Workers' Diaries

Diary of a paramedic: The worst in twenty years

I’ve been off the road on a secondment and returned to station for the first time in six months this week. The changes in that time are dramatic. The situation for crews and patients is by far the worst I’ve ever seen it in twenty years on the road. On my first day back we’ve just about checked the vehicle when a job comes through. Nothing new there. We visit an unresponsive man. It takes a while to get to the bottom of the situation. He appears to be suffering from an extreme stress reaction. His carer says he has been deteriorating over the last year after having little contact with his...

Diary of a Tube worker: Trying to do the sensible thing

“Well, you are early,” the Train Manager says to me as I come downstairs to ask what is happening with my train. “I could just call you on the platform if there is an issue”. “I am giving myself plenty of walking time, my meal relief has finished but I can see my train number isn’t running yet”. I wonder why me trying to do us both a favour is so controversial… “I have no idea. I will call service control... Hello controller, I am ringing about Train 420. I have the driver here… Oh right, yeah, I did make a note. OK, that’s fine”. She hangs up and goes over to a sheet of paper. “Yeah, sorry...

Diary of a Tube worker: When women drivers avoid the messroom

“She was alright... you’d never know that was his daughter, would you?”. I am not sure what I have walked into as I step into the mess room at the start of my shift. D adds “Yeah, but you look at who we have now and it is no one even worth looking at”. I look round at the group of men in their 50s and think I probably know what this conversation is. I am fairly sure I don’t want to. “Yeah, dolly bird, big tits, face like a slapped arse down the other end”. “Oh yeah, I know the one, she won’t even smile at you, though”, K adds. “Let’s not do this”, I suggest. “There really is no reason for you...

Diary of an engineer: Bin strike - “Someone must be bullshitting”

The ERF [Energy Recovery Facility] where we work is fuelled and funded by bin waste. In a series of morning meetings, we’ve heard that the city’s refuse collection workers are taking strike action over pay and conditions. The first strike day [scheduled for 1 November] was called off after the company made a pay offer, but the GMB drivers’ branch rejected it. The following week, workers and managers at the ERF began discussing the effect on the plant. Management estimate (or at least tell us that they estimate) a small reduction in waste. Other waste streams will be tipped at the plant as...

Firefighter interrupted: a typical day (Diary of a Firefighter)

Our days follow the same underlying structure. Arrive, tea, roll call, assignment of daily duties. Test breathing apparatus set, complete inventory checks and routine equipment tests. Breakfast. Drills, training, “stand easy” (lunch). Tea. External duties: hydrant tests, community outreach events, fitting smoke alarms, visiting local risks, inspecting the waking watches of cladded buildings. Tea. Dinner, tea, wait for change of watch, home. Of course, it’s rarely that simple. Today was busy, but not unusually so in terms of numbers of shouts (although wearing BA [Breathing Apparatus] is not an...

Diary of a trackworker: Talk in my depot is varied

There is a refreshing normalcy about redundancies being offered. They are always show up around the time that bad news will make people think twice about why they are working. Talk in my depot is varied. There is a certain older age group who think that now they’ve done their time, it would be nice to leave with a little something extra; while at the younger end, demoralisation with a job that has changed dramatically, even in their relatively short experience, makes them think about a change of career. This time is slightly different in that the redundancy process has started with managerial...

Diary of an engineer: Blockade week and the future

I speak to one of the Extinction Rebellion (XR) coordinators over the weekend to ask about potential anti-incinerator action at my workplace. XR: “We’ve not planned anything in this city. XR Zero Waste are targeting Edmonton and other places in the south — I’ve not heard about anything here. To be honest our XR group is barely holding it together, and they’re quite a tame lot.” Me: (laughing) “Well, my company are shitting themselves anyway.” We talk about the attitudes at the plant, and the confusion with the Insulate Britain action. XR activist tells me about the conflict over Insulate...

Diary of an engineer: The other side of the blockade

The manager announces in the morning meeting that Extinction Rebellion have planned a day of action against incineration, and so the plant needs to prepare for a blockade. I’m surprised, I haven’t heard anything about this coming from the local group. V: “Where is this coming from?” G: “It’s on their website, and we’ve been warned by other sites. The council are considering closing the roads. But...” — he smiles and slaps the table — “we’ve got enough waste to keep us going for a two days at least.” D: “Got too much waste.” V: “So they’d be doing us a favour, in effect?” G: “If we can secure...

Diary of an engineer: The language they understood

While people at the Energy Recovery Facility (ERF) trace the origins of some illegally-tipped carbon fibre, I go to Nottingham to look at the processing of Incinerator Bottom Ash (IBA). S, an operator who used to work in waste processing, kindly offers to come along to back me up. The yard is surprisingly small, walled on all sides by piles of ash. W, the head of operations, shows us the belt which loads IBA into their plant. He shows us a raised tunnel where unburned waste is dropped into a skip by picking workers. Me: “Can we see inside please?” W: “I’m afraid that’s confidential.” Me: “But...

Diary of an engineer: The tests are OK, but the workers aren't

The company that processes the plant’s “Incinerator Bottom Ash” call to return three loads, and say they are quarantining two more. The logistics company who do the deliveries are not able to tip, and they tell their drivers to stop collecting from us. I ask the company if they’re able to separate the unburned waste from the ash and return it to us, at our expense — she says no. This means that the plant is now producing Incinerator Bottom Ash (IBA) continuously with nowhere to send it. The ash bay is very small, and it won’t take long before it’s full. The only way to stop producing ash is to...

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