Manchester housing workers to reballot after three months of strikes

On the last day of three months’ of strike action, culminating in a four-week continuous strike, Unite activist Ian Allinson interviewed Unite UCATT steward Bill Nugent about the dispute at Mears / Manchester Working Limited and comments on the dispute

It’s not often that workers take this level of action. After striking three days’ a week, they escalated to a continuous four week strike which ended on Friday 4th August. They are about to reballot to resume action, planning to strike every day but Wednesday, which they believe will cause maximum disruption. Mears are attempting to use subcontractors to cover some of the work, and handing over the vans twice a week is expected to cause chaos.

Most of the strikers were formerly members of UCATT, which recently merged into Unite. Unite’s national strike fund, which stands at nearly £40m, helps sustain strikes, but members involved in disputes have to push to get the support they need. If strikers are dependent on support from the union centrally, and don’t raise money independently, it can make it harder for members to remain in control of disputes. Some newer staff haven’t struck because they hadn’t been members long enough to qualify for strike pay, but plan to join the strike after the reballot.

The strike also raises important questions for Labour Party activists. Manchester City Council is 100% Labour, but has sold off all its council housing and outsourced swathes of its workforce, in line with Tory and New Labour policies in recent decades. Labour’s General Election manifesto marked a break from such policies, but Labour councils across the UK are still implementing Tory cuts, outsourcing and the rest. After Grenfell, it is a disgrace that a Labour council thinks housing maintenance on the cheap is acceptable. It’s easy to see from Bill’s comments (which are mild compared to those expressed by many strikers) how such policies undermine the credibility of Labour policies and threaten Labour’s ability to mobilise support to win a majority in parliament to put them into practice.

As Mark Steele recently argued, fear of migrants is often based on hypothetical ones, not direct experience. There’s lots of talk about migration pushing down wages in construction, yet in this strike, like so many others, it is clear that it is the employers and politicians who are responsible. There’s a healthy anti-racist sentiment amongst the strikers – one donated a day’s strike pay to a local Islamic Centre that suffered an arson attack during the strike.

The strike is off for a short while while the workers’ reballot. In the meantime you can:

  • Send messages of support to Colin Pitt via colinpitt65@hotmail.co.uk
  • Donate to the strike fund by cheque payable to UCATT UD.393 Manchester 1st Branch, sent to Andy Fisher, Unite, 2 Churchill Way, Liverpool, L3 8EF, or online to account 46034412 sort code 60-83-01

When the action is back on, there are regular pickets at the Hendham Vale Industrial Park,

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