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Posted on 19 July 2011 at 13:05 GMT

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.

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Coronavirus crisis - Finance appeal

The coronavirus crisis has laid bare the class character of society in numerous ways. It is making clear to many that it is the working class that keeps society running, not the CEOs of major corporations.

The results of austerity have been graphically demonstrated as public services strain to cope with the crisis.

The government has now ripped up its 'austerity' mantra and turned to policies that not long ago were denounced as socialist. But after the corona crisis, it will try to make the working class pay for it, by trying to claw back what has been given.

  • The Socialist Party's material is more vital than ever, so we can continue to report from workers who are fighting for better health and safety measures, against layoffs, for adequate staffing levels, etc.
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  • When the health crisis subsides, we must be ready for the stormy events ahead and the need to arm workers' movements with a socialist programme - one which puts the health and needs of humanity before the profits of a few.
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