Mushroom pickers in Booker protest: Sacked staff to picket prize ceremony

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The Independent Online
A LAST-MINUTE attempt to avoid an embarrassing demonstration by female mushroom pickers at next week's Booker Prize ceremony has failed, writes Barrie Clement.

Workers sacked by a subsidiary of the Booker McConnell group, the sponsoring organisation, are determined to picket Guildhall in the City of London next Tuesday to remind the literati of the company's provenance as a slave trader.

Employees of Middlebrooke Mushrooms, dismissed after taking industrial action in protest at a reduction in wages, have rejected an offer of financial compensation.

Instead the workers, who were employed on a farm near Pontefract, Yorkshire, intend to demonstrate in Guildhall precinct wearing the garb of nineteenth-century slaves. Booker was involved in plantation slavery in the West Indies. All the authors on this year's shortlist of six have been contacted by Brian Revell, a national offficial of the Transport and General Workers' Union, who called for their support. Michael Ignatieff, author of Scar Tissue, has asked for more information and registered his support. Previous Booker prize-winners have been contacted, as have members of the TUC-affiliated Writers' Guild.

Mr Revell said: 'We are not asking for authors to refuse to accept the award. These people have worked for it and they deserve it. We simply want to draw people's attention to the dispute and we are asking writers to write to the company.'

One of the shortlisted books this time, Crossing the River, by Caryll Phillips, is about slavery, as was last year's joint winner, Sacred Hunger, by Barry Unsworth.