Birmingham prison officers determined to fight privatisation

Prison officers in the POA union at Winson Green prison in Birmingham held a protest meeting on Friday 1 April in response to the vicious privatisation plan for the prison, spelled out the day before in parliament.

Lenny Shail and Nick Brook-Hart, West Midlands Socialist Party

Up to a hundred workers temporarily walked out of the prison after the meeting, to stand on the front steps as local branch secretary Brian Clarke addressed the media and a short protest rally.

Brian asked for a vote of confidence in the prison governor James Shanley; no hand was raised. Brian then asked for a vote of confidence in the directors and managers of the prison service; again no hand was raised.

Brian made it clear that the union is mandated to take industrial action up to and including strike action if a public prison is privatised. With similar meetings taking place around the country, action would be discussed locally, as well as nationally by the POA national executive.

Workers at the prison were both emotional and militant in their reaction to the plans. They are proud of the service they provide to the public and the inmates and warned of the consequences of the present attacks on the rights and conditions of the officers, inmates and public.

One prison officer said: “No one goes into this job to make a profit… the prison service is about care”.

The POA members were damning towards the Labour Party. “No one’s failed this country more than this government, the previous government and the bankers. It was Jack Straw and Labour that started these attacks in 2009, what a despicable man”, said an officer.

Officers were also determined to not just fight their battle, but to link it the struggle ‘to defend public services and ordinary working people from the war by the Tories, Lib Dems and Labour’.

As one worker said: “Saturday [the 26th March TUC demo] was just the start, we like every other ordinary working man and woman will continue the fight against this government”.

The Socialist Party stands fully behind POA members and any steps they take in their struggle against privatisation and in defence of jobs and conditions.