Local government unions at Southampton City Council have settled into a low-level war of attrition with council bosses after an impressive campaign of creative, rank-and-file-driven industrial action in 2011 failed to prevent the imposition of new contracts.
Members of Unite and Unison are still staging action short of a strike, which council bosses admit is costing them money. But, particularly since the focus shifted from the local battle onto the national pensions campaign (which now also stands on the brink of total collapse and defeat), unions seem to be investing their hopes in unseating the Tory administration in May’s local elections. Labour have committed to protect jobs and services, and have recently promised to reverse new Tory attacks on union facility time at the council.
Unions should also demand that Labour commits to repeal the Tory-imposed contracts and restores pay and conditions at least pre-2011 levels, increased to match the cost of living.
Unions nationally should learn from Southampton unions’ organisational example by making regular mass members’ and stewards’ meetings the sovereign decision-making bodies.
Despite the downturn since 2011, this approach has allowed the Southampton unions to build and maintain a far higher level of rank-and-file engagement than is usual in many local government workplaces.