Support is growing for the Wandsworth traffic wardens' fight against outsourcing giant NSL. GMB union members in the Tory-run south London borough began their second 48-hour strike for sick pay on Thursday.
A dirty trick by NSL bosses after last week's walkout backfired and boosted picket lines. James, a striker, told Socialist Worker, “They've been up to all sorts of skullduggery.
“People turned up after the last strike and suddenly management said, 'You've got to have a return to work interview for being absent—fill in this form'.
“I said, 'You know where I've been, I've been on strike!'
“They said it was still an absence, but you shouldn't get a penalty for taking industrial action.”
Workers immediately saw it as an attack on their workplace rights by trying to take out leading union members. Jacob, another GMB member, told Socialist Worker, “This company is unbelievable.
“People who went on strike could have been blacklisted.”
Traffic warden Robert explained that many have already been penalised under the “Bradford Factor”—a management technique used to discourage people taking sick leave.
“Many are already under a final warning because of Bradford,” he told Socialist Worker.
“If they had done the return to work interviews, it would obviously have been, 'See you later'.
“They wanted to hold people in an incriminating situation.”
Outrage forced NSL bosses to back down and workers have put in a collective grievance. James said, “Within a few days the supervisor had to call us into the office one by one and say the interview would be taken from people's work records.
“The supervisor says management told them to do it and management say it was the supervisor's idea and nothing to do with them.”
This strength of feeling gave some workers who didn't strike last time the confidence to come out. Thomas, a GMB rep, told Socialist Worker, “The return to work interviews really made the workforce stand up and say this is wrong.
“It has gathered more support that last time.
“What better way to say it's wrong than by supporting the strike.”
This comes on top of discontent about management's attitude towards workers.
Jacob said, “This company treats you like dogs.
“We don't have sick pay or adequate uniforms, but we have to be out in all sorts of weather for eight hours a day.
“There were freezing -3 degrees temperatures once and management told me that 20 minutes is enough to warm up.
“Their attitude is, 'Go on dog, get out there'.”
He added, “They are taking advantage of us, it’s the right thing to go ahead with the strike.”
The walkout has shown up the scam of outsourcing. James said, “This is what happens when the council outsources services—you get cowboys.
“It would be far better if the council employed its own staff.”
Workers in Wandsworth have shown that they are determined to fight. And fellow NSL traffic wardens in the Unison union in Camden, north London, plan to begin a two-week walkout for higher pay from Monday.
Every trade unionist should raise solidarity. More strikes—and coordinated action between the two boroughs—can force NSL bosses to back down.