Over 700 St Mungo’s charity workers in the south of England kicked off a four week strike on Tuesday in a battle over pay. Unite union members who work at the homelessness and housing charity staged pickets across London, as well as in Bristol, Bournemouth, Brighton and Oxford.
Striker Jen, who was picketing outside a hostel in Soho in central London, works with people with critical needs such as drug and alcohol addiction. “You never know what you’re going to get on shift,” she told Socialist Worker. “You have to be prepared for anything.
“It’s a range—but we’re not always equipped. And we’re not paid to reflect the work we do. We provide an invaluable service, and we should be appreciated.”
Jen added, “The cost of living crisis has skyrocketed—for some people it’s difficult to even get into work. We’re not demanding much, just fair pay, especially when management somehow justifies their salaries.
“We’re doing the core of the work, working face to face with service users yet we struggle to pay our bills.”
In London strikers gathered at a lively rally outside St Mungo’s headquarters. They used whistles, vuvuzelas and music to send a loud and clear message to the head office. Workers greeted other strikers who’d come to join with cheers, and chanted, “What do we want? Fair pay.”
Hostel worker Jack said management’s attempts to break the strike by changing pay dates are “calculated”. “It’s annoyed me, and a lot of people,” he told Socialist Worker. “The strike was split between two months, which would’ve meant 75 percent pay for both.
“But then a week before the strike they’ve changed the week pay comes out so it covers the entire strike. They know people can’t afford to strike, now they’re making it more difficult.”
He added, “It’s important that we’re on strike, especially over pay. We have such a high turnover of staff and so many vacancies. That’s down to pay.
“Managers say to look after your health you should take annual leave. People can’t afford to do that. There’s not enough front facing staff. More pay means better recruitment and retention so we can offer a better service.”
St Mungo’s bosses have said the charity needs to maintain reserves of £14 million, but it has £22 million. And the CEO Emma Haddad grabs £189,000 a year.
“Why do we need that much extra?” Jack asked. “We have no say over what happens to that money and the ’emergency’ it’s supposedly there for. If this isn’t an emergency, what is?” The pay dispute would cost around £4 million to solve.
Unite rep Peter explained that the dispute is about “the soul of the organisation”. “Despite being a charity, St Mungo’s is also a registered landlord,” he said. “It needs to decide whether it’s a business or a charity.
“Our society is grotesquely unequal, that shouldn’t be reflected inside a charity trying to change that.”
Zak, a St Mungo’s worker, slammed the situation for the workers as “disgusting”. “We’ve been asked for 18 months for our pay to reflect the cost of living crisis,” he said. “What we got was this disgusting pay offer.
“Our vote for 93 percent for strikes sent a message—we mean business.”
He added, “We also work with refugees. We need to make sure that at the heart of this fight isn’t just pay but also the fight against racism.”
The upbeat atmosphere on day one of the strike is a strong start for the four week battle ahead. Trade unionists should join the St Mungo’s workers’ picket lines, collect money for their strike fund and invite strikers to speak in workplaces and union branches. Solidarity can help them win.
Week One London rallies:
London pickets 7.30-10am
Brighton: 39-41 Surrey Street, BN1 3PB
Bristol: New Street, BS2 9DX
Bristol: 59-61 Stokes Croft, BS1 3QP
Oxford: 1 Floyds Row OX1 1SS
Join the march on Saturday
Join the protest on 18 December
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