Around 600 housing workers began a seven-day strike in London and Bristol on Friday of last week.
They are fighting attacks by bosses at homelessness charity St Mungo’s Broadway. Pay for new starters is being cut by £5,000 a year, among other attacks on terms and conditions, without consultion.
On the first day hundreds of angry strikers rallied outside the organisations head office in Shepherd’s Bush, west
Managers looked on uncomfortably from the windows at a wall of noisy horns and chants. "Come on Paul, talk to us, don't send us an email, we're people" one striker shouting as rest laugh. Now "Paul Dow's got to go!"
The strikers are members of the Unite union. Convenor Adam Lambert told Socialist Worker, “It was good we did that in first day. The thing with this kind of work is that people are quite isolated in a lot of small teams and don’t see each other, so it really gave people a boost.
“The strike is going very well. It’s pretty solid. Most of the hostels have hardly anyone working in them, some have none. And people are beginning to self-organise, to run their own picket lines.”
The workers have kept active, with picket lines followed by protests every day at the offices of councils that use their services. They also had an organised presence on the TUC demonstration where they raised more than £400.
The Unite branch has been involved in a number of disputes against housing charities in recent years. Organisations in the “third sector” were brought in under New Labour to do more and more of what was once the work of the welfare state, and sold as a softer alternative to privatisation.
But competition and cuts have created the exact same dynamic as exists between private contractors running public services. At St Mungo’s, workers all say this accelerated after the organisation merged with the much smaller Broadway.
“People are so disgusted with what’s happened to the company, some have already resigned or started looking for other jobs,” said Adam. “They’ve held down terms and conditions in the sector for years now, since austerity kicked off generally. Now they’re taking 20 percent off some jobs’ pay.”
One striker told Socialist Worker he feared that it would be impossible for people to live long term on a St Mungo’s wage. Care for the homeless would be left in the hands of a mainly young and inexperienced workforce with a high turnover and little continuity.
Perhaps it’s because of similar fears that some workers report service users telling them they support the action—and even joining picket lines.
On Tuesday of this week the St Mungo’s Broadway workers were set to hold a joint meeting with strikers from Your Choice Barnet and Care UK in Doncaster on the crisis in social care, along with left wing Labour MPs Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell.
Adam said, “Meeting the Care UK workers on Saturday was brilliant for both sides I think. They’re similar disputes in a lot of ways, and people are beginning to see need for a fight across the sector.
“Our strike is going as well as we could have hoped so far. But I think we’ll have to do more. It’s dawning on people that it will be a really tough fight but I think they are up for escalating.”
Thanks to Neale Williams and Julie Sherry