Sefton Council in Merseyside has suspended two full time union officials and four shop stewards for opposing the privatisation of council housing.
The suspended workers include Nigel Flanagan, branch convenor of Sefton Unison and a leading activist in Defend Council Housing (DCH), and Paul Summers, branch organiser of Sefton Unison.
Paul and Nigel were suspended on Tuesday last week after they organised a demonstration of housing workers and tenants against the council’s housing transfer plans.
The council accused the pair of “intimidating” staff at the demonstration, held outside an “transfer information shop” in the Strand shopping centre, Bootle. The accusations are completely baseless.
This “shop” has recently been opened by Sefton council at a cost of £85,000 to push pro-privatisation propaganda to tenants.
A further four Unison shop stewards present at the demonstration, two of them in housing, have also been suspended by Sefton Council.
Unison is fighting the suspensions and has assigned its solicitors to defend the victimised council workers. Branch meetings of Sefton Unison to discuss further action were due to take place as Socialist Worker went to press.
DCH activists say the council is trying to smash the union’s opposition to stock transfer in order to force through their privatisation programme.
Previous housing privatisation drives in councils such as Camden have been halted by determined and united opposition from council workers and tenants. Unison activists were key to these campaigns.
Sefton Council is under no overall control, with power shared between Tory, Liberal Democrat and Labour councillors. All three parties favour stock transfer.
The crackdown in Sefton is part of a general pattern of local and central government becoming more aggressive in pushing through stock transfer of council housing to “social landlords”.
Last year’s Labour Party conference voted overwhelmingly to support the so called “fourth option” — direct public investment in council housing as an alternative to privatisation.
But deputy prime minister John Prescott reneged on his promise to introduce the fourth option and is now putting pressure on councils to come out in favour of stock transfer before the end of July.
Northampton Council recently had to suspend its privatisation drive because of what it called “potentially serious errors” in a consultation survey conducted by Birmingham Cooperative Housing Services (BCHS), a supposedly independent tenants’ adviser.
One council tenant, Vicki Gilliver, told Inside Housing magazine that a BCHS canvasser had pressurised her to say she favoured stock transfer.
The canvasser completed a questionnaire in front of her, marking her down as having chosen stock transfer as the best option, when she opposed it.
The council has called in the police after pressure from local unions and DCH campaigners.
Send messages of support to Sefton Unison, 38 Church Road, Waterloo, Liverpool L22 5OL or phone 0151 934 4760