Class war erupts in Dolphin Square

By Robert Mendick,Claire Newbon
Tuesday 31 December 2013 05:45
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Princess Anne, Harold Wilson and Charles de Gaulle made their homes there. Christine Keeler cavorted there and Oswald Mosley was arrested on the premises.

Dolphin Square, on the bank of the Thames and close to the Palace of Westminster, has long been Britain's most celebrated and salubrious housing estate, home to the rich and famous.

CP Snow wrote a novel about the goings on there while William Vassal, the infamous Admiralty clerk, used it as his base from which he spied for Russia.

The apartment complex, indeed, has seen a great deal in its 65-year history. But it has never seen class war – until, that is, last week, when the cleaners, concierges and caretakers who serve the block's high-profile residents went on strike over poor pay.

Their plight highlights the class divide that still permeates British society. It has also prompted embarrassing soul-searching among the 20 or so Labour MPs who use Dolphin Square as a pied-à-terre, many of them enjoying subsidised rents and luxury services – at the expense of an ill-paid army of workers, many of them migrants from Africa and Eastern Europe. It is also home to a number of labour peers including Lord Desai as well as the former Cabinet minister Jack Cunningham and the one-time Tory leader William Hague and his wife Ffion.

Beverley Hughes, the Home Office minister in charge of immigration and who has rented a flat from the Dolphin Square Trust since 1997, said: "I am very concerned to hear about the low pay-rates for people living in London and working in an expensive area. I think most of the tenants would want them to be as well paid as possible and I will be investigating this and discussing the issue with my colleagues."

The strike on Friday deprived well-heeled tenants of their 24-hour "ancillary service" and was prompted by a 3-per-cent pay offer and a refusal to pay workers a £1,000 London weighting. There is anger and resentment over salaries as low as £9,850 for the 150 cleaners, chambermaids and maintenance staff, employed to maintain the 1,250 flats in the property.

Bill Morris, general secretary of the TGWU, told The Independent on Sunday yesterday: "This is a case of Upstairs, Downstairs syndrome. It is symptomatic of a lot that is wrong with society."

Nick Page, union official and the strike's organiser, said: "If staff in other areas of London can expect decent wages why should Dolphin Square be so different? We are not talking about a militant membership here. But the trust seems to think it can get away with paying low wages. So far their reaction has been contemptuous."

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