Last year the NSL pay dispute involving Camden Traffic Wardens was teetering on snatching defeat from the jaws of victory (as reported in Workers, October 2012). The members have now accepted an offer that had been on the table for months – 4 per cent from 1 September 2012, 3 per cent from 1 April 2013 and 3 per cent from 1 April 2014.
The settlement flies in the face of those in the local Unison branch who were trying to promote ever-escalating but undeliverable industrial action, while scurrying around desperately behind the scenes in search of someone to bail them out of their failed industrial action strategy. Such strategies implied pegging workers’ wage rates to the London Living Wage – which would have left members at the mercy of London Mayor Boris Johnson’s charity approach to wages. In fact, they would have delivered a wage cut compared with the position once the percentage increases start to lift the basic rate for the job.
The Camden Traffic Wardens dispute is another sad, repetitive, year-on-year example stretching back into the fog of history of wrong tactics, wrong strategy, manipulation and the cynical use of inexperienced, poorly organised groups of workers for others’ agendas and politics. NSL workers must now think hard about how to lift union density on the back of the successful pay increases in Camden but also across other London boroughs paying less – whether the national minimum wage or Johnson’s London one.
Another task is to build real union organisation in NSL, and not be linked to old council union structures that do not reflect the real world of outsourcing and privatisation. Struggle must be conducted by applying thought through strategy and tactics, and leave aside those obsessed with mindless mantras and chants or superficial explanations about low pay, migration and race. Organised workers as one can overcome all such divisions. ■