TGWU/Unite members in the homelessness charity Shelter have voted by an overwhelming 87% to reject a raft of proposed cuts to pay and conditions, in favour of a strike ballot.
To summarise the worst of what the organisation's management are proposing:
- Immediate downgrading of one third of frontline advice posts by £3k
- Removal of pay increments currently worth around £2.5k over three years
- Extenstion of the working week from 35 hours to 37.5 hours
- Introduction of new, disastrous, working practices which would effectively create a two or three-tier workforce of housing advisers doing the same jobs and leave Shelter as an unprincipled lapdog of the government funding agencies.
Since the first of the proposals were announced in May last year, the union has seen a massive increase in membership and a huge drive to organise, resulting in two massive indicative ballot outcomes, pushing the union further and further towards industrial action to fend off the cuts.
While charities, NGOs and other so-called not-for-profit organisations are not traditionally thought of as particularly useful for left activists to work and organise in, large national charities like Shelter, with its £48m annual turnover and workforce of almost a thousand could buck this trend. The current climate in the voluntary sector is one of increasing managerialism, with a class of self-seeking executives flitting in and out from the private sector to introduce the rot of corrupt, wasteful corporatisation to these organisations and to climb the fat-cat salary ladder to Six Figure City.
With a large number of charities in Britain as big as Shelter or much bigger (Barnados, NSPCC, NCH for example) and the New Labour government looking increasingly to contract with the "third sector" while at the same time constantly turning the funding screw, we could see workers in more and more of these organisations being forced to mobilise and defend themselves.
We must support Shelter workers in their fight to protect their pay and conditions, and keep a close eye on this sector for signs of further life, as the point where voluntary sector workers start to play a much more significant role in class struggle may not be long away.