street. They elicited many an approving toot of the horn from ordinary motorists, bus drivers and even London cabbies, so confounding the assumption that everyone hates traffic wardens. There seemed to be a ready acceptance that the NSL workforce undertakes a difficult, often thankless job for abysmally low wages.
The early afternoon rally featured speeches from representatives at all the NSL workplaces as well as Camden NUT (teachers’ union) secretary Andrew Baisley, and several members of UNISON’s National Executive Council (NEC) including Mike Hayes from Cardiff, who reported that traffic wardens in the Welsh capital actually receive hourly pay in excess of £10 in contrast to just £8.09 for the vast majority of workers on the Camden NSL contract. Lambeth branch secretary and London NEC member Jon Rogers spoke passionately about how victory for Camden NSL workers could pave the way to many other workers dramatically improving their pay and conditions.
During the course of the day messages of support came in from Unite members on the Ealing NSL contract, from our union’s Kensington & Chelsea branch and from as far afield as Bolton (Greater Manchester), Kirklees (West Yorkshire) and Falkirk in Scotland. The local press covered the strike extensively and the BBC’s news website had a piece complete with a photo from the Guilford Street picket line.
The challenge now is to ensure that the second day of the strike is as effective as the first. Following picket-line duty, Camden UNISON members on the NSL contract have a mass meeting at 1.00 PM where they will be discussing how to escalate the dispute, with the Olympics nearly upon us, in the event that NSL does not come back with a dramatically improved offer. They’ll also be considering the idea of organising a meeting for all trade unionists on NSL contracts across the capital.
Finally, in addition to noting the outstanding work undertaken by branch organiser, John Mann, and the crucial legacy of former branch officer Sarah Friday, special thanks go to the branch secretary of Lambeth UNISON, Jon Rogers, for his efforts that ensured National Executive Council members took part in the lunch-time rally and to John McLoughlin, Tower Hamlets’ branch secretary who managed to visit pickets at both Guilford Street and Holmes Road.
You can view photographs of the action here on the Camden Unison Flickr.