By a member of Unite Housing Workers Branch
Members and reps at St Mungo’s have now returned to work following their tireless determination over a three month period of strike action over pay and conditions. This action has led to victory. The immediate lessons for the workers movement is that strong collective union action works, and can win reforms from the capitalist class. It shows it is possible to fight back and win inflation-beating pay deals despite the rhetoric of wage inflation peddled by the right-wing media. St Mungo’s showed resilience in their campaign for a better deal. But what makes this victory especially inspiring is that this a homelessness charity and supported housing association, where it is seen as being very difficult to organise and win pay deals. This victory counters that myth.
Over the duration of the strike, St Mungos saw record numbers of new members join, with co-ordinated daily and multi-site picket lines across the St Mungos estate in London and the South of England. Reps planned and organised regular rallies and marches throughout and held regular strike fundraising events. This meant that the reps and their members had a clear committed strategy with member engagement and the testing of member appetite along the way.
The pay deal is not just inflation beating, but it also goes above and beyond previous pay deals that St Mungo’s staff had received, which had previously been matched to low rise local authority agreements. This shows that even where there are potential constraints, companies, when faced with it, can change their position and go against existing restrictions to offer better pay deals.
Unite members at St Mungo’s have now agreed to a pay increase which works out at 10.74% based on a median wage, or £3,125 in cash terms. A further one-off payment of £700 was awarded to most staff. This is following the initial pitiful pay offer of 2.25% which was then increased to 3.7% when inflation at that point was 11.3%! 62% of its members rejected that offer.
St Mungo’s is part of LE1111 Unite Housing Workers Branch, which is an active and multi-employer branch across the LE region and has members within local and national housing organisations including many housing associations, and regulatory bodies such as The Housing Ombudsman and The Regulator of Social Housing.
With RPI inflation at 9%, this is a great victory. It should now be reflected on and used as an example to the trade union movement as a whole, to prove that workers can organise around pay, and get a real terms pay increase to keep up with the cost of living. The escalation of action from ad hoc days to an indefinite strike from the 30 May was decisive and showed that workers should not settle for the scraps thrown at them by highly paid corporate executives.
This action was also politically important, drawing attention from MPs including Jeremy Corbyn who attended rallies and spoke out in solidarity. However positive this was, and it shows that we do have a handful of MPs committed to the trade union movement, it still falls short of having a truly representative political party on the side of working people – which Starmer’s Labour is increasingly demonstrating it is not. What this struggle shows us is that when working people organise and fight back, we can challenge the capitalist system and austerity, as part of the struggle to take the wealth out of the hands of the capitalist minority.