Socialist Worker

Bosses buckle under strike pressure as St Mungo's Broadway workers win victory

by Dave Sewell
Issue No. 2428

St Mungos Broadway workers held a victory rally this morning outside company headquarters in west London

St Mungo's Broadway workers held a victory rally this morning outside company headquarters in west London (Pic: Guy Smallman)


Housing workers at St Mungo’s Broadway (SMB) held a victory rally this morning, Wednesday, after bosses agreed to meet virtually all their demands.

The workers who provide vital support to homeless people previously walked out for seven consecutive days last month.

A planned ten-day strike was due to start this morning.

The rally brought together around 300 workers and supporters. It brought the organisation’s west London head office alive with cheers and the red flags of their union, Unite.

Striker Lauretta told Socialist Worker she was still “numb” from hearing the result.

“I don’t even know what shift I’m on, I was only thinking about the strike. I’ve been on all the protests and picket lines, and was getting ready to go on the coach to one in Bristol tomorrow.”

Everyone who took part in the dispute was struck by the level of participation from workers. After picket lines at the many SMB workplaces around London, each day hundreds came together for protests outside the city’s different town halls.

Instrumental

This activity was instrumental in putting bosses under pressure from the councils that give SMB contracts. But it did more than that.

Lauretta said, “It was exhausting and it was cold, but it also unified us as workers from different levels. It meant this wasn’t just about people who are affected now, but about how it would affect the culture of the place for us all.”

Workers faced a swathe of attacks after the merger of St Mungo’s with Broadway, almost all of which have now been withdrawn. These included a major pay cut for new starters, and imposed changes to procedures and policies at work.

But all the workers are keen to stress that they weren’t just fighting for themselves, but for the homeless people they support.

Client turned project worker Alan knew the importance of this better than anyone. “I first came to St Mungo’s in 2005 with no possessions but the carrier bag in my hand, after several weeks living on the streets,” he said.

“But with a lot of support from the staff, two years later I was able to be taken on as an apprentice. Someone else who was in the hostel with me was a homeless heroin addict—today he’s married, has his own cottage and works as an electrician.

“So I was torn about going on strike. But I realised that if what was happening was allowed to go through, the people who cared for me wouldn’t be able to go on doing it, and that’s why I decided to support the strike.

“I’ve a lot of love and gratitude for St Mungo’s and I’m proud to work for it. But now I’m just as proud to be part of the union.”

The dispute could set a precedent across the housing sector, where charities have taken on much of the role of the public sector and are increasingly running themselves more like businesses.

As striker Nigel put it, “At one of our rallies I began to realise this was bigger than St Mungo’s. If we’d lost this dispute it would have fuelled the race to the bottom—other providers would have gone the same way and I don’t think that helps anyone.”

Eating humble pie - Howard Sinclair tries to save face in a speech to workers

Eating humble pie - Howard Sinclair tries to save face in a speech to workers (Pic: Alan Kenny)


Strength

Boss Howard Sinclair got a taste of the strength of feeling himself when he came to the workers’ rally for a slice of humble pie.

His tale of two sides that both had to be saved from their own stubbornness went down badly enough. But when he tried to claim that funding cuts had left him little choice, he was drowned out by hecklers shouting “what about your pay rise?”

Unite convenor Adam Lambert said to cheers, “This strike has shown that when people take collective action, they can move mountains. And these ideas are infectious. They can cut through the division and despair in our society. We can inspire others just as others inspired us.”

He said the solidarity from trade unionists around Britain had been humbling, and urged strikers to support other workers in future just as other workers had supported them.

But the SMB workers can offer other workers more than solidarity. They can offer a lesson. That hard-hitting mass action and the threat of escalation can force back the attacks that bosses everywhere are pushing through.

Adam and other strikers will be talking about their fight at the Unite the Resistance conference in central London on Saturday 15 November. For more information and to register go to uniteresist.org

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