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Posted on 12 August 2011 at 17:08 GMT

Over 1,000 council workers, striking Medirest cleaners and others marched through Southampton on 13 June in a powerful show of solidarity against vicious council cuts and the scandalous consequence of the private sector in the NHS , photo Paul Mattsson

Over 1,000 council workers, striking Medirest cleaners and others marched through Southampton on 13 June in a powerful show of solidarity against vicious council cuts and the scandalous consequence of the private sector in the NHS , photo Paul Mattsson   (Click to enlarge)

Massive vote to continue action against Southampton cuts

Nick Chaffey

At a packed meeting of over 600 union members on 10 August, Southampton council workers voted by four to one to continue their industrial action against pay cuts and imposed new contracts.

Enormous anger was fired at the Tories for their arrogant attitude. Tory council leader Royston Smith came in for particular attention.

Next week takes the unions past the twelve week statutory protection period for taking industrial action. Without this protection workers could face the sack for taking industrial action.

The Tories thought this would mean the end of the strike and said so publicly in the local paper before the meeting. But at every step of this fight they have misjudged the mood, determination and solidarity of striking council workers.

On the day of the meeting, hundreds of striking social care workers and managers formed a mass picket in front of the council building and received stormy support from tooting motorists all morning.

This is the real mood of council workers and the public in the city against the cuts.

Bin workers report continuing public support for their action and that is certainly the case on anti-cuts campaign stalls across the city. As pay slips arrive, the reality of what these cuts mean is biting hard and certainly fuelling the determination of the strikers.

But alongside the pay cuts, cuts to services is also a big factor amongst the striking social care workers. Fostering service workers were on strike for a week and are angry at what the cuts mean to them: "The workload is enormous, people are working at home to get it done.

"To make savings the council have introduced 'hot desking', so you have to queue to get on a computer.

Over 1,000 council workers, striking Medirest cleaners and others marched through Southampton on 13 June in a powerful show of solidarity against vicious council cuts and the scandalous consequence of the private sector in the NHS , photo Paul Mattsson

Southampton march on 13 June , photo Paul Mattsson

"The recession has placed extra burdens on families and inevitable break ups mean greater demand on the fostering service which only has one council care home left.

"So we have to go to the private sector at ten times the cost.

"The cuts have gone so far to things like cleaning that the admin staff had to buy their own toilet cleaner."

At a recent strike rally, a representative of Southampton foster carers spoke in support of the strike and in opposition to the cuts. Wednesday's mass meeting marks an important point in the dispute, council workers have shown they will not be intimidated by the Tory threats to sack people for taking strike action.

The council were clearly shocked at the vote and the strength of feeling to carry on.

In response Royston Smith sent a threatening email to all council workers stating: "I will look to get services back to normal by any means we can and are not ruling out any options."

At a mass meeting of striking Unite members on 12 August it was made clear that any disciplinary attacks on members would be met with an immediate ballot for further action.

A letter to this effect has been sent to the council. Further action is now being planned.

Selective action to date has been well supported, it is expected that other groups will come out to join the action but the best message to send to every union member and the council is, united we stand, united we strike.

A one-day council-wide strike needs to be built for and should be combined with the growing call for a national demonstration in the city. This will show the Tory council that they cannot intimidate workers with their bully boy tactics.

Criticism at the meeting on Wednesday was also levelled at the local Labour councillors by several speakers from the floor, for failing to back the strike and in proposing massive job cuts of their own.

This received strong applause. It raises the serious question of what the alternative is to Tory cuts and how the unions should campaign in elections next May.

If workers disgusted by the Labour Party position won't join it and can't find Labour candidates who will fight the cuts, the only alternative is to stand union-backed anti-cuts candidates.

With battles developing at other councils such as Shropshire and similar attacks announced at more councils like Portsmouth, the dispute in Southampton is of national importance.

Mass action can defeat this rotting coalition, it is vital the full force of the trade unions is mobilised against all cuts. The National Shop Stewards Network lobby on 11th September of the TUC Congress calling for co-ordinated national action becomes ever more important.

This version of this article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 12 August 2011 and may vary slightly from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.

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