Socialist Worker

Smell of struggle still strong in Southampton

Issue No. 2262

The pitched battle between Southampton council workers and their Tory bosses shows no signs of relenting.

On one side is council leader Royston Smith, who dismissed the workforce on 11 July and re-employed them on new contracts with pay cuts of £1,000 or more.

Lined up against him are thousands of Unite and Unison union members who are now into their third month of rolling action.

Refuse, street cleansing, parking and toll collection workers were set to strike together all this week.

Social workers have voted to join the walkouts in August. And action short of a strike continues across the council.

“Royston Smith won’t budge, so we won’t either,” picketing refuse worker Chris Tancred told Socialist Worker.

He is outraged at the way bosses have forced the pay cuts through. “The type of job we do—up at 4.30, start at six, all weathers—we should get more money really,” he said.

“All of us here are losing at least £700 a year,” said refuse worker Simon Osborne. “That takes our pay under £19,000.”

Nine weeks in, the refuse workers’ picket has become a semi-permanent encampment.

A row of red, purple and green Unite and Unison flags perch along the fence. Garden furniture lines the pavement.

As the summer heat starts to hit, the smell of the bin strike fills the city. But as one worker had written on their jacket, “Royston, it’s not just the streets that are full of shit.”

The union has what it calls a “three pronged strategy” to fight the cuts—industrial, legal and political.

The union has started the process of taking the council to court for unfair dismissal and failure to consult over the new contracts. “We had to sign—we were over a barrel as we would have been sacked,” said striker Ken Matthews. “But they’ve taken our money illegally.”

It is the workers’ strength and determination, however, that will be central to winning.

Theirs is a fight for everyone facing cuts.

They should be flooded with solidarity—messages of support, donations, delegations from other workplaces. They need support so they can escalate their action further.

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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Article information

Tue 26 Jul 2011, 18:32 BST
Issue No. 2262
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