Maintenance workers at housing charity St. Mungo’s have been on indefinite strike since 22 April. They are striking against management bullying and the suspension of a union rep. Unite union officer Steve O’Donnell spoke to Solidarity.
The company is refusing to agree to an independent investigation into bullying in the workplace, and our rep remains suspended, so the strike continues.
The management culture in the company is intimidating and overbearing. Workers report being given unrealistic deadlines and unmanageable workloads. One worker, who has breast cancer, missed a chemotherapy appointment because she was so worried about workload and missing deadlines.
The number of workers involved in the dispute, which is concentrated in one department at St. Mungo’s, is small, but the union density is very high, which means the strike is totally solid. The bullying culture has been ongoing for years, and for many workers the suspension and threat of disciplinary action against a rep who submitted a formal grievance about the bullying was the final straw.
The workers discussed striking on selected strategic dates, but the consensus was that management would be able to ride out the impact of a few days of strikes, and would just increase pressure on workers to catch up when they came back in. They felt they needed to take the maximum action for the maximum impact, so they decide to launch an indefinite strike. We know it’s having an effect, there are significant backlogs of work that management can’t clear.
There is a strategy in place for escalating and spreading the dispute. Reps are conducting phone banks to speak to union members in other departments in the company to discuss their situation, and whether they’d be prepared to take action over the issues of management bullying and targeting of reps.
We have a large membership in St. Mungo’s, and we want to have these conversations with every member individually. One of the managers immediately implicated in the bullying to which the strike is a response also manages workers in another department, so one immediately obvious strategy for escalation is bringing those workers into the dispute as well.
Currently, 44% of our reps are involved in formal processes of some kind — either disciplinaries, grievances, or capability procedures. We believe this shows there is a clear culture of targetting union reps.
As well as the industrial action, we’re also talking to local authorities which commission St. Mungo’s’ services, including the Greater London Assembly, to ask them to pressure the company. Our demands are extremely clear: an independent investigation into bullying, and the lifting of the suspension and threat of disciplinary action against our rep. If the employer conceded those demands, the strike would end tomorrow. Until those demands are met, the strike will continue.
Workers are holding physical picket lines, details of which are posted on the union branch’s website. There is also a strike fund supporters can donate to. Workers are receiving the standard strike pay from the union, but as the strike is indefinite, additional donations are certainly welcome.
• Strike fund and more here