St Mungo’s: 13-week strike wins improved offer

by Helen Pattison, London Socialist Party

Striking workers at St Mungo’s homelessness charity have voted to accept an offer after 13 weeks of continuous strike.

St Mungo strike rally
One of the St Mungo’s strike rallies.
Photo: Unite

They managed to secure an increase which Unite the Union says works out at 10.74% based on the median wage at the charity or £3,125 in cash terms, which includes a £700 lump sum and the national NJC award now being negotiated. Workers have also won agreements to curtail further increases in management pay, and extra holiday for staff.

They should return to work with their heads held high and on a good basis to continue to build the union. The strike has aided a new generation of trade union activists in learning how to build and maintain a strike across small projects and against a difficult management.

No doubt many workers, particularly in the charity sector, will be emboldened by their fight and victory.

St Mungo’s homelessness charity forced to cough up more money

Workers vote on offer

23rd August 2023

by Helen Pattison, London Socialist Party secretary

St Mungo’s workers entered their thirteenth week of indefinite strike action, and are balloting on a slightly improved offer. Alongside that, they are making preparations to reballot the membership, as their strike mandate ballot is reaching the six-month cut-off set by Tory anti-union legislation.

The new offer means workers’ strike action has so far won a £1,200 consolidated pay rise out of this rotten management. Between the pay increase gained by the strike and the national local government NJC award now being negotiated, it’s estimated that St Mungo’s has been forced to cough up over £6.2 million in extra wages. The offer includes a freeze on senior management pay, an issue that was very important to many strikers.

St Mungo’s strike in Hackney.
Photo: London Socialist Party

This has been a long struggle for many workers who are taking action for the first time. It is a testament to their drive to get organised that so much has taken place. From strike rallies and lobbies, to pickets at newly organised St Mungo’s workplaces.

If workers now decide to accept the offer, which is lower than the 10% they first demanded, they will be able to do so with their heads held high. They have shown the strength of collective action.

That said, neither the issue of pay, nor any of the other issues that workers have been discussing on the picket lines, can possibly be concluded by just this strike.

Hostile environment

Issues include pay disparity, with a senior leadership increasingly being paid six-figure salaries while frontline staff, with a whole number of important skills working with clients, are paid the lowest wages in the organisation; and the charity’s relationship with the Tory government over its hostile environment policies.

Whatever happens with this specific ballot, it is clear that there is a force in St Mungo’s with the strength to take on CEO Emma Haddad and her intransigent management team.

The staff, unionised in Unite, have forced millions of pounds out of the bulging bank account of St Mungo’s, and will continue to fight for the organisation to respect its staff and the important role they play supporting homeless people.

St Mungo’s strike: Bosses act like an outsourcing corporation

10th August 2023

by Socialist Party members in Unite Housing branch

St Mungo’s homelessness charity workers have been on continuous strike since 30 May.

At the beginning of the strike, Unite general secretary Sharon Graham commented on the “astonishing management indifference” to the hardship faced by workers in the cost-of-living crisis on the part of the executive of the charity.

St Mungo’s protest.
Photo: London Socialist Party

At strike rallies, frontline service managers have explained that one of their reasons for joining the strike has been the task of directing their staff to foodbanks.

The executive has made extensive use of agencies during the strike, to replace permanent employees. This has been deeply damaging to services for clients, but that has not been the priority for members of the executive, who have irresponsibly dragged out the dispute.

A recent High Court ruling, taking effect from 10 August, means that management will no longer be able to directly replace their staff with agency workers.

But instead of putting energy into settling the dispute, the executive has expended huge energy working out ways round the legal change, to continue services on an even more limited basis. Accelerating recruitment processes and the use of security staff represent real threats to service quality.

The executive members are behaving as if they are managers of an outsourcing corporation such as Serco, rather than a charity.

Many local authorities that fund their services have called on St Mungo’s to settle. They need to be prepared to use contract scrutiny powers to hold St Mungo’s to account.

Unite has given the strike total support nationally, and is committed to escalating its support.

St Mungo’s: Pay up!

26th July 2023

by Unite Housing Workers branch members

St Mungo’s homelessness workers have entered their ninth week of indefinite action.

