“We will keep fighting.” That’s the message from St Mungo’s charity striker Frank. Over 700 Unite union members across London, Brighton, Bristol, Bournemouth and Oxford are into their second week of a four-week strike against poverty pay.
“It’s hypocritical that management earns so much,” outreach worker Frank told Socialist Worker at the Rochester Row picket in central London. “We were really strong last week. And we’re still strong this week after some big rallies. There’s just two people in the office today.”
On Monday the strikers voted 71 percent in favour of all-out, indefinite action. Of 266 strikers on the members’ meeting, 186 wanted to extend their strike.
Bosses who offered them a 1.75 percent pay rise for 2021-22—the same as other public sector workers. Bosses topped this up with a £700 one-off payment. Then they offered just 2.25 percent for 2022-23, despite the strike being over the previous year’s pay. Workers rejected the offer by over 90 percent.
Unite member Ioana said, “I feel guilty for not taking care of my clients, I want to make sure they’re doing okay.” But the strikers know that they are taking action to make the service better.
So far bosses haven’t offered any talks with the union. Frank said, “They’re digging their heels in like Tory politicians. They’re not going to budge. We have to keep striking, and if nothing has happened after four weeks we have to go again. We have to keep making noise.”
Frank added that the daily carnival-like rallies outside town halls that have contracts with St Mungo’s have helped. Councils such as Haringey in north London have now written to St Mungo’s to pressure it to resolve the dispute.
Rallies are now planned outside trustee’s buildings, as well as a social and fundraiser. Franks said, “Most directors get over £130,000 each—there is money. And we know they have £22 million in profit, so how can they sit and say they can’t afford to pay us properly?”
Ioana added, “Senior management is using cover agency staff that cost even more than what we’re asking for. And if the money isn’t there, then where is it? Either way there is a problem. And changes to how rents are processed, as well as other decisions, have cost the company.”
Frank explained that in the eight years he’s worked for the charity, staff have left and not been replaced. That means more work for the overstretched staff. “The new department of transformational managers Haddad’s £180,000 salary comes at the cost of frontline staff,” he said.
“There were seven directors, now there are 31. There used to be over 20 of us over four patches in outreach. Now there are two or three for each. We used to be helping to end homelessness. Numbers for homeless people in Westminster were going down, now it’s going back up. It makes me sick.”
Frank added, “The directors don’t give a shit. They’re telling lies like we’ve been offered 10 percent. Why would it be striking if that’s what we were offered and it’s what we want?”
Ioana, who works in Through Care, explained that her project is being shut down in September because “there isn’t enough money”. She supports people in accommodation to stay there. “I’ve been on fixed term contracts, when they end, I don’t know if I’ll have a job. But I’m still striking for these guys because they deserve the pay rise,” she said.
St Mungo’s is causing homelessness among its own workers, who face evictions because they can’t afford their rent.
Ioana said, “We’re not trained to deal with the kind of trauma people go through. We’re told off if we keep our phones on over the weekend or if we’re off shift. But how can we keep our phones off from clients who are suicidal?
“And we get second hand trauma from it. After hearing one of my client’s life stories, I have nightmares for days. Our reward is to be treated like this.
“Every service is undervalued and underpaid. Then management said if they gave us the figures, we wouldn’t understand it. It’s patronising. We’re not stupid, and it devalues the work we do.”
Members’ meetings were held on Monday this week, as well as Thursday. “The rallies are good for morale,” Ioana said.
Frank added, “The pride rally on Wednesday outside the headquarters in Thomas More Square was great, we had lots of speakers. It makes our dispute seem less isolated. And we’ve linked with rail workers, postal workers and teachers too. It’s part of the same fight.”
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