Column One: Goofy goes on strike over his Mickey Mouse pay

THE DETERMINED - if rather frozen - faces were introduced to me one by one. "She's Mickey Mouse. She's on strike. He's Goofy. He's on strike. He's the Sheriff of Nottingham. He's on strike. They're the Chipmunks. They're on strike."

Almost every Disney character, I was assured, was on the picket line outside the magic kingdom. The only exceptions were the characters from the ancient Chinese epic, Mulan. They are played by a team on loan from the People's Republic. As loyal Communists, they are forbidden to go on strike.

Disneyland, Paris, suffered its worst day of industrial action yesterday. Something like 1,000 employees, from chamber maids to balloon sellers to Donald Duck impersonators, ceased work in pursuit of higher wages and a bigger millennium bonus.

If they fail to win concessions, the unions say they might disrupt the events planned for Millennium Eve, when 40,000 visitors are expected at the park east of Paris. Management was at pains to minimise the impact of the strike yesterday. Some executives climbed into garish suits, representing Disney "personalities", to keep the show on the road.

They insisted that all the normal attractions of the park operated throughout the day. "It's not so," said Michael, 27, of London, who has played Goofy and other Disney characters for take-home pay of pounds 160 a week for five years. "There isn't a Mickey Mouse in the whole of the park. They didn't have any managers small enough to get into the suits."

At Disneyland, size not gender determines your role. If you are very short, you are typecast as Donald Duck; if you are medium short, you are Mickey Mouse; if you are tall, it is Goofy.

Raimond, 35, is short. "I've been Donald Duck for eight years," he said. "They refuse to promote me because they find it difficult to get people as small as me. It's tough work. The suits are very heavy, especially the heads. There's also the insults and violence. Every day you get someone who pulls your tail or tries to trip you up, trying to make Donald Duck swear."

If life is so drab in the magic kingdom, I asked Michael, why has he put up with it for so long? "Every once in a while," he said, "you see a four-year-old girl's face split into a huge grin and you see her running into Mickey Mouse's arms. It's the moments like that which make it worthwhile. The only problem is that the money is rubbish."

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