The workers are showing immense determination and courage to continue in the face of a highly intransigent and bullying management. There was no movement in talks at ACAS on 24 July, as the bosses irresponsibly drag the strike out.

Workers take confidence from the recent legal judgement overturning a Tory anti-union measure that allowed employers to use agency workers to break a strike. St Mungo’s have been able to keep some of their services running by relying on agency staff. This will cease as of 10 August.

St Mungo’s homelessness charity workers on indefinite strike.
Photo: London SP

This ruling is useful but we cannot rely on it exclusively — workers should take advantage of it by maintaining and strengthening the action.

Strikers are joining the picket lines with other workers on strike, such as doctors, transport workers, university workers and now traffic wardens in Camden, London. This marks an important phase in the strike, with workers increasingly realising that one of the strengths of the movement lies in linking up with other striking workers who are waging their own struggles on pay.

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham has made a commitment to the strikers and Unite has put more resources into the dispute, determined to win and reach out to other workers in the homelessness sector.

Local authorities, especially Labour ones, cannot stand aside and watch as this rogue employer takes their money, keeps CEO pay secret, rewards senior management with a 5% pay increase (meaning they take almost five times the pay of the average worker at the charity), and then tells frontline workers that they can only afford 3.7% for them — and not even backdate it!

Senior management say they cannot afford to pay more, but fail to show evidence of this. We say: open the books! Unite reports that the March 2022 accounts show total surpluses of £6 million, and cash balances have rocketed to £22.5 million!

Labour authorities should intervene now by convening a meeting with Mungo’s senior management and Unite to resolve the dispute. If Mungo’s can show that they are genuinely unable to afford a decent wage for frontline staff then local authorities should step in to pay the difference.

St Mungo’s strike: Ramp up the heat on wobbling management

12th July 2023

Workers at St Mungo’s homelessness charity across the south of England have embarked on indefinite strike action and voted to reject the latest pay offer from management.

Below is the text of the latest Socialist Party leaflet.

❝The recent offer, which has been rejected by members, is evidence that the strike is working.

Under pressure from the continued action, senior management found an extra £700,000 per year for pay. Emma Haddad’s ‘outburst’ (see ‘St Mungo’s strike at crucial stage’ below) also shows the pressure they are under from the action.

St Mungo’s strikers march with striking teachers in London.
Photo: Ian Pattison

So as the strike continues, it’s important that members turn up the heat to force a better offer.

From reports at the rallies, and speaking to strikers, it’s clear that there are still more people joining the strike.

When staff see large and loud pickets at the different projects, that’s when they have renewed confidence in the strike and join themselves. No one wants to feel like they are taking action alone – and they aren’t!

Haddad and the rest of senior management are wavering, and the strike continuing to grow is the biggest source of pressure on them.

To Labour councillors — solidarity is welcome but the strike needs action not words

The strike has lots of support from the wider labour movement, as well as giving support to the NEU and other workers in their actions. This includes support from a number of Labour councillors. Some councillors have even asked what they can do to support the strike.

The first thing is they should wholly support the demand for 10%. The strikers can discuss what other action they want from councillors.

The strikers could demand that all union-backed councillors write to Haddad and demand she meets with them as a step towards meeting the workers’ demands.

The councillors could demand that Haddad opens up St Mungo’s financial accounts to scrutiny by Unite the Union representatives and the councils which have contracts with the charity.

One councillor from Brent said, at a rally, that they would not support a pay rise that would bankrupt the charity. Is this councillor under the impression that 10% would bankrupt St Mungo’s? If they are worried, they should demand to see the full financial statements – including the pay of all senior management! We’re sure this would alleviate any fear. A 10% pay rise will not bankrupt the charity but will be a big step forward for frontline staff.

Given that St Mungo’s has so many contracts with local councils and a large part of its work is funded with public money, it’s only right that there is accountability about how that funding is used. Is it being used to line the back pockets of a few? How does this serve the interests of people experiencing homelessness, or frontline staff?

