Camden traffic wardens on indefinite strike in north London (Picture: Guy Smallman)

Striking traffic wardens in Camden, north London, were this week voting on a deal after walking out for 57 days consecutively. It shows an indefinite strike can get results.

The Unison union members were casting their votes between Monday and Wednesday of this week. 

The offer from outsourcing giant NSL, which has a contract with Labour-led Camden council, is £15 for this year—an 18.1 percent pay rise.

“This really is inflation-busting,” Camden Unison branch chair Liz Wheatley told Socialist Worker. “It means an uplift of around £5,000 this year, and is being backdated to April.”

The deal also agrees a pay rise to £15.90 in April next year, and to £16.50 in April 2025, or at the RPI inflation rate—whichever is highest. Liz says, “NSL wanted to base future rises on the CPI measure of inflation, but we weren’t having that.”

The Unison members had demanded a pay rise to £15.90 an hour—they currently receive just £12.70. Liz said that the picket lines on Monday were “loud and cheery” with popular chants, “Low pay? No way” and “NSL—no slave labour.”

Before the strike bosses offered the strikers an extra 57 pence an hour. After the strike began this became £15—but over three years. “There was another offer a week or so ago that was part of the way there,” Liz added.

“But people’s determination to not discuss any offer less than an inflation-busting pay rise won out.  It meant the bosses had to concede”.

Camden Unison branch recommended that the strikers vote yes to the offer. “The strike stayed solid, and strikers meant it when they said they would not go back into work without a good offer,” Liz said.

“The council has been losing money on ticket revenues, which has particularly affected it as schools go back.

“The council pays money for its contract with NSL—the indefinite action put a huge amount of pressure on both NSL and the council.

“The strike has also increased in strength as the weeks have gone by, with more people out in week eight than week one. Bosses had no choice but to realise that they needed to make an offer that was acceptable.”

The strikers were right to take indefinite strike from the start of their campaign. The pickets, rallies and marches through Camden and mass leafleting have all helped put pressure on NSL and the council.

Their creativity also helped raise support and visibility for the dispute among people in Camden and Unison branches and other strikers across Britain.

Unison leaders didn’t make Camden a nationally prominent dispute. But the strikers have held firm. They’ve grown their action and kept full control over its direction and organisation by holding regular members’ meetings.

The majority of the traffic wardens are from a black or migrant background. They say they often experience racism and abuse on their rounds, as well as from NSL itself.

But this inflation-beating pay offer shows the strikers have the power to hit back against exploitation. And the strike can give them confidence to fight in the future.

That includes a demand for their services to be brought back in-house—as well as for improving other terms and conditions. Camden can be an inspiration to other low-paid, outsourced workers.

Messages of support and requests for speakers about the strike to unison@camden.gov.uk

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