Some 2,000 council workers in Sefton on Merseyside struck on Tuesday of last week against Sefton council’s victimisation of union activists.
The strike affected several services in the borough, including children’s homes, libraries and leisure centres.
Some 200 workers attended an angry and lively afternoon rally outside Sefton council offices in Bootle.
Dave Prentis, general secretary of the Unison union, backed the strike and denounced the council’s decision to suspend the activists as “provocative and unjustified behaviour”.
Two Sefton Unison full timers — Nigel Flanagan and Paul Summers — and four shop stewards were suspended by the council in May in retaliation for attending a demonstration against housing privatisation.
Sefton council is aggressively promoting stock transfer to its council tenants, while Unison has been at the forefront of the campaign against privatisation, including producing 12,000 copies of a short film setting out the case against transfer.
Alan Walter, chair of Defend Council Housing (DCH), is backing the Sefton council workers. “It’s outrageous how far local authorities are prepared to go to blackmail and bully council tenants and workers into accepting privatisation,” he said.
The protracted and bitter battle in Sefton comes to a head this week, with a decision on the fate of the six suspended activists due on Wednesday and the results of the stock transfer ballot due on Thursday.
Sefton Unison has suspended strike action planned for Tuesday and Wednesday this week after the council offered a “definite decision” on the suspensions in response to last week’s strike, says Glen Williams, branch chair of Sefton Unison.
But he added that if the suspended activists are not reinstated on Wednesday then the union will be “going for more industrial action”.
The council is “very nervous” at the moment because the impending housing ballot is “a lot closer than they would have liked”, Glen told Socialist Worker. “The DCH campaign has been tremendous,” he says.
The council’s action took an even uglier turn earlier this month when it barred the union from its offices. “They locked us out, blocked off our e-mail access and turned the phones off,” says Glen.
“At one stage they wouldn’t let us get in to retrieve personal possessions.”
Sefton council’s excuse for this behaviour was that the union was engaging in “political activity” after they discovered two DCH leaflets in the branch office.
Glen says messages of support should now be e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org
The results of a housing transfer ballot in Macclesfield, Cheshire, are also due this week. DCH has also produced a new issue of its eight page newspaper. To download it or to order bulk copies go to www.defendcouncilhousing.org.uk