By Jeremy Dewar
In a magnificent example to others, 800 workers at St Mungo’s homelessness charity have voted to extend their month-long strike, which began on 30 May, indefinitely. Far from showing strike-fatigue, the workers want to step up the pressure against an arrogant and intransigent boss.
When the strikers asked Joanna Killian, Chair of St Mungo’s Trustees, for a meeting, she replied, ‘Jacob, please contact Joanna via [Chair of Governance] Louise Wykes, Joanna’. When they emailed Ms Wykes, she replied, ‘communication with senior management continues to be the right channel for discussion with Unite’.
Talk of passing the buck – though the meaning is clear; talk to the monkey ’cause the organ grinder ain’t listening!
Some people may be shocked to hear of such behaviour from a ‘charity’, but this isn’t the first time St Mungo’s have had to take strike action. Most of the strikers are frontline workers, operating on the streets and in hostels with homeless people.
They worked throughout the pandemic, Unite general secretary pointed out, ‘at great risk to their and their families’ health’, even postponing their pay rise from April to October to help the charity out. The employers simply turned round and slapped them in the face, offering 1.75% pay rise in 2021-22 and 2.25% in 2022-23 – despite not having settled the previous year’s deal!
As a result Unite is striking for two years’ worth of pay rises. The union has hinted that it would be prepared to settle for 10%, though this is clearly way too low, half the 2022 rate of inflation and possibly spread over two years.
To make matters worse, executives have awarded themselves a 77% pay rise (average £189,000) over the past decade, while staff have suffered a 25% pay cut (average for frontline worker, £26, 000). They are by far the worst paid in the sector. No wonder they voted by 70% to go for the hypocrites’ jugular with an all-out strike.
The strikers have shown tremendous energy during the first two weeks, starting with an impressive demo outside St Mungo’s headquarters in Tower Hill, London and moving on to target individual (capitalist) Trustees. Their chant, ‘What do we want? Fair pay! When do we want it? Last year!’ sums up their anger and humour.
The strike covers London, Bristol, Brighton, Oxford, Bournemouth and Reading and their numbers have increased from 500 to 800 in just two weeks, recruiting on the picket line. One striker told Workers Power, ‘One manager joined us – we thought it was just for one day, but he came out the next day too.’
But the strikers face a formidable foe. St Mungo’s merger with Broadway housing association in 2013 began a process of rapid corporatisation and attacks on the workforce. As the same picket said, ‘It’s harder this time, compared with the last strike, because they’re using agency staff.’ The danger is the bosses may try to ‘sit it out’ or even replace the strikers – though at what cost to the homeless?
The strikers need solidarity, on the pickets but also in their pockets. Southwark Solidarity is raising funds at their AGM, where a striker will speak. Others should do likewise. They have linked up with the BMA doctors, but need to approach other workers in the same sector with a view to immediately spreading the dispute. Unite’s leadership should be forced to facilitate this, while the strike committees make their own inquiries.
They also need to stop the agency workers coming in – by calling it out for what it is, scabbing. Mass pickets, approaches to individuals and targeting the agencies can be persuasive tactics, but a public campaign to expose the casualization of this important social and health area of work can be even more so. The treatment of St Mungo’s workers – and much of the ‘not for profit’ third sector – is a social and political scandal, as well as an economic one.
Victory to St Mungo’s workers!
Visit a picket line!
Make a donation – bit.ly/StMfund !