As St Mungo’s staff gear up for three days of strike action, from March 16 to 18, one worker from the homeless charity, who wishes to remain anonymous, explains why she’s walking out.
I’m going on strike because I am a child of migrants.
For nearly a year, when the story first broke about St Mungo’s passing on personal information about migrants, we were told by many that the Guardian was out to destroy our reputation and our colleagues in the union were fabricating awful lies.
So concerned was the organisation with managing its reputation, over and above what harm it may have perpetrated against some of the most vulnerable people in society, that experienced and senior colleagues were willing to parrot this line again and again for nearly a year without seriously questioning whether, perhaps, those expressing concerns were doing so out genuine care and love for our clients, not spite.
When the news came out about the results of the internal review, which said that yes, indeed, we had been sharing information with the Home Office without client consent, I distinctly remember the gutting feeling of disappointment, shame, guilt — a feeling of having been manipulated.
While I cannot speak for everyone, I know for a fact many staff who are also BAME felt shocked and genuinely horrified.
Since the review you’d be hard pressed to know that such a huge mistake was made as it is only ever mentioned using euphemisms of ‘we learn from our mistakes’ without telling the wider organisation what those mistakes are and how it happened.
Unless you are already so engaged that you read the report or managed to read the one email sent out about it, this huge event – one that many of us feel on a very deep level — has all but disappeared.
It is hard, indeed nearly impossible, to believe that a leadership team that was willing and able to be so careless with the lives of migrants is being honest about other things, specifically its motivations for tearing up the junior staffing cap agreement*.
It makes you wonder that if the changes they’re seeking are so small and will only be used in a tiny number of services as they have said, why is it worth ignoring the strength of opinion of staff willing to give up their pay and make the difficult decision to strike for this?
Either the changes are not so small after all and, as the precedent in our sector goes, these changes will lead to more backdoor cuts to service roles; or the leadership are so stubborn and feel the need to win the dispute by any means necessary that they are willing to plough on and force our hand over changes they keep telling us are in fact insignificant but in reality have never felt so threatening to many of us.
Remember, this isn’t one small, insignificant funding cut. It’s the latest in a line of austerity measures that have depleted our services for over a decade.
Nobody wakes up in the morning and thinks, “You know what would be great? If I didn’t go to work today, lost all my pay, left my clients without my support and butt heads with leadership”. But sometimes making difficult decisions is necessary.
Government cuts have gutted our sector and pushed our clients to the brink. People are dying on the streets. At some point we have to be brave enough to say stop. Enough is enough. We cannot keep cutting and cutting and hoping that despite that our clients will stop dying. At some point we have to take the cogs out of the machine. I hope you will join us in that.
*The junior staffing cap agreement, which was negotiated by the union in 2013, set a ratio of one junior role, for four project workers (a more senior and better paid role) and was developed jointly to protect high quality services.
St Mungo’s tore up this agreement last spring and refused to accept a compromise put forward by Acas — in a bid, Unite and its St Mungo’s members believe, to bring in a cheaper workforce by the back door.