Ultimately the growing housing crisis must also be fought. Partly, staff members need a pay rise because of sky-high mortgages and rents. If Labour councillors were really serious about tackling homelessness in their boroughs, they wouldn’t just contract St Mungo’s to support homeless adults, they would take measures such as rent controls in the private sector, and push forward with council house building to reduce waiting lists.

St Mungo’s workers see first-hand the impact of the housing crisis and the broken housing model. Let’s fight to end the housing crisis, with decent, affordable housing which meets the needs of all.

A Starmer–led government is likely at the next general election, but the radical housing policies which were put forward in Jeremy Corbyn’s manifesto have been removed.

Thanks to a motion by Unite Housing Workers branch, the Unite conference will be discussing opening up the political fund so that the union can back candidates from other political parties which support Unite policy. This could be an important step in fighting for a genuine political voice for the workers’ and trade union movement in the future.❞

St Mungo’s fight at crucial stage

5th July 2023

by 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.

St Mungo’s strike: ‘More people are joining us’

28th June 2023

London Socialist Party members report

Homelessness charity workers at St Mungo’s, already on strike for four weeks, have made their strike over pay indefinite.

Talks on Tuesday 20 June ended abruptly. Reps and officers reported that chief executive Emma Haddad shouted and swore at them, leaving them no choice but to walk out. She was compelled to issue a ‘half-apology’ in writing.

St Mungo’s convenor Jacob explained to an emergency protest outside head office the next day: “What is happening now is that people who have been working throughout this dispute are so disgusted by Haddad’s behaviour that they are coming out and joining us on the picket lines. It’s us staying out on strike and more people joining us on strike – that is what is going to inspire them to come up with a serious offer.”

Another striker added: “The example of Emma’s behaviour just goes to show: the mask is slipping, the pressure’s on. It’s even more important to turn up at the pickets.”

Unite branch organiser Nick asked: “Is she now going to apologise for the poverty wages?”

A striker at Waterloo commented on management pay: “We’ve seen that this new member of staff has been given £130,000 a year. That could be 30 members’ pay rises. The money is there for the things they want to spend it on, but not for the things that benefit the workers.”

Defending homelessness services

Several St Mungo’s strikers attended the conference of the National Shop Stewards Network (see pages 6-7) and spoke about their dispute. One said: “The CEO explained her behaviour by saying she’s only human. Well, frontline workers are only human!”

Another explained: “We don’t want a one-off lump sum, and then go back to being poor. We need an increase in our salary.”

They reported that the strike has galvanised and energised a whole new layer of union members and reps. “Our battle is not only for our own pocket, but for homelessness in the UK.”

Rough sleeping has risen by 74% since 2010. So much for the government’s pledge to end rough sleeping by 2024! Homelessness workers on the street deal with the sharp end of this crisis on a daily basis.

A solidarity message from Unite NE/403/15 branch struck a chord with strikers: “If all the CEOs on six-figure salaries disappeared, we’d get on and do the work because that’s what we do. They need us, we don’t need them.”

St Mungo’s and the Home Office

St Mungo’s workers are proud of their increasingly stretched services, but complain bitterly that senior executives are pulling the organisation in the wrong direction.

When the CEO, recruited from the Home Office, spent a negotiating meeting shouting at Unite reps, strikers commented that she was introducing a toxic culture of fear and bullying from the Home Office to St Mungo’s. The recent addition to the highly paid executive team of a close colleague of hers at the Home Office strengthened concern.

St Mungo’s reputation was badly damaged when its role in sharing confidential client information with immigration enforcement teams was exposed. Clients found themselves in detention centres and forcibly deported. Bosses of other charities, such as Crisis, spoke out about the sometimes tragic consequences.

The deportations were found to be unlawful, but what lessons did the St Mungo’s board learn? There was an apology, and an admission that they had misled the press and campaigners. But an internal review failed to explain why senior executives were apparently unaware of the disgraceful practices. It didn’t even mention that their own staff, through Unite, had campaigned against this role. There was no independent review, and now senior staff are being recruited from the Home Office.

St Mungo’s homelessness strikers fight on

21st June 2023

“When you spend the entire week supporting clients with their lives it can be emotionally draining. And then not having enough money to pay your bills or even pay a visit to the cinema just to be able to unwind, it’s mentally hard.

