Sefton council on Merseyside has thrown down the gauntlet to the country’s biggest public sector union by sacking Nigel Flanagan and Paul Summers, two full time activists with Sefton Unison.
Unison’s general secretary Dave Prentis, who has thrown his personal weight behind the campaign to defend Nigel and Paul, described the sackings as “a disgraceful act”. Unison’s north west regional secretary Frank Hont called it “an indefensible decision” by Sefton.
“There’s been an angry reaction from workers,” Frank Hont told Socialist Worker. “Paul and Nigel are very popular in the branch. People have been following the case and can’t believe they’ve been dismissed on evidence that is laughable.”
Nigel and Paul, respectively branch convenor and branch secretary of Sefton Unison, were sacked after a long running disciplinary case stemming from their presence at a Defend Council Housing (DCH) protest in Bootle shopping centre in May.
The council accused Nigel, Paul and four other Unison shop stewards of threatening housing staff. But eye witnesses to the demonstration, police log books and CCTV all show that no such intimidation occurred.
Sefton council was at the time vigorously pursuing a campaign to sell off its council housing to a housing association. These plans were derailed after a DCH campaign, backed by Unison, led to tenants rejecting transfer in a ballot earlier this year.
“We believe this is victimisation,” says Frank Hont. He adds that Unison is considering ramping up its selective industrial action in response to the council’s attacks on the union. Over 80 workers from various council departments are currently on strike.
Support for Nigel and Paul has come in from across the trade union movement since news of their sacking broke late last week. Some 47 MPs have signed an early day motion put forward by Austin Mitchell MP in support of council workers victimised for DCH work.
As well as the case of Nigel and Paul, the motion condemns Labour-controlled Tower Hamlets council in east London for its victimisation of DCH campaigner Eileen Short (see page 14).
Yunus Bakhsh from Unison’s health service executive also condemned Sefton council’s decision to sack the pair. “For trade unionists to be sacked for doing nothing more than campaigning to defend council housing shows we live in an upside down world,” he said.
“When I was under attack by my management in 1997, Nigel came to my assistance. He showed basic trade union solidarity which I and my branch will never forget.
“Both he and Paul should be reinstated immediately — and the councillors who have been behind this disgraceful act should go.”
Unison has lodged an appeal against the council’s decision to sack the two activists, as well as preparing an employment tribunal case against Sefton council.
But it may take more hard hitting action to prevent the council’s attacks.
All 2,000 Sefton Unison members are covered by the ballot which validates the present selective action. Unison should now tell the council that unless it backs off then all 2,000 will come out.
Any appeal hearing against the sackings should see a monster rally and a call for support from other Unison branches and other trade unions.
Update: Some 550 council workers attended a lunchtime mass meeting in Sefton on Tuesday of this week to discuss their response to the council’s decision to sack Nigel and Paul.
The workers voted unanimously for an all-out strike on Wednesday 16 November of all 2,000 council staff. They also voted to escalate their programme of selective indefinite action, with two more groups of workers set to join the 100 or so out already.
Unison is planning to call a national demonstration in Bootle in support of the two sacked officials on the day of their appeal hearing. Further details will be announced later.
Send messages of support and financial contributions to Sefton Unison, Mersey Seaman’s Mission, Colonsay House, 20 Crosby Road South, Liverpool L22 1RQ or phone 0151 928 9911