St Mungo's protest. Photo: London Socialist Party
St Mungo's protest. Photo: London Socialist Party

Helen Pattison, London Socialist Party

As the St Mungo’s strike by homelessness workers in London, Bristol, Oxford, Reading and Brighton enters its sixth week, the workers have forced an improved offer from management.

This offer is being discussed and voted on by members as the Socialist goes to press. This offer only exists because of the determination of St Mungo’s workers, who have been getting organised in the Unite Housing Workers branch, and taken collective action across the service.

Pay disparity

St Mungo’s is a charity with huge pay disparity between the lowest-paid frontline staff, who work closely with clients, and the CEO Emma Haddad, who was brought in after she left working for the Home Office. She is paid nine times the pay of many frontline staff, and more than the Prime Minister!

At one rally, a speaker highlighted that if there was total pay parity at St Mungo’s, with the existing pay shared out, then all staff would be on £50,000! Clearly the money is there for the 10% pay rise which workers demanded at the start of the strike.

The offer that members are voting on currently is not for the 10% which they demanded. It is a consolidated offer which amounts to around 5-6.7% for the lowest-paid staff, as well as three days extra holiday for staff that don’t already receive 28 days per year.

It is right that members are getting a chance to vote on this offer and to make an informed decision. After all, this is a limited concession, but one that has been won by staff taking strike action, organising pickets, and convincing more workers to join the union and join the strike. The campaign on the vote itself helps to bring more members into the discussion and into the fight if the offer is rejected.

Haddad has also done her bit by losing her rag at a meeting with reps. This convinced more workers that the best way to defend the work they do, as well as decent pay for staff, is to join the strike. How can a charity which works with vulnerable adults be led by a senior management team which can’t even refrain from shouting at its workers?

As the strike continues and members vote on the offer, the most important discussion to be had by strikers is how to continue to build on the impact they have had as a union.

Never the same again

Many staff will have been emboldened by the strike, and it’s clear that St Mungo’s is not going to be the same workplace, whatever the outcome of the current ballot. The Unite members have shown they are willing to fight to ensure the charity supports its frontline staff, keeps them out of poverty, and challenges bullies, to make sure staff have the best environment in which to work with clients.

But this whole strike has also exposed the issue of homelessness, service provision and funding. Many of the hostels are in Labour- or Green-controlled council areas, and are contracted by those councils to provide homelessness services.

That means alongside St Mungo’s, these councils are also the employers. There have been numbers of Labour councillors on the strike demos, offering support. But frankly this isn’t enough.

Imagine the effect

Imagine if all the Unite-backed and trade union-backed councillors signed a joint letter to Emma Haddad, and demanded a meeting to discuss ending the strike and meeting workers’ demands.

Imagine if, instead of acting as individual councillors, they used their weight as the contractors of St Mungo’s services to demand a real pay rise of 10% now. This could have had a huge effect on the strike and still can.

Labour councils nationally are sat on millions in reserves which could be used to help alleviate the cost-of-living crisis, while a struggle is waged against the rotten Tory government for the funding for local services that is needed. The St Mungo’s workers don’t need councillors who act as cheerleaders, but those who put real pressure on Haddad and the management team to fund a decent pay rise.