Join the Socialist Party Join us today!

Printable version Printable version

Facebook   Twitter

Link to this page: https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/732/15177

From The Socialist newspaper, 5 September 2012

Southampton council pay dispute

Important lessons for the battles ahead

 Southampton council workers on strike 6.10.11 , photo Nick Chaffey

Southampton council workers on strike 6.10.11 , photo Nick Chaffey   (Click to enlarge)

Southampton council workers, in dispute for over 18 months, are close to ending their fight against the previous Tory council's pay cuts. This struggle is of national significance, especially in local government, and the lessons should be discussed in preparation for the battles that lie ahead.

Nick Chaffey, Southern region Socialist Party secretary explains.

The previous Southampton Tory council imposed pay cuts of 5 million from April 2011. In response council workers carried out months of selective strikes. Under pressure from this action, the Labour election manifesto promised to restore full pay.

Labour's recent offer, recommended by both Unison and Unite stewards, means council workers see pay restored over the next 18 months, returning 2.3 million to the pay pot. The Unite newsletter acknowledges that this is not a complete restoration but "with the backdrop of massive attacks on public spending, this offer represents a real breakthrough for our members".

Labour and its allies in the unions, especially the Prentis leadership in Unison, will like to present this as a sign of the positive difference between Labour and the Tories and a justification for their continued support for Labour.

If Labour had been a real ally of the unions, however, it would have settled in full immediately after the May 2012 elections and built on the election success to fight the Con-Dem government for the money needed to deliver its budget. This offer has taken almost four months to materialise and fails to meet the promises made before the elections. Labour has already announced cuts and come into collision with the unions.

Action last year

During 2011, some of the largest union mass meetings, demonstrations and picket lines seen in Southampton for generations were organised. Significantly they coincided with the national strikes on 30 June and 30 November, boosting the resolve of the local dispute.

Undoubtedly the depth of the cuts and the anger it provoked were the drive that sustained the strikes. While the call for an all-out strike was never made, in favour of selective action particularly of the refuse workers, at its peak the strike action covered large sections of the council, including port authority workers who struck with solidarity from Unite dock workers.

It was estimated that a million bin bags were lying in streets across the city but despite this a majority of the city supported the strike. This reflected the anti-cuts mood in society and the potential to defeat the Tory council. Throughout the strike Socialist Party members in Southampton gave their full support to the strike action, visiting picket lines, producing regular bulletins, and building solidarity, with campaign stalls across the city.

The Tories tried to ride out the dispute, falsely believing that public opinion would turn against the strike leaving the unions isolated. They hoped that Labour would be tainted by association with the unions and the Tories would maintain control of the council in the 2012 elections.

The effect was exactly the opposite, with Labour the electoral beneficiary, despite active opposition to strike action. In May 2012, the Tories lost over 5,000 votes, 23%, losing ten seats with Labour gaining an overall majority despite losing 1,943 votes themselves.

Labour opposed strikes

Coxteth councillors Keith and Don campaigning with others to save Oaklands pool, Southampton, photo Southampton SP

Coxteth councillors Keith and Don campaigning with others to save Oaklands pool, Southampton, photo Southampton SP   (Click to enlarge)

Reflecting it's national attitude to strike action, Labour opposed the strikes and in the summer of 2011 drew strong hostility from wide sections of striking council workers following a public statement saying that if elected in 2012, it would be forced to make massive cuts with the loss of hundreds of jobs.

It was in the run up to the 2012 elections that the Unite and Unison leadership shifted strategy away from strike action to an electoral strategy in support of Labour. This was justified on the basis that Labour had made a commitment to restore pay if elected in 2012. The Socialist Party argued against this shift, warning that it was not in the interests of council workers to rely on a Labour council who would end up attacking its workforce.

Within weeks of the May elections it was clear that Labour was struggling to face up to the reality of the financial crisis it inherited and how to meet commitments to the unions and deliver on its wider election promises.

The reality has been drawn-out negotiations that have lasted almost four months with a first offer rejected because it included 90 redundancies. Union relations with Labour had been further soured by the first Labour mini-budget in July that proposed the closure of Oaklands swimming pool and cuts to 30 jobs.

Rebel councillors

Pressure was dramatically increased on the Labour group by the decision of two Labour councillors for Coxford ward, Keith Morrell and Don Thomas, to vote against the cuts budget. This was with the support of Unite and Unison, whose members were furious at the cuts and the failure to resolve the pay dispute.

There is no doubt that this also confirmed to many in Southampton, including council workers, the warnings of the Socialist Party and the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) candidates who had stood in the elections in 2011 and 2012 that Labour would be no friend of the unions once elected.

It is clear that Labour and its supporters in the unions fear growing support for TUSC and failure to reach an agreement on the pay dispute would have exacerbated this.

Many council workers will undoubtedly be pleased by the latest offer. But there will be anger that a number will still be out of pocket as pay has not been back-dated to April 2011. Workers earning over 22,000 will not get their pay fully restored until 2014, and car allowances and leave entitlements will not be fully restored. It remains to be seen at union meetings over the next two weeks how members will respond to the offer or if they feel that, having forced the council to retreat once, it can be pushed further.

