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Southampton council workers' struggle continues despite imposition of new contracts
Up to 1,000 council workers and supporters marched through Southampton last Wednesday to protest at the Tory council's decision to dismiss its entire workforce and re-employ workers on worse terms and conditions.
The day was met with the largest strike to date in the workers' rolling programme of selective action, with over 700 workers out. The mood hardened over the previous weekend with news of a council document that estimated that over 1,200 job cuts would be needed to 'balance' the books.
"It proves the Tories are lying when they say taking a pay cut will save jobs", commented a worker. One notable absentee at the rally was the council Labour group leader, Richard Williams, who had spoken out against the strikes and called for mass redundancies if Labour gets elected next May.
Unite officer Ian Woodland made the unions' position clear: "We will oppose the cuts, whoever makes them."
Hundreds then flooded into the Guildhall to heckle speeches from the council leader and others. Whilst the fire is turned for now on the Tories, it is clear that a fight to oppose cuts will come into collision with the Labour Party.
The Socialist Party has made its position clear - if the Labour Party won't oppose the cuts, the trade unions must withdraw their funds from that party and stand their own candidates, so that a council opposed to all cuts can be elected.
Despite the imposition of new contracts the mood of the workers is to continue the fight. In a crude attempt to buy off the support of a section of social workers, the council offered one-off payments of £1,400 to accept the new contracts.
At a meeting of over 70 social workers a unanimous vote was taken in support of joining the strike, "I have never seen anything like it", said one Unison member.
Support for the strikers remains strong. A striking parking warden said: "Things have gone too far to stop now".
Without substantial progress in talks, further strikes are due to involve bin workers, transport, parking wardens, street cleaners and others in the weeks ahead.
Southampton strikers from Unison and Unite led the annual Tolpuddle Martyrs rally through the village of Tolpuddle on Sunday, where thousands gave their support to the strike.
Nick Chaffey, Southampton Socialist Party
This version of this article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 19 July 2011 and may vary slightly from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.