Workers at human rights organisation Amnesty International UK struck for the second time in east London on Wednesday against management plans for redundancies. The cuts have come as a shock for the workers, who are members of the Unite union.
John Bradley was last on strike as a local government worker in the 1980s. “I never thought it would come to that again, especially at an organisation like Amnesty,” he told Socialist Worker.
“We all work so hard, and then we put in so much extra work because it’s Amnesty. When they say it’s redundancies anyway it’s like being told all that counts for nothing.”
Bosses announced the cuts out of the blue a week after the organisation held its annual general meeting. They presented their restructuring plans as a way to expand Amnesty’s presence in the developing work—a goal most of the workers share.
But the money could have been found much more easily elsewhere. For example, Amnesty UK lost almost as much hosting its “Secret Policeman’s Ball” comedy show in New York in March as it intends to save through redundancies.
“Management are the ones who get their message heard,” said another picket. “They are able to focus on the dispute full time—but we have to do our work as well. All the human rights work that gets done here gets done by us, not them.”
Shane Enright is Amnesty’s global trade union advisor. He feels that the way Amnesty treats its workers is undermining the organisation’s credibility in countries where it operates.
“As a social justice movement, Amnesty has an enormous amount to gain by working with workers’ organisations,” he said, adding that Amnesty’s activist base in Turkey had tripled through its workers’ rights campaigns in partnership with Turkish unions.
“It’s no good Amnesty protesting at human rights abuses in Wisconsin, where public sector workers were denied collective bargaining agreements, when it then denies effective collective bargaining to its own employees,” said Shane.
“The organisations I work with are deeply troubled. The shortsightedness of management is putting our human rights work at risk.”
The strikers have received support from across the sector, with more than £1,600 donated to the strike fund. Picket lines at lunchtime were swelled by delegations from other workplaces, including voluntary organisations such as Crisis and Shelter.
But the biggest applause was for Jo Cardwell, Unite rep at Amnesty’s nearby International Secretariat. Workers there are set to walk out next Wednesday after voting to strike by a whopping 97 percent. They face nearly 200 redundancies out of a workforce of 400.
“We will not be played off against any other section of Amnesty International,” she said. “Your strike gave us the confidence to say we’ll go out too—and we won’t stop at one day.”
To support the International Secretariat strike, send messages of support to firstname.lastname@example.org
Send cheques to Easton Street Strike Fund, c/o Unite, Amnesty International International Secretariat, Peter Benenson House, 1 Easton Street, London WC1X 0DW
Rally at the picket line, Wednesday 17 October, 1pm, 1 Easton St, London WC1X 0DW