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‘We are all-out to win’—St Mungo’s, Brighton and Leeds strikers

Workers at St Mungo’s charity, and Brighton and Leeds universities launched indefinite strikes last week. Union reps told Socialist Worker why strikers have upped the ante—and how they won the argument for escalation
Issue 2860
St. Mungos workers rally

St. Mungos workers are ready to keep up the fight

‘The strike will be shorter if we go indefinite’ 

Stuart Curlett Unite union  rep at the St Mungo’s charity

Homelessness charity workers from St Mungo’s were 13 days into a four-week strike when they voted for all-out action. Striking Unite union rep Stuart Curlett told Socialist Worker, “Indefinite action means we are in the strongest position possible to sit round the table with senior management. Leverage doesn’t get stronger than all-out.”

Already four planned weeks of strikes by the workers in London, Bristol, Brighton, Bournemouth and Oxford was “unprecedented” at the charity. “People wanted to do that to scare the leadership into caving, and I think a lot of people expected it to cave before now,” he said.

“But as the weeks went on, it seemed they were planning and budgeting for those weeks. They’ve hired two or three agency workers per worker.”

At an online members’ meeting last Monday of 266 strikers, some 189 voted in favour of indefinite action, which was recommended by reps after a debate and discussion. Some 30 people voted for an alternative proposal for a further two weeks of action rather than an indefinite strike.

Stuart said that one of the arguments he and others put to reps and strikers to back the escalation was that indefinite action is not something bosses can plan for. “They don’t know how long it will be for—it’s a big threat.”

“By the time the meeting started, people were already in the chat saying, ‘Indefinite’,” Stuart added. “All through the strike we are constantly repeating, ‘We’re staying out until we win’, this shows we mean it. The strike will be shorter if we go all-out. It’s the quickest way to get what we want.”

An alternative discussed by strikers was having gaps between weeks of strikes. “We argued against that,” Stuart explained. “As soon as we go back in then back out it would be much harder. It became clear that no one wanted to break momentum.”

Stuart said that before going out on strike, some were nervous. “They didn’t think they could strike for four weeks, but now we’re nearly at the end of the third week and they’ve committed so much. We have more people coming to the pickets and rallies.”

To convince his colleagues of all-out action, Stuart used the example of National Express strikers in the West Midlands, who won a 16.2 percent pay rise after escalating to indefinite. “People were inspired by that,” he said. “It then made sense to them to take that step.”

Stuart also used the negative example of the CWU union’s Royal Mail strike to show how individual days and short blocks of strikes have not led to a victory against ruthless bosses.

Stuart thinks that senior management’s hard line against the strike also made the decision easier. He explained that CEO Emma Haddad has “a lot of contempt towards us and is lying directly to our faces.”

“We can’t afford, for us or our clients, for the strike to be drawn out for ages,” Stuart said. “We care very deeply about our jobs—we’re helping the most vulnerable in society.”

To carry the strike to victory, Stuart said the strikers “have to continue to be creative”. “We’ve been targeting trustees of St Mungo’s to put extra pressure on. Members can see that they’re making an impact through direct action—they’re excited by it. Now we’re talking about protesting outside the agencies.”

“We want to have strike committees in each area,” Stuart added. “Those strike committees can start organising themselves rather than it all coming from the reps.”

The St Mungo’s rallies and protests have included other strikers such as the junior doctors. And St Mungo’s strikers have, for example, joined doctors’ rallies. They have also held themed strike rallies around issues such as anti-racism and LGBT+ rights.

Stuart said, “We have to keep being creative with more targets, stunts, organisation and keeping people confident—that’s what’s going to win this.”

‘All-out is the only way to win against a management that is intent on destroying the union’

Megan Povey, UCU union member at the University of Leeds

At Leeds university, management has decided to impose a 100 percent pay docking for workers taking part in the marking and assessment boycott (Mab). The university’s vice chancellor, Simone Buitendijk, has made clear she won’t back down and will continue to impose deductions.

In response to these threats, workers voted for an indefinite strike. Megan Povey is a striking member of the UCU union at Leeds University. She told Socialist Worker from the picket lines last Wednesday that an indefinite strike is the “only response” to hardline attacks by management.

“It was agreed at UCU congress that if the bosses make 100 percent deductions, workers should go out on indefinite strike,” she said. “Here at Leeds university, UCU members think that’s the only way we can win against a management intent on destroying the union. Our pay is plummeting, and management is becoming increasingly nasty.

“In the past, academics got some say in how the university was run. Now it is entirely run by the managers from the top down. For us the stakes are far too high, and taking a day here and there just isn’t good enough.

“In the last three years, I’ve probably taken around 30 days of strikes. Why couldn’t those days have been in one go? If they were, we might have already won. Members are beginning to see that and are really responding to the scale of the attacks. 

“Our branch leadership is completely behind indefinite action. There has been no wavering from them. Members have made clear to them that we won’t stop until we win.”

Megan added, “We’ve decided we aren’t going to stop the Mab for negotiations, we’re going to keep going. It’s good to get out onto the picket lines. The sun shone, and the mood was good.

“The Mab can be isolating, and so it’s good that we can come together. After the picket lines, we planned to have a members’ meeting to discuss the direction of the strike. These meetings will be even more important considering we are now on indefinite strike.”

‘It’s been a live argument for months’

Mark Abel, UCU union branch chair at Brighton university

Brighton university bosses are attacking workers from every side. Having imposed 100 percent pay deductions over the Mab, they are now plotting to sack at least 130 workers. And they’ve said a further 397 workers are at risk of redundancy.

UCU union members voted to move to an indefinite strike in response to these savage attacks on Friday of last week. Branch chair Mark Abel—who is at risk of redundancy—told Socialist Worker that workers must act decisively now or lose everything.

He explained that in Brighton, activists had already prepared the ground for the arguments around indefinite action.  “We passed a motion early in the academic year which backed indefinite action,” he said. “We were also one of the branches who submitted a censure motion against our general secretary Jo Grady because of how she’d been running this dispute.

“So in Brighton, the kind of action we need to take has been a live argument for a few months. What’s accelerated and deepened these arguments is the strength of the bosses’ attacks.

“The university bosses really want to limit the effectiveness of strikes. That’s why they announced these redundancies when we entered the summer term. They wanted to ensure we wouldn’t strike when there was still teaching. Their plan seems to be to make the redundancies before the Autumn term, when we return to teaching.” 

Mark explained that some union members haven’t backed an indefinite strike. “There was a counter-proposal to the plan for indefinite action that was put forward by a handful of members in our last meeting. The proposal was to strike for four days around the graduation dates,” he said.

“Those that made that proposal argued that the strike would be pointless in the summer because we aren’t teaching. The branch had a full and frank discussion, and the majority dismissed the proposal.

“There were about 100 people in the meeting, and only about 11 voted for the four-day proposal. The rest voted for an indefinite strike.

“We are arguing that our indefinite strike is about more than just causing disruption. It’s a political strike, and we’re pitching it as that.

 “We want to ensure that the strike and the Mab together can cause real reputational damage to the bosses and force them to move. This makes an indefinite strike not pointless at all.”

Mark explained that Grady and her supporters have claimed UCU members aren’t in favour of indefinite or all-out strikes. This argument played out when Grady took to social media earlier this year to undermine a decision made by a democratic body of the union to move to an all-out strike.

She said it would “split the membership” and “play into the hands of an employer who wants to see us crash and burn.”

“We need to make it normal again for workers to come out and stay out until they win,” Mark said.

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