- Wednesday, 29 August 2012
- Written by Soton SA supporters
200 people packed into Lords Hill Church in Southampton recently, to protest at plans by the new Labour Council to close Oaklands swimming pool with the loss of dozens of jobs.
This was part of the interim budget proposals presented after the Labour Party won the elections in May to meet a Council Budget deficit of about £46 million caused by a reduction of the Government Grant and a freeze on the Council Tax bills.
The swimming pool was built in 1986 by the Labour Council after a long struggle against cuts imposed by the Thatcher Government during the 1980s. In 2010 the other swimming pools in Southampton were privatised. Oaklands remained the only pool operated by the Local Authority.
On its website the pool is described as: a centre of excellence for swimming. The venue is open to people of all abilities and fitness levels who want to improve their health and general wellbeing, whatever their age.
The pool had been closed by the Tories for repairs costing about £230,000. The council also subsidises the pool by about £250,000 a year. But it is a healthy asset for the area and in the aftermath of the Olympic Games should not be closed!
The local Tories have involved themselves in the campaign in a most cynical manner. The defeated Tory Council had starved the pool of money for maintenance which now means that it will cost even more to update and repair.
When the Budget was presented to the Council two of the Labour Councillors for the area, Keith Morrell and Don Thomas, voted against the closure of the pool. This incurred the wrath of the Labour Group Leadership and the two councillors have been subjected to a formal enquiry into their conduct. But they continue as Labour Councillors for the moment. The Councillors have a proud record in opposing the closure of the pool. In fact Don Thomas and the whole Labour Group opposed its closure back in 2008 stressing the importance of the pool to the residents.
The vote against the budget to cut services appears to be the first in the whole country where cuts have been implemented. Support is growing, from Labour Parties and Trades Unions, for their action along with demands that they be supported rather than disciplined. In Southampton the Local Authority Unison Branch has donated money to the campaign to keep the pool open. Regional and National organisations of Unite are offering support.
The local authority workers in Southampton have a proud record in fighting the cuts. During 2011 members of Unite and UNISON took extended strike action against the cuts imposed by the Tory Council. The Council’s plans included cutting up to 700 jobs and reducing wages by between 2% and 5.5%. Council workers were also required to sign new contracts on lower pay or face the sack.
The bitter dispute saw Refuse Collectors, social workers and Parking Attendants take part in rolling action. In scenes similar to the 1979 “winter of discontent”, rubbish piled up in the streets.
As part of the campaign the unions also took the Council to court over the lack of consultation when new conditions were being imposed.
The Conservatives, however, continued with their policies. The local Trades Unions leaders turned to the Labour Group and discussed policies for the 2012 local government elections. An agreement was reached in which Labour agreed to reinstate the lost wages.
The Unite and Unison officials organised support from amongst their members to work for Labour in the election campaign. They understood that a Labour victory would be in their interests. Unite for example sent out over 5,000 letters to their members urging a vote for Labour. Both unions had full time officers and some rank and file members working for a Labour victory. The Party needed to win 6 seats to take control of the council. In the event 11 seats were won.
After discussions the Labour Council has now reached agreement to reinstate the previous pay rates over the coming period. The legal action has been suspended. The offer will be put to members in September.
The full budget proposals will be presented to Council in February 2013. Because of the policies of the Government further cuts will have to be made. The closure of the Oaklands pool is just the tip of an iceberg. The local unions have taken the advice given by Len McCluskey, General Secretary of Unