Sunday 18 June 2023

Local MPs, councillors and union activists rally behind the workers at St Mungo's homelessness charity seeking a decent wage

 Apologies for sound quality - not very good PA combined with traffic noise. Speech summaries below.


Workers for the homelessness charity St Mungo's, currently striking for a decent wage when the charity's executives are paid large salaries, received support in Wembley on Friday when a solidarity rally took place outside Brent Civic Centre.

Dawn Butler, Brent Central MP, spoke first but had finished by the time I got there. Brent North MP Barry Gardiner told the rally that the government was trying to make people insecure in their employment as a way of  keeping them down. He said, 'We won't buckle down, we won't touch our forelock and say if that's all you can afford, thanks very much then. Because that's not the way trade unions operate, so I stand with you, keep up the fight and solidarity.'

Muhammed Butt, leader of Brent Council, in a speech that was hard to hear, said that the work at St Mungo's was important. He said that as a council they would take the dispute up with St Mungo's to make sure that the dispute process was open, fair and transparent. He, councillors and the Labour Group were commited to fair pay: 'We'll make sure you guys get a fair day's pay for a fair day's work.' [St Mungo's get a good proportion of their income via contracts with local councils.]

A Unite organiser said that the workers had a mandate for indefinite industrial action. He said that there had been other issues as well as the current pay dispute with the charity including a glass ceiling on pay, bullying and harassment and dismissal and attemnpted dismissal of their union members. They had made it clear to the employer that enough was enough and they were not going to put up with it anymore.

The employers thought the strikers would buckle within a couple of weeks and brought in agency workers, ahead of the workers being forced to return. Instead the strike and the momentum of the campaign had grown.

The union was now looking at what extra steps they could take and had a plan to take the fight to the directors, the trustees, and the funders who hold the purse strings. They would be contacting those with whom St Mungo's had business links, the City of London, and other charities linked to St Mungo's.

He concluded by saying that a 10% salary increase was needed at the very minimum/

Jonathan Ffuxman, Secretary of Brent Trades Council and a member of Doctors in Unite, said that this was a battle for control of the charity. He said that it beggared belief that a respected charity was a cash cow for its executive while the workers, who helped people off the street to restore their lives, got the minimum wage, were  bullied and harassed and were completely over-worked.

As a GP  he had seen the work St Mungo's did from his Practice.  Life expectancy for homeless people was just 45 years. St Mungo workers are the people who are picking them up from the street, giving them somewhere to stay and helping them. It was an essential service and, 'What do they get? The minimum wage.'

He appealed for support from the labour movement against the background of strikes  by doctors, nurses and others who are fighting back.

'If you are not in a union - join one.  If you are in a union - get active. Make your union do stuff. Every union needs to be fighting hard and showing solidarity.'

Cllr Gwen Grahl, a member of the Brent Cabinet with a background in working for charities said that over the last few decades the charity sector had become more like corporations with executive earning big salaries while there were povery wages for the workers and the use of fire and rehire  and zero hours contracts. She said some charities then undermined the permanent workers by introducing agency staff: 'I fully support you and will join your picket line on Friday.'

Cllr Jumbo Chan, who is a member of the NEU which is also currently in dispute, said that workers were being blamed for other crises that were going on at the moment including the economy.  

He told the strikers, 'The bosses think they are getting away with it, but by say "No!" you are doing something powerful. You are puncturing not just the bosses but a powerful narrative that is supported by politicians, economists and academics.  There is no law that says bosses can earn whatever they want and workers always have to take what they are offered.'

Chan said that the strikers were facing a titanic struggle but have the labour movement behind them and full support.

Responding to the speeches a St Mungo's worker thanked the speakers and those attending and said it really meant something to the strikers. He said they were fed up with the lie that they had to accept 3% a year when price rises were in double figures. 'Enough is enough' had to start meaning something. They had gone into a meeting with management on Tuesday really hoping that there would be a sensible offer but nothing came. It was a waste of time and they now had no option but to escalate the action.

He concluded, 'We are getting more confident as this dispute goes on and we are not going back in there until we have won.'

Supporters are asked to join the picket line from 8.30am on Friday at the St Mungo's facility in Pound Lane Willesden, just opposite the bus garage entrance.


Anonymous said...

As a Marxist, it is disheartening to see Labour MPs and councillors rallying behind the workers at St Mungo's homelessness charity while simultaneously pushing socialists out of the Labour Party. While their support for the workers' demand for a decent wage is commendable, it highlights a glaring hypocrisy within the party.

The Labour Party, historically rooted in socialist principles, should be the bastion of workers' rights and the voice of the marginalised. However, in recent years, it has become increasingly disconnected from its socialist roots, with the party leadership often aligning themselves with neoliberal policies and distancing themselves from grassroots socialist movements.

The fact that Labour MPs and councillors are now expressing solidarity with the workers at St Mungo's is a positive step, but it should not overshadow the reality that they have contributed to the marginalisation of socialists within the party. Many socialists have been sidelined or even expelled for challenging the status quo and advocating for genuine socialist policies that prioritise the interests of the working class.

Labour's support for the workers at St Mungo's should not be seen as an isolated incident but rather as a performative act aimed at gaining political mileage. It is crucial to question whether their support extends beyond mere rhetoric and whether they are willing to genuinely champion the cause of workers' rights within the broader context of their party's actions.

As Marxists, we believe in the fundamental importance of worker solidarity and the fight against exploitation. It is essential to recognise that the struggle for fair wages and decent working conditions is part of a broader struggle against the capitalist system that perpetuates inequality and exploitation.

While it is encouraging to see politicians expressing solidarity with the workers at St Mungo's, it is important to remain vigilant and hold them accountable for their actions. Supporting workers' rights should not be a one-time event for political gain but an ongoing commitment to transforming the economic and social structures that perpetuate injustice.

Ultimately, the true test of the Labour Party's commitment to socialist principles lies in its ability to address the root causes of inequality and exploitation within our society. This requires not only supporting workers' struggles but also actively working to dismantle the capitalist system and building a society that prioritises the needs and well-being of all its members.

Anonymous said...

When it comes to the Labour Party, I can't help but notice a lot of what they do seems like virtue signalling. Virtue signalling is when someone says or does something just to show off how good and moral they are, without actually taking meaningful action or making real changes.

It feels like Labour politicians often make big promises and speeches about helping the working class and fighting for justice, but then they don't always follow through with their actions. It's like they want everyone to think they're on the right side of things, but they don't always back it up with concrete steps to make a real difference.

It just comes across as empty gestures meant to score political points.

Anonymous said...

How right you are Anon 18 June 2023 at 20:30

Anonymous said...

I agree with anonymous at 20:30. Its the same both locally and nxationally. Neither is the real Labour Party.

Anonymous said...

Only the wealthy can afford to be marxists hence Labour.