Tenants scored a major victory in Sefton, Merseyside, last week when they voted to reject plans to privatise their council houses.
The ballot rejected Sefton council’s scheme to transfer housing stock to the private sector by 55 percent on a 68 percent turnout.
The no vote has shocked Sefton council, which spent over £5 million on propaganda promoting privatisation. The result will also be a boost for Sefton Unison union activists who have been suspended by the council for opposing privatisation.
“This is a tremendous result,” Glen Williams, chair of Sefton Unison, told Socialist Worker. “It was a real David and Goliath battle — the council went all out to win this.”
The council’s campaign involved bombarding tenants with phone calls and glossy leaflets promoting stock transfer. The no campaign, in contrast, was run on a shoestring and it was financed by Unison and tenants themselves.
Alan Walter, chair of Defend Council Housing, welcomed the result. “The £5 million plus that Sefton spent promoting stock transfer, and the victimisation of union activists, shows how desperate councils are to privatise their housing,” he said.
“But the no vote also shows that where tenants and trade unionists organise together, we can resist the blackmail.
“This result is another nail in the coffin of the government’s privatisation plans.”
Council officials pushing the privatisation scheme were stunned by the result, says Glen, and initially threatened to run the ballot again next year. But whether the council will be so willing to spend vast sums of money pushing an unpopular scheme remains to be seen.
Meanwhile, the dispute over the council’s victimisation of Sefton Unison activists looks set to escalate. The council agreed last week to lift the suspensions of four shop stewards — but full timers Nigel Flanagan and Paul Summers remain suspended.
And the council is pressing ahead with disciplinary action against the activists, claiming that they brought the council into disrepute by holding a peaceful protest against housing privatisation in May.
Sefton Unison struck for 24 hours in protest at this victimisation earlier this month. A series of branch meetings were scheduled for Tuesday this week, says Glen, “with a view to escalating the action”.
The branch suspended a planned 48-hour strike last week after assurances from the council that the disciplinary cases would be dealt with. “They’ve not done that, so our remit is to consult with members and take it from there,” Glen says.
Sefton council now plans to ram through the disciplinary inquiry next month, despite the voluminous evidence in defence of the victimised activists. It is believed they are looking to sack branch convenor Nigel Flanagan, who has long been a thorn in the council’s side.
Earlier this month the council ramped up its attack on Sefton Unison by locking the branch out of its union offices. Other councils will be keenly watching Sefton to see if its attempt to destroy union opposition to housing privatisation succeeds.
This makes it all the more crucial that the Sefton activists get full support from Unison’s regional and national levels — as well as solidarity from other union branches.
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