Socialist Worker

London at sharp end of battle over pay

Postal workers and council workers strike back for £4,000 allowance

Issue No. 1873

PAUL AND Caroline Medhurst are two of the workers on strike for a living wage this week in London.

Nearly 30,000 postal workers in the CWU union were due to take action along with over 50,000 local government council workers in Unison covering all 32 London boroughs. Both groups want a £4,000 London weighting allowance to cover the higher costs of living and working in the capital.

Paul has been a delivery worker at the postal depot in Islington, north London, for 20 years. His wife Caroline has worked as a clerical assistant just across the road at the town hall for the same time.

Despite those decades of work in the public services they still have to watch every penny.

'I take home £230 a week,' Paul told Socialist Worker. 'I don't do overtime because we have two children, Jake, who is 13, and Amy, who is 11. I do early shifts and then get home to the kids. Caroline gets a little bit more, but not a great deal.

'It is very hard to make ends meet. No postal worker anywhere gets enough money but everything in London costs more than elsewhere in Britain. When you talk of housing the prices are simply astronomic.

'No postal worker could afford to buy a home near the Islington depot. You'd need £500,000 to get a little house! I used to live in Islington but we had to move out to Cheshunt, 17 miles away. Now even Cheshunt would be out of reach.

'I start work at 5.30am and it is impossible to get to work by public transport at that time. So I drive in every day on my scooter. That's not too bad in the summer but it's another story in the rain and the snow in the winter.

'Caroline goes by train-and that costs £1,100 a year.

'Other postal workers travel much further than me. They drive in but then there's nowhere to park. At the moment you can park a 30-minute walk away from the office. But that's not going to last because it will be residents only. Then people may have to pay for parking. We get by as a family, but we do it restricting what we can spend. We do get a holiday, we go camping because it's what we can afford.

'Fighting for decent London weighting is not asking for money at the expense of other workers. I pushed as hard as anyone for a strike over the national pay deal and if we can beat Royal Mail management over this issue it will help to boost the national fight over pay and conditions.

'Workers in London are at the sharp edge of a fight for better pay for everyone. I hope we can force a formula from management which will guarantee a rise in London weighting every year in the future. Royal Mail say they are offering a £300 increase on weighting now but that is linked to no discussion of further rises until October 2006.

'Delivering around Islington you're very aware of the money that exists in some parts of society. More of it should be going to the people who do the work that matters. Every trade union that has a claim over London weighting should be coming together in a united campaign. I'm very pleased that we're striking alongside Unison this week, although it's a shame that there's no united march.

'Let's hope we can get even wider unity next time. We need to step up the action. If management don't give in a lot of people would like to see a strike on a Friday and then the Monday.'

Unison council members have been involved in a series of all-out strikes and selective actions since May last year.

Postal workers have been involved in a two-year campaign to get London weighting taken seriously by their employers and their union leaders.

Capital punishment

  • House prices in Greater London have doubled over the past five years. In the last year, London house price inflation was 18 percent. This took the average property price to £236,000.

  • The average cost of property bought by first-time buyers is £175,220. This means a single person would normally have to be earning over £58,000 a year to get a mortgage.

    Council house rents are 74 percent higher than the national average.

  • London workers commute for twice as long as the rest of Britain. The average commuter time for London workers is 110 minutes a day. That's equivalent to an extra day's overtime every week.

  • The cost of water rates and council tax for a three-bed terraced house is 38 percent higher than the UK average.

  • Childcare costs 30 percent more in London.

  • Council workers and postal workers are united in calling for a £4,000 London weighting.

    Council workers planned a march assembling at 10am at Temple tube station going past the Association of London Government Offices, followed by a rally at the Geraldine Mary Harmsworth Park from 12 noon.

    Postal workers planned a lobby of the Department of Trade and Industry in Victoria Street at 10.30am and a rally at Red Lion Square at 1pm.

    British Telecom workers (who are not on strike) planned a protest over London weighting at the company's Newgate Street headquarters at 1pm.

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    Article information

    Sat 18 Oct 2003, 00:00 BST
    Issue No. 1873
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