Camden traffic wardens protest outside Marston Holdings in Birmingham

Traffic wardens from north London—who are on indefinite strike against poverty pay—took the fight to bosses’ headquarters on Wednesday. The Unison union members travelled from Camden to Birmingham to protest outside Marston Holdings, the parent company of outsourcer NSL.

“We wanted to take our grievances to them,” striker Bart told Socialist Worker. He said NSL is owned by “virtual companies” that “don’t really exist”, pointing to the web of super wealthy businesses that stand behind the outsourcer.

“We were joined by other local Unison branches,” he said. “We want a pay rise and we want them to know about it. We are doing a job for them and getting abused on the streets. If we get another opportunity, we should do this again.

“They need to know how we feel—it’s not fair. We go through all this, not even for £15 an hour while they profit. At Christmas NSL gives us £5. That’s it for a year’s abuse. And if you’re off that day you don’t even get given it. These are the companies we’re killing ourselves for—we deserve better.”

At the Guilford Street picket line in central London on Thursday, strikers said they were angry about pay, conditions and that the Labour-run council hasn’t taken them back in-house.

“NSL gets more than £30 an hour from the council to pay us and for expenses,” striker Julie explained. “We get £12.70—the rest goes straight to NSL. “I’m a Camden resident and that’s where my council tax is going.

“The mayor said all public services should be brought back in-house back in 2018, yet Camden renewed its contract with NSL. It’s not saving money either, and other traffic wardens like in Hackney are in-house. We work around 47.5 hours a week.

“In-house workers work 36 hours, and are paid more than us. We only get 20 days holiday and we’re not paid for the first three days of sick pay.

“Council workers get 25 days and proper sick pay. The council has said nothing to us, we haven’t seen them at all. It’s losing money but still paying NSL. As far as I’m concerned, we work for the council, but they don’t care about us. We’re just ants to them.”

Julie is worried about her pension too. “In-house we’d get a government pension, but here we get workplace pensions,” she said. “It’s pitiful. All I have in there at the moment is a few month’s wages. I’m going to have to keep working past retirement to survive and hopefully afford lunch every day.

“People work 8am-7pm for six or seven days a week if they can, or even starting at 7am. We don’t get paid extra for overtime. We get £15 extra a day if we come in on rest days. And all we’ve had is a pitiful three year offer.”

Striker John added, “The way we’re treated, NSL couldn’t care less. People are disciplined for being sick. That happened to one colleague who was off with leukaemia for 18 months.”

John, another striker, said NSL are pushing through an “Amazonification” of the job. “You have to check in every three to five minutes on the machines,” he explained. “You get told off if you go to the toilet too many times.

“The way supervisors behave is like they own the company too. There’s a total lack of support. We have to issue tickets for G4S ambulances and once I was in the national media over this.

“I was told to take time off and I’d be paid— I wasn’t. That time off was added to the ‘Bradford Factor’.” Bosses use this system to calculate an ­“attendance score”—and workers who reach a certain amount are disciplined.

Strikers are determined to win. Julie added, “NSL wants to get away with spending as little as possible, and it’s our wages it comes out of. We have to stay striking.

“It’s like working in the equivalent of a sweatshop—it’s why we chat, ‘NSL, no slave labour.’ This is how big companies work. But we’re not going anywhere.”

Messages of support to unison@camden.gov.uk 
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)
Strikers’ names have been changed

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