CAMDEN’S Unison team were front page faces on the cover of the Evening Standard last night, as their smiles from the picket line were contrasted with words that concentrated on the effects of their action rather than the reason for it.
It is not speaking out of turn to suggest the Standard does not seem overrun with affection for the strategy of industrial action, but you may notice the union’s local branch secretary George Binette in the middle of the pack refusing to fall for the ol’ trick of seducing us into the idea that the strikers were having barrels of fun, not working, while you, the reader on the train, had to find emergency childcare arrangements. His game face says it all. His union is not playing.
But it was a bit confusing as to whether Camden was up and running or not. The placards were out. The schools were closed. The council switchboard went to answerphone. Meetings, notably the planning meeting on the proposal for a new cinema in Kentish Town, was cancelled.
And yet a tour for the press of the brand new council offices in King’s Cross, 5 Pancras Square, did not fall to the walkout.
They are still putting the finishing touches on what is clearly an impressive building, which includes public swimming pools, a gym, new libraries that seem better prepared for changing customer demands than ever before, and, of course, new open plan offices on the upper floors for workers transferring from the old annexe site in Euston Road. From here, there are dizzying views for council officers to gaze at, stretching across the redevelopment site and beyond Camden. The inside has an echo of the flash Guardian offices across the way, minus mean bags and top of the range iMacs.
Inside, however, lots of people could be seen beavering away on laptops doing council work. While walking around we were asked not to take any photographs that had people in the background with that explanation that council officers were just getting on with their jobs, and not there to model the facilities.
But you had to wonder, and this isn’t because any of us had arrived at the front door with a game of hunt the scab in mind, whether somebody had raised a thought about how it might look to be photographed at their desks on strike day.
What’s interesting is Labour’s response. Finance chief Theo Blackwell made it clear he was not crossing a picket line in guiding us around. There was no sign of Sarah Hayward, however, who very recently joined Unison and had told the New Journal beforehand that she was ready to withdraw her labour.
There had, you see, been a discussion within the group and an agreement that Labour councillors would not do anything to undermine the strike. It will be interesting to hear what those who pushed hardest for this stance, many of whom had reservations about the 5 Pancras Square project as a whole, will make of the timing of Thursday’s tour.