The Camden traffic wardens are demanding a fair deal (Picture: Socialist Worker)

Traffic wardens in Camden, north London, began an all-out strike on Monday. The Unison union members are demanding a pay rise to £15.90 an hour—they receive just £12.70.  The strikers voted 100 percent for strikes on a 73.11 percent turnout.

At a lively picket line at the Car Pound Reception in Kentish Town, strikers chanted, “What do we want? Pay rise.” They greeted CCTV workers, who joined their picket with huge cheers, with cars beeping in support. Over 100 workers who operate CCTV, work on the streets and run the car parks, are striking. The ­workers are employed by outsourcing giant NSL on a contract with Camden council.

Emmanuel, a Unison union rep, told Socialist Worker that a pay rise is “overdue”. “Our last significant pay rise came in 2018 after a strike of 33 days,” he said.

“Over the years we’ve only had a proper pay rise when we strike. If we don’t strike there is no pay rise. It feels like they wait for us to make a move. “Now we have—some 90 percent of the workforce has joined the strike, with mainly management still in the offices.

“We won’t get a decent pay rise unless we strike. We were promised one in April, they said they’d come to us in two weeks, which became three, four, five, then more weeks. Now we’re here. “They’ve not responded to us, but the only way to make them move and give us an offer is to strike.”

Stella is also a Unison rep. “The cost of living and inflation has gone through the roof,” she said. “They haven’t increased our wages and instead gave us a pitiful offer of 57p—that’s below the London living wage increase. We’re asking for a fair wage and they’re not having any of it. They haven’t come back with any reasonable offers.”

On the first day of their strike, the traffic wardens marched with St Mungo’s strikers, who are also on indefinite strike, ­outside Camden council buildings in central London.

Emmanuel said that indefinite action was what the workers wanted. “Continuous action has been a ­helpful approach in other unions and Unison branches—that’s how you get a quick response,” he said. “There’s no point taking one week of action—the bosses won’t respond then or take us seriously.”

The last time the workers went on strike, NSI moved workers from other contracts into the strikers’ jobs. “They tried to break the strike, but we’ll make sure they can’t do that this time,” Emmanuel said. He added that being brought back in-house is also something the union is looking into. “This would be much more beneficial for us, we’d be treated better.”

“The cost of living is exponential. Apparently inflation is going down but the cost of living hasn’t. Others get pay rises because they’re seen as professionals. We’re not regarded as that. But we were on the streets working during Covid when people were dying.

“Without the union our pay would stay low—it’s been stagnant for the last ten years really. We need this pay rise.” Previous pay deals have often been two to three years. “In 2020 we got new managers,” he said. “They gave us an 80p rise to stop us striking. They knew we were going to get prepared for strikes and tried to stop us.”

Picket lines 7-10am each day: Regis Road, NW5 3EW (Kentish Town) from 7am to 10am each day, 199 Belsize Road NW6 4AA (Kilburn) from 7am to 10am each day, 13-15 Guilford St WC1N 1DW (near Russell Square)

Messages of support to unison@camden.gov.uk

 ‘Taking on extra hours is the only way we can live’

Emmanuel explained that the strikers are angry at their bosses’ treatment of them. “Most of us are ethnic minorities and we’re low paid. They don’t hold us in enough regard,” he said.

“We’re chanting no to slave labour because we’re being exploited. For instance, only in extreme weather do we get proper breaks. That’s when it’s at least minus two degrees Celsius, or extremely hot. If not, we work through.

“Traffic wardens face abuse on the streets every day—both racial abuse and being beaten up. Management reports it to the police, but it shouldn’t be happening and when we’re paid so little too. Everyday there’s attacks, both physical and racial.”

And the workers only get minimal holiday—20 days across the year. Shifts are 8.5 hours‑long. “We want time and a half or double on weekends, but they won’t give us it. Instead we start half an hour later and finish at the same time for the same pay,” Emmanuel said.

“Lots of us rely on overtime to survive. Taking on extra hours is the only way we can live. When we work we’re given a small machine called a hand help computer.

“We have to log on every five minutes to say what street we’re on, what we’re doing and so on. If not, we face disciplinaries and they’re hard on that.

“So we have to keep them constantly updated with what we’re doing because if we’re not working they don’t get their money.”

 NSL’s agreement with Camden council means there has to be a certain number of workers providing their services.

“If NSL goes below the KPI agreement, its gets fined by the council. That’s also why we want to put pressure on the council to do this,” Emmanuel explained.

But NSL won’t hand over a pay rise easily. “NSI says there’s no money, that paying us £15.90 would collapse their business. But I can guess management is on £60,000-£70,000.

“The company will be losing something like £40,000 a day from the strike—why can’t that money be given to us? “They are only interested in profit, so our pay isn’t a priority. But it would cost them less to resolve the strike than let it carry on.

“And because it’s backdated to April 2023, being out for longer will also cost them too.”

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