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Manchester: housing association maintenance workers plan strikes every week
"One Manchester - my arse" read the banner which 150 angry maintenance workers marched behind on the first day of their strike action. One Manchester is a housing association that has a contract with private company Mears - the employer of the striking workers - for the provision of out-of-hours (10pm – 8am) emergency repairs for some of its properties.
At one time the maintenance workers were employed by the council, but they were privatised. Now, as Unite members employed by Mears, they are on strike against pay disparity and attacks on working conditions. It has emerged that workers doing the same job are being paid wildly different amounts.
Mears is trying to introduce a "productivity procedure" which the workers have slammed as a "sackers' charter". One of the workers spoke to the Socialist about how there are tens of thousands of empty properties in the city which they could be put to work on to help solve the housing crisis. Instead private companies are raking in the profit.
There was a very determined mood on the protest. Many of the workers were on strike for the first time. Mears had been trying to break the strike by writing specifically to younger workers to try to stop them from taking action, but it didn't work.
At the rally outside Manchester Town Hall, one union rep talked about his colleague who had contracted a life-threatening disease from working with asbestos and had his pay docked when he had to go to hospital to get his diagnosis - he had been refused time off. It served as a reminder of why these workers were taking action to defend working conditions in a potentially dangerous job.
They were calling on Manchester city council to step in to resolve the dispute. Strikes are planned for three days a week until the dispute is resolved.
This report was amended on 18.5.17 to make it clear that in the references in the original to "the company", the company being referred to was Mears, the employer of the striking workers; and to include a mention of the nature of the contract between Mears and the One Manchester housing association.
This version of this article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 17 May 2017 and may vary slightly from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.