By Isabel Ringrose
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2865

St Mungo’s workers defy Unite union officials and reps to keep up indefinite strike

Workers at the homelessness charity want grassroots control of their dispute
Issue 2865
St Mungos strikers and supporters on the steps of Tower Hamlets Town hall to lobby against homeless sector cuts

St Mungo’s strikers protest outside Tower Hamlets town hall in east London

St Mungo’s strikers are fighting an attempt by Unite union officials to undermine their strike. And now they’re pushing to take greater control of their dispute.

A union members’ meeting on Thursday night rejected Unite officials’ proposals for a e-ballot over whether they should return to work. An indicative vote was 95 against returning, 37 for.

Unite said the homelessness charity workers should go back in after eight weeks of action—and come back out next month. This was supposedly to take advantage of a new court ruling, which bans bosses from using agency workers as scab labour from 10 August.

Striker Zak told Socialist Worker, “Members overwhelmingly showed their disapproval at the proposal to go back in for three weeks.

“They highlighted the negative effects this would have on clients and would result in an unnecessary loss of momentum.

“There was also real concern regarding the implementation of a binding e-ballot being taken for what was essentially a strategic question. This is best put to those actively on strike, rather than the membership as a whole.

“The weight of opposition meant the binding ballot was changed within the meeting to a survey to find out members’ thoughts, a members’ meeting and feedback from Unite centrally.

“That will be brought back to reps for consultation and then put to another members’ meeting on Monday.”  And workers planned another strike committee meeting on Friday.

Zak said the meeting on Thursday also raised “concerns for members about how decisions are being made in the dispute”.

“After eight weeks on strike, St Mungo’s strikers have developed incredible confidence and are providing strategic ideas for how we drive this dispute forward,” he said.

“An elected central strike committee is key to ensuring the dispute can move forward—and avoid poor offers being accepted.”

The St Mungo’s strike shows the power of rank-and-file participation in the running of a strike. In the run-up to the members’ meeting, workers discussed why they didn’t want to suspend their indefinite strike on the picket lines and in strike committees (see below).

They said the re-ballot was being used as a tool to limit discussion among the strikers. Twice before, members have rejected officials and reps’ recommendations. 

Reps previously pushed for a members’ vote on a rotten deal that amounted to a little over 3 percent, far short of Unite’s demand of a 10 percent pay increase.

There’s also no guarantee that St Mungo’s would stop using agency workers. As there’s so many vacancies, the company has been using agency staff under the guise of filling these gaps in its workforce.

Strikers are right to be fuming at officials and reps for trying to limit their strike. Other workers should take inspiration from St Mungo’s—and fight to have democratic control of their disputes.

 ‘We have learned how powerful we are’, say strikers

Strikers across London have also set up strike committees in different areas that feed into a London-wide strike committee.

“They’re another stepping stone for us to be creative and adjust quickly to what’s happening in the strike,” says striker Eva.  “We’re showing our strength—that’s why we can’t go back in.”

Eva said strike committees can also provide an opportunity to work out what areas of the strike need improving. “We can take our suggestions to the wider member meetings and feedback and learn from each other.

“In the pan-London strike committee we’ve said it’s non-negotiable that the offer is backdated to last year. We’re fighting for last year’s pay too.”

Striker Letty said, “It’s exciting we have the strike committees.”  They said that at strike committees “people share ideas and connect with each other”. 

They slammed the plan to go back in as “terrible”. “How could I go back into work, after being out for so long, sit with my clients, try to support them in crisis, then go off again,” they told Socialist Worker. “We can’t concentrate on the strike because we’re dealing with this.”

Letty says that being on strike has meant the workers have learnt “how powerful we are”.  “We have plans for the next few weeks to really take the strike forward,” they said. “Going back in and losing that momentum would drain us.

“We’ve been protesting outside agency workers’ offices and managed to get two of them to stop supplying to St Mungo’s.

“We’ve got more solidarity demos planned to make more people feel involved. We can’t waste our power, energy and momentum after all this effort.

‘We will not accept a bad deal’

Eva says being part of the strike has been “a great experience”. “I’ve met different people from different services that I usually would never see and only talk to via email,” she said.

“Coming together has also meant we’ve got more awareness of different issues in different departments, but we’re joining up to fight them with a collective voice.”

“It’s also about awareness and support,” Eva added. “I didn’t realise colleagues in Oxford were only on just over £20,000. That’s so unfair. And before coming out on strike I didn’t realise the disparity between what the execs earn and us.

“For me, this is St Mungo’s. I’m proud to work with people who can fight and organise like this. It’s why I come to the pickets every day and take part in all the rallies.

“It’s not easy striking—there’s good and bad days. But we’ve barely lost anyone in our team because of the support we give each other.”

Striker Letty said, “We’re striking for the spirit of the organisation.”  To take the strike forwards, Eva says the strikers have to stay united. “Poor offers can split our fight,” she said. “It takes time to get a good deal but we can’t be divided over offers that aren’t good enough.”

Sign up for our daily email update ‘Breakfast in Red’

Latest News

Make a donation to Socialist Worker

Help fund the resistance