However the most important lesson of this drawn out dispute is the impact a determined struggle can have through mass strike action and demonstrations in building the unions, the confidence of members to fight back, and to defeat the cuts agenda.

In Southampton this will be as important now under Labour that is planning to make over 40 million cuts in the next two years. The development of the anti-cuts movement and strengthening support for a socialist alternative to austerity is an urgent local task.

Nationally many council worker activists will be asking - if strike action won concessions in Southampton - what more could have been won if national strike action across all local authorities had been taken last year? As the Con-Dem attacks continue the call for such action will grow.

Why not click here to join the Socialist Party, or click here to donate to the Socialist Party.


In The Socialist 5 September 2012:


Fight the cuts

On 20 October... March Together and then we must... Strike Together! to end austerity

Osborne's cuts plans aren't working


Socialist Party news and analysis

Southampton council pay dispute

London Met university crisis

Con-Dems criminalise homeless people

Them & Us


International socialist news and analysis

South Africa: Marikana massacre ignites a political volcano


Countering the far-right

EDL rally stopped by anti-racists in Walthamstow

Stopping the far-right - The need for democratic debate


Socialist Party reports and campaigns

Southampton: Save Oaklands Pool

Building TUSC in Manchester

Fight begins against massive outsourcing by Knowsley's Labour council

Campaign Kazakhstan: Solidarity concert for those facing oppression

London Paralympics; protests against disability cuts: "Atos kills, kill Atos!"

Hospitals lacking services? Save our NHS!

Boris' workfare - no solution

Brighton Pride 2012: anti-cuts group blocked

Socialist Party subs appeal


Socialist Party workplace news

Unison Higher Education Service Group

Workplace news in brief


Readers' comments

From addiction to recovery

Volunteering at the Games


 

Home   |   The Socialist 5 September 2012   |   Join the Socialist Party

Subscribe   |   Donate   |   PDF  




Related links:

Southampton:

triangleSouthampton Socialist Party: International women's day

triangleSouthampton Socialist Party: The rise of Stalin

triangleSouthampton Socialist Party: Building the Socialist Party in 2018

triangleSouthampton Socialist Party: Britain in 2018

triangleSouthampton Socialist Party: Q&A session

Pay:

triangleI'm now a 'manager' and I can barely manage!

triangleFighting sexism: Positive discrimination - yea or neigh?

triangleRoyal Mail forced back under threat of action

triangleNHS - build the fightback

Council:

triangleBuilding the campaign against clearances of the working class

triangleNo fudge with the right wing

triangleNorth London Socialist Party: When Liverpool council defied the Tories

Labour:

triangleBuilding support for Corbyn's anti-cuts policies in the local elections

triangleHaringey protests HDV - but Labour fails to kill it off completely

Strike:

triangleNorth London Socialist Party: Save our NHS - the lessons of the Barts strike

Cuts:

triangleBradford Socialist Party: A strategy to defeat the cuts

Council workers:

triangleLocal government pay: fight for the 5% claim, fully funded

News and socialist analysis

News and socialist analysis

19/2/18

Election

Usdaw victory - Socialist Party member Amy Murphy wins presidential election

14/2/18

Tamil Solidarity

Tamil youth march for justice

14/2/18

Foreign Aid

Oxfam scandal: we need democratic aid and working class solidarity

14/2/18

TUSC

Building support for Corbyn's anti-cuts policies in the local elections

14/2/18

EU

What we saw: Tory-Blairite EU love-in

14/2/18

Rents

Rent doubles in a decade: cap rents, build council homes!

14/2/18

Public ownership

McDonnell says Labour would put services 'irreversibly' in workers' hands

14/2/18

NHS

We can win the fight for the NHS

7/2/18

Labour

NHS - build the fightback

7/2/18

Labour

Corbyn's left must seize the advantage in Labour's civil war

7/2/18

Haringey

Haringey: now's our chance for a no-cuts council

7/2/18

Refugees

90 feared dead after migrant boat capsizes

7/2/18

Outsourcing

Capita in crisis: bring all outsourcers back in-house

7/2/18

Trump

Trump v NHS

31/1/18

NHS

NHS: use the 3 February protests as a launch pad for a mass movement

triangleMore News and socialist analysis articles...


Join the Socialist Party
Subscribe to Socialist Party publications
Donate to the Socialist Party
Socialist Party Facebook page
Socialist Party on Twitter
Visit us on Youtube

LATEST POSTS

CONTACT US

Phone our national office on 020 8988 8777

Email: info@socialistparty.org.uk

Locate your nearest Socialist Party branch Text your name and postcode to 07761 818 206

Regional Socialist Party organisers:

Eastern: 0798 202 1969

East Mids: 0773 797 8057

London: 020 8988 8786

North East: 0191 421 6230

North West 07769 611 320

South East: 020 8988 8777

South West: 07759 796 478

Southern: 07833 681910

Wales: 07935 391 947

West Mids: 02476 555 620

Yorkshire: 0114 264 6551

ABOUT US

ARCHIVE

Alphabetical listing


February 2018

January 2018

2017

2016

2015

2014

2013

2012

2011

2010

2009

2008

2007

2006

2005

2004

2003

2002

2001

2000

1999