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Shelter staff vote to strike
Support those who support those in bad housing
Union members at the housing charity Shelter have voted overwhelmingly to take strike action over sweeping cuts to pay and conditions. These are the most serious attacks by senior management in the history of the organisation and this is why 72% of those balloted, voted "yes" to industrial action. This was on an impressive 65% turnout.
A Shelter worker
Director Ken Loach, whose film Cathy Come Home was an important spur to the foundation of Shelter in the first place, has given his full support to the workers and called for a boycott of donations to the charity until the dispute is settled.
The dispute started last year when management announced a series of "organisational changes", claiming that staff costs are too high and as a result the charity is struggling to compete successfully for government contracts. Staff feel aggrieved at such a suggestion when large amounts of charitable funds are spent on consultants and only last year over £500,000 was paid for the refurbishment of head office.
It is widely believed that senior management awarded themselves a pay hike shortly before announcing the need to make cuts. They have refused to confirm or deny these rumours.
Staff believe that chasing government contracts will lead to Shelter abandoning its record as a radical, independent campaigning voice. Moreover, there is no guarantee that even if all these attacks are carried through that management will be able to win the contracts.
Staff are furious that not only are posts being downgraded but also they are being pressurised to "agree" to extend the working week and abolish pay increments. Many staff have refused to sign the new contracts and the dismissal process is under way. Shelter chief executive, Adam Sampson, has told staff that those refusing to sign will be dismissed. Senior management seem to think this is perfectly acceptable because dismissed staff will be offered their old jobs back but on the newer, and far worse, terms and conditions.
Completely out of touch
Senior management's approach is completely out of touch with Shelter staff's view of the situation - and that of many thousands of donors. The senior managers seem genuinely dismayed when as they put it, they are just asking staff to work "a few extra hours a week".
However, Shelter staff have already swallowed a below-inflation wage increase this year and constantly juggle increasing housing costs and hikes in fuel bills. Working parents will be hit by a double blow of extra child care costs and a pay cut.
The reason why senior managers don't understand, is they earn top tax-bracket salaries. Adam Sampson recently lamented on the Shelter website that he just couldn't attract quality senior managers to the organisation because they could earn more in the private sector.
Yet he thinks it is perfectly reasonable to sack staff who refuse to sign for pay cuts and a longer working week.
Many small not-for-profit sector organisations find themselves unable to challenge government contracting criteria but Shelter does have choices.
It is not in a financial crisis and has generous reserves in the bank. We don't want to see Shelter and other similar organisations transformed into an arm of the government and this is why we believe it is important to defeat these attacks.
Shelter union members have received huge support and solidarity from others across the trade unions and beyond.
These messages have boosted morale and helped workers to realise that we are not alone in this struggle.
Shelter workers across England and Scotland will go on strike on 5 March. We need your support.
- Send messages of support to union members in Shelter: email@example.com and c/o Alan Scott, TGWU, Woodberry, 218 Green Lanes, N4 2HB
- Send messages of protest to Shelter's senior management team: Please send hard copies and emails to Adam Sampson, Shelter, 88 Old St, London, EC1V 9HU firstname.lastname@example.org. Ask that it be forwarded to the Board of the Directors and copy it to Shelter stewards at the above address.
- Pass resolutions in your trade union branches supporting stewards and condemning these attacks.
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In The Socialist 27 February 2008:
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