Socialist Worker

Capital strikes for decent living wage

Issue No. 1799

OVER 50,000 council workers across London are set to strike next Tuesday, 14 May. The one-day strike is over a demand for higher London weighting, the extra pay many workers get for the costs of living and working in the capital. Housing, transport and other costs are higher in London than elsewhere. And workers, many of whom are already on low pay, are being hit hard.

The council workers' union, Unison, is demanding that the 32 London boroughs increase London weighting to £4,000 a year for all workers. This compares to the current rates of up to £2,674 in inner London and just £1,947 in outer London boroughs. The council workers' claim is extremely modest.

Police in London get an allowance of up to £6,000 a year. These officers also get free travel within a 70-mile radius of the capital. 'Give us what the coppers get!' chanted teachers in the capital on their recent one-day strike over the issue of London weighting.

Even the government recognises that the workers' need more money. Staff in the government's Audit Commission, an official watchdog monitoring council spending, get £4,492 a year London weighting.

The extra costs of living and working in London are growing.

  • For most workers buying a house in London is now little more than a fantasy, with prices soaring out of control. The average mortgage payment in London is £5,400 a year above the national average.
  • The huge shortage of social housing in the capital means renting in the private sector is often the only alternative. But private rents in London are an average of £2,000 a year higher than elsewhere.
  • Other costs are also higher in London, such as travel. Even childcare is an average £30 a week per child higher in the capital than elsewhere.

Dissatisfaction on pay is part of a wider discontent among council workers. Dave Boyle is a council caretaker in east London's Tower Hamlets. His wife, Alison, works as a classroom assistant in a local school. They will both be striking on Tuesday.

'Pay for council workers has in reality gone down over the years as pay has not kept up with costs,' explained Dave. 'London is getting more expensive to live in. We couldn't afford to buy anywhere to live in London. And anyone wanting to move here to take a job-well, I don't know how that would be possible. It's not just housing that is a problem. Even if you have somewhere to live the cost of living here is high. Car insurance, to take one example, is much higher here than outside the capital.

'And the feeling isn't just over pay. For years councils have cut, contracted out and devalued essential services and the workers who provide them. If they want decent public services they need to value the workers and pay them properly.'

Dave Prentis, general secretary of Unison, says, 'A growing number of public service workers are being forced to leave London because it is so expensive. How much further do essential services have to decline before the government is prepared to do something?'

Tuesday's strike should get the support of workers everywhere. This action has to be followed with more strikes if needed to win the decent pay workers deserve.
Demonstration called by London Region Unison-assemble 12 noon, Tuesday 14 May, Temple Place, Embankment, London

Globalise Resistance conference Sunday 19 May, 10.30am-5pm,University of London Union, Malet Street

Speakers include: Alexander Lopez (leader of Sintraemcali occupation in Colombia), Rafaella Bolini (Italian Social Forum), Gary Younge (journalist) Forums include: '9/11 and the new imperialism', 'The future of anti-capitalism', 'Fighting the Euro Nazis', and much more.

TICKETS £10 waged, £7 unwaged/GR members

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Article information

Sat 11 May 2002, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1799
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