Homelessness workers at St Mungo’s charity, members of Unite housing workers branch, have embarked on indefinite strike action for a decent pay rise. A Mungo’s striker spoke to David Maples to explain the difficult decisions workers make when they decide to go on strike:

“Everyone needs some downtime, but not being able to afford it can be so disheartening. When you look at the rising prices for everything it makes everything so much harder. We are not asking for a massive pay rise, just enough to make life a bit easier.

“Then you look at the amount the managers get paid and you look at Thomas More Square (Mungo’s HQ) and the price that must cost to rent, that makes me even sadder.

“I did not take the decision to strike easily. I feel like I am letting down my clients by not being there for them. But without the frontline workers, St Mungo’s would not exist.”

Homelessness workers vote for indefinite action

Victory to the Mungo’s strikers!

14th June 2023

by Socialist Party members in London and in Unite Housing Workers’ branch

Homelessness workers at St Mungo’s, members of the Unite housing workers branch, are on strike in response to a pitiful ‘offer’ of 1.75%.

Following an unproductive meeting with the Mungo’s CEO on 12 June, a members’ meeting attended by a record 276 people voted overwhelmingly to move to indefinite strike action. All members present bar one voted to escalate action, and 70% voted for indefinite action! There is a clear mood and a bitter determination amongst members to see this through to the end.

This places a special responsibility on Unite and other trade unions to enthusiastically back this dispute. It is vital that we link this dispute up with other workers’ struggles. A victory would have an extremely positive effect on the whole movement.

Over ten years, frontline workers’ pay has fallen by 25%. Meanwhile, senior management’s share of the pie has grown. Mungo’s executives’ salaries have risen by 77%. The CEO said that she thought Unite’s planned strike action was “disproportionate”!

Mungo’s should pay the 10% increase that workers demand. We say open the accounts to trade union inspection – no trust in the board’s management of our resources.

In fighting for a decent pay rate, Unite members are also fighting to defend homelessness services. Even government figures say homelessness is on the increase, up by 26% over the last year but funding is down. Fight for the public funding the service needs!

Picket lines

Strikers are learning the importance of picket lines to build the strength of the strike among members and win more to the union. Throughout the dispute the number of picket lines has gone up, and the success of those pickets has further boosted confidence of victory.

The escalation of the dispute requires an even more intense effort on the picket line to prevent agency and locum workers from crossing the picket lines.

It also requires a further effort to turn around some workers who may have been sitting on the fence up to now.

One rep described the growth in support at a project he visited: “In the first week, no one was out. By the end of that week, one person was out. Now everyone is out.”

An agency worker discussed with the Unite branch organiser, and as a result told the agency not to send him back to St Mungo’s. Picket lines are vital to build the strike and give strikers a forum to discuss tactics. There must be maximum participation of members in discussing tactics and next steps.

Mungo’s projects are located in areas where commissioning authorities are run by the Greens or Labour. These authorities have power. Labour and Green politicians often say that workers should not have to bear the brunt of the cost-of-living crisis.

Here is a chance for them to be good to their word, and demand that the workers in services which they commission should receive inflation-based pay increases. We say kick out the chief executive and board – run homelessness services as public services under democratic workers’ control. But Labour and Green councils fail to fight the Tory government for the funding necessary.

Under Starmer, Labour offers no alternative. Corbyn’s supporters and policies are being ruthlessly purged. Starmer doesn’t support the strikes, and scrapping Corbyn’s manifesto pledges on council housing is disastrous for homelessness. Strikers don’t have a political voice.

That’s why Socialist Party members are pushing for debates on workers’ political representation at this year’s trade union conferences. Socialist Party members in Unite are fighting for a rule change to allow the union’s funds to be used to back candidates beyond Labour, who back the union’s policies. The Socialist Party campaigns for a new mass workers’ party and puts demands on the trade unions to take steps towards its creation.

  • Send messages of support and requests for speakers to [email protected]
  • Send union branch donations to the strike fund to Unite Housing Workers LE/1111 Branch, account number 20040626, sort code 60 83 01, reference ‘St Mungo’s hardship fund’