Unions have released details of a proposed deal to reverse pay cuts at Southampton council. The proposal ends a long-running dispute that saw strikes last summer.
The end result of negotiations by the Unison and Unite unions is that 3,460 of the 4,000 council workers will get a phased reversal of the pay cuts. The unions are to ballot their members over the offer from 14 September to 5 October.
The pay cuts were made by the Tory council, run by hated Royston Smith. The new offer follows the election of a Labour council in May this year, on a pledge to reverse the pay cuts.
Unison branch secretary Mike Tucker said, “It was the Conservatives who caused the dispute, their removal from power has meant that a fair and reasonable settlement is now possible.”
And Unite convenor Mark Wood added that the offer will “contribute significantly to Labour delivering on pre-election promises and allow a spirit of cooperation to prevail”.
This is now being pushed in both unions as a model for others to follow. However, putting Labour in office has not fixed everything in Southampton.
The party has been deliberately cautious in its approach to reversing the pay cuts. The unions have had to negotiate hard to claw back what the Tories took.
Under the offer, workers earning less than £22,000 will have their pay fully restored in November this year. But the nearly 1,300 workers who earn between £22,000 and £35,000 will have to wait 18 months. The amount of backdating is limited.
And the agreement means that workers will only get back the percentage that was cut, not any extra rise—effectively meaning it is a pay freeze. These workers will also lose two days’ annual leave, though car allowances will rise from £20 a month to £40 a month.
Separately, the council is making cuts elsewhere, including closing a swimming pool, Oaklands. Two Labour councillors have come out to oppose this.
Everything the workers have won, they got because they fought. Workers in both unions, from refuse workers to toll collectors and social workers, took rolling action over three months last summer.
At first, the Labour group refused to back them. It was the workers’ brilliant fightback that pushed Labour to finally come out in their support. Labour spotted that it could offer them a route back to control of the council.
The idea of backing Labour in the May election was pushed by the national union leadership. For them, it was a way to keep a lid on demands for escalation and national solidarity. A planned strike the month before the election was called off.
But the election campaign was taken up by many workers, who leafleted for Labour as a way of taking out their Tory enemies. The Labour council is there because workers put it there.
The unions cannot simply rely on Labour to deliver for workers. They need to be ready to keep up the fight against the cuts—whoever is making them.