Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/729/15017
Demo last year in Southampton City Centre by striking Unite and Unison workers, including refuse, toll bridge and port health authority workers, amongst others, photo Andrew Howe (Click to enlarge)
Interview with Southampton rebel councillors
'We weren't elected to make cuts'
Two Southampton Labour Party councillors for Coxford ward, Keith Morrell and Don Thomas, have been investigated by the party whips. Their crime? Voting against cuts and defending a local swimming pool. (See Save Oaklands Pool -Southampton) The Socialist Party gives its full support to Keith and Don. We will also support any other Labour councillor who is prepared to join them while continuing to participate in the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, an electoral alliance that stands candidates against all the cuts.
The councillors spoke to Southampton Socialist Party member Gavin Marsh.
Don and I are convinced we are doing the right thing. We knew as soon as we were elected that it was only a matter of time before the Labour administration would be forced to make drastic cuts or privatise services.
I was named cabinet member for efficiency and improvement but resigned soon after. It became obvious that however much we tried to improve savings, it wasn't going to bridge the gap and I wasn't prepared to promote an agenda of cuts and privatisation.
Within a month of us taking power in the city, Labour had announced a mini-budget which proposed the closing of Oaklands swimming pool with an estimated saving of £250,000 a year.
We refused to accept this and voted against it in the council chamber.
I thought that voting against the cuts was going to be the hardest decision I would ever made politically, but it turned out to be the easiest. I feel like a weight has been lifted from my shoulder. When it came to the vote I didn't raise my hand I raised a clenched fist to the comrades in the visitors gallery! The public response has been incredible, I've got to stop going to the local shop, it's only five minutes away but it takes me a couple of hours because everyone wants to chat and thank me for what I am doing.
Some in the party have joked that we are the socialist conscience within its ranks. There is a lot of anger among our constituents that we are being punished for standing up on behalf of the working class people who voted for us.
It is an unacceptable decision to rob a working class district of its one and only leisure facility and we have been propelled into the front line because it happened in our ward.
All Labour councillors have to choose between dismantling local government or putting up a fight, inevitably against the coalition government.
The role of the local authority unions, especially Unite and Unison, is very important. They must be prepared to work with us and against the cuts. Unite nationally have passed a resolution in support of our position.
The trade unions must be prepared to take up the fight for all workers.
Workers are now more closely watching the Labour council and it raises the question of whether the Labour Party works in their interest? I think that it should.
We hear our colleagues say 'I didn't become a councillor to make cuts but...'. Well, we didn't become Labour councillors to make cuts and we won't!
Simon Letts, cabinet member for resources, said after the election that 'officers always tend to exaggerate the situation'. Two to three weeks later he was describing the situation facing the Labour council as 'perilous'.
This is the backdrop to the discussions around next year's budget. They are already talking about establishing a Local Authority Trading Company (LATCO) effectively transferring adult social care to the private sector, who can reduce pay and conditions or services without the council directly getting the blame. I call this 'passing the buck'.
There is a line you draw in the sand and we will not budge.
Messages of support can be sent to:
Save Oaklands Swimming Pool!
Southampton Socialist Party members have been holding stalls in support of the campaign to save Oaklands swimming pool.
Our petition has gained hundreds of signatures. £118 was raised for our fighting fund in just one week.
People say that the government keeps telling us to keep fit and can spend up to £24 billion on the Olympic games, but why can't they keep our pool open? They see the wealthy 1% avoiding and evading tax and stashing their money away in offshore accounts and tax havens.
They know that the cost of keeping the pool open is a drop in the ocean. Many are aware that the Socialist Party backed Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition candidates in the May council elections who were opposed to all cuts, but many of them voted Labour to oust the Tories. They now feel totally let down by the vast majority of the Labour councillors who have voted for deep cuts. Instead of cutting services, the council should set a 'needs' budget.
Save Oaklands Swimming Pool
Friday 10 August, 7pm
Lordshill Church, Lordshill District Centre, Southampton
Phone 02380 679876 for more information
In The Socialist 8 August 2012:
Socialist Party news and analysis
Socialist Party workplace news
Socialist Party reports and campaigns
International socialist news and analysis