Socialist Worker

'The great escape'

by JUDY COX reports from St Albans
Issue No. 1810

WEDNESDAY IS market day in the commuter town of St Albans. Last Wednesday things got off to a very different start. At 6.30am council workers were not setting up the market stalls-they were on strike.

A few stallholders had their own gear. One of them, Chris, said, 'We have complete sympathy with the strike. 'After all, a lot of them are only just above the minimum wage.' The stallholders who did put up stalls set up a collection for the strikers' hardship fund. By 7am the first pickets had gathered at the civic centre. They had balloons, placards and a large ghettoblaster.

'We can't stop management working,' one picket said, 'but when they open their windows they will hear the theme tune from The Great Escape at top volume.'

By 8am pickets had gathered at the town hall in nearby Hemel Hempstead. Unison steward Jim Doyle said, 'The strike has a special resonance here. The council are selling off 200 jobs to private companies. We have had two strike days already, and we collected 5,000 signatures in towns like Tring and Berkhamstead. We're not going to let this privatisation go through.' Sandy Coyle added, 'The management want to treat us like chattels and sell us off to big corporations. Whole families in this town work for the council, so what they pay makes a huge difference. Three percent of what some managers earn is alright. They can afford to move from job to job. But 3 percent of our wages is peanuts.'

By 8.30am, 40 pickets at Cupid's Green depot in Hemel Hempstead had been on the go for two hours. Only one manager out of the 70-strong workforce had gone in. The pickets turned away the sandwich delivery. Mike and Brian from Unison and Sonny from the TGWU explained why the strike was so solid:

'We just want to feel appreciated. We start at 5.30am or 6.30am and are supposed to finish at 4.30pm. When you are loading 24 tons a day, you are in constant backache. And for this we get a pittance'. Mary runs the canteen. 'I have never been on strike before,' she said. 'I have been here since 6.30 this morning because it's about time someone listened to us.'

At another gate Pete, the Unison steward, said, 'I read about the average man with two kids who earns £23,000 a year. 'Well I've got three kids and I earn £14,000. My basic wage is £198 a week. I have to work 50 hours a week just to keep it together.'

Sean, the TGWU steward at the same depot, said, 'On this one we are standing together as one.' By 11am the picket outside the main library in St Albans was in full swing. Just about every bus driver and many car drivers tooted in support. 'We are not a militant lot', one picket said. 'It's about principle. I can just about scrape by, but when you hear what other people are earning, you have to do something.'

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