UPDATE: On Monday 15th December the strike action was suspended as Shelter’s management appear to have backed down in the face of a well-organized and united workforce. According to the workers facebook page, earlier today ACAS made a fresh offer was made to the Union “that stewards deemed significant enough to put to members. It was a substantial improvement on the offer put to the Union late last week.”
On Tuesday 16th December hundreds of employees of the housing charity Shelter will begin a three day strike over pay cuts of up to £5,000 for frontline staff.
Shelter’s three main offices in London, Glasgow and Sheffield, as well as smaller ones in cities such as Manchester and Bristol, will be affected by the strike, which has been organized by a member of Unite the Union.
Unite regional officer Peter Storey said: “Our members care deeply about the help they give and the people they support. They are fearful that ‘cut rate pay’ will lead to a ‘cut rate organisation’ as managers struggle to recruit experienced replacements on the new lower rates of pay.”
Shelter quite clearly does not need to slash their workers pay, and as Peter pointed out: “Shelter is in a healthy financial position and management need to get back around the table to negotiate a fair settlement.”
Before their ballot for industrial action, Unite Shop Stewards politely asked their charity’s board of trustees to take their demands seriously, but their plea fell on deaf ears.
It is perhaps unsurprising that Shelter’s vice chair, Jon Kenworthy, would have little time for the workers’ economic demands, especially given his day job as a partner in the international law firm DLA Piper where he advises on exploiting workers more effectively (or as Shelter’s web site put it advising on “equity capital markets and mergers and acquisition”).
The same is true for fellow Shelter trustee Tony Rice, who until recently served as a board member of the Commonwealth Business Council, a group now led by the Tory Treasurer (Lord Marland of Odstock) which counts Cyril Ramaphosa as one of their honoured emeritus board members.
Recall that Cyril Ramaphosa, one of the top South African businessmen heading up the ANC, served as the first Deputy Chairman of the Commonwealth Business Council and is a key board member of Lonmin — the mining company that with the aid of the police coordinated the slaughter of 34 workers taking strike action in 2012.
Despite the presence of many anti-worker representatives on Shelter’s board of trustees, Unite workers might have a better time appealing to trustee Shirley-Anne Somerville, who is the Deputy Chief Executive of the Scottish National Party (SNP) – a party which is seen by many Scottish workers as a radical alternative to the Labour Party.
Somerville’s position in relation to the strike action this week will provide a litmus test for SNP’s general willingness to differentiate itself from the other mainstream parties. However, the forecast is not good, as Philip Stott of the Scottish Socialist Party made apparent in a recent article: the SNP “continue to implement Tory-led austerity, as we have seen by their £500 million cuts budget put to the Scottish parliament in October.”
It thus seems that Shelter workers can only rely upon their own determination, and the active solidarity campaigns organised by the rest of us, to ensure that they bring their dispute to a successful conclusion; just as Unite member of Trelleborg were able to win in their pay dispute late last month.
The Shelter strike will start at 00:01 hours Tuesday 16 December and conclude at 23:59 hours on Thursday 18 December, so be sure to get down to their pickets to help make sure they teach their bosses a vital lesson in working class power.