Socialist Worker

Southampton council strike is at critical point

by Tom Walker
Issue No. 2260

Southampton council workers have been on rolling strike for seven weeks, and are escalating their action as the council threatens to sack them all  (Pic: Smallman )

Southampton council workers have been on rolling strike for seven weeks, and are escalating their action as the council threatens to sack them all (Pic: Guy Smallman)

It is a critical week in the Southampton council dispute—now in its seventh week of rolling strikes.

As of Monday—a day the unions called “Armageddon Day”—the council can legally sack all 4,600 workers unless they sign up for a pay cut.

Many workers have been forced to sign the new contract, under protest.

Others who haven’t now face the threat of a lockout. But the unions’ fight continues.

More than 700 Unison and Unite members across Southampton council were to strike this week.

They include port health officers whose action has the potential to hit one of Britain’s busiest ports hard.

Southampton was one of the first councils to use the tactic of mass sackings. And what happens there could be decisive in whether it spreads further or is pushed back.

The action got off to a good start on Monday as picket lines were set up across the city and about 200 workers joined a protest outside the port.


“We walked up from the depot to meet the port workers,” Unite convenor Mark Wood told Socialist Worker.

“We had a demonstration together with some Unite members from the docks who came to show their support.”

Council workers came out together as part of the joint public sector strike on 30 June.

Refuse workers, traffic wardens, librarians and many more have walked out in the dispute. The streets are piled high with bags of rubbish.

The “sign or be sacked” contracts that they are fighting include a 5 percent pay cut—more than £1,000 a year for many workers.

Bosses cancelled eleventh hour talks with the union last week. They are trying to divide-and-rule the workforce by offering £1,400 to children’s social workers who agree to it. But the vast majority still haven’t signed up.

The Unison union threw its weight behind the strikers, saying it has a £20 million war chest.


General secretary Dave Prentis said the dispute “sends an important message to Southampton council bosses, and to other employers thinking of doing the same, that workers will not take this treatment lying down”.

It is vital that the determined hard-hitting action continues.

The Unite union says a leaked internal report shows council bosses plan to sack a quarter of the workforce over the next three years.

Tory council leader Royston Smith has become a focus for workers’ anger. The unions have printed “Wanted” posters with his face on them.

He has even tried to claim that no one will be sacked, saying, “If they choose not to sign the contracts they will be choosing not to work at the city council.”

Last month up to 1,000 workers marched on the council. They chanted, “No ifs, no buts—stick your Tory cuts!”

The unions were planning another march to lobby the council meeting on Wednesday.

Unison regional organiser Andy Straker said the unions were “concentrating on working towards Wednesday”—and pledged that on that day “Southampton will have its largest demonstration ever”.

Shamefully the council only plans to allow 20 union members into the public gallery. But the strikers may have a thing or two to say about that.

Send donations to Unison office, Civic Centre, Southampton, SO14 7NB. Cheques payable to Unison Southampton District Branch and Unite at TGWU 2/8 strike fund, Unity Trust Bank account no. 20185358, sort code 08-60-01.

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Tue 12 Jul 2011, 17:04 BST
Issue No. 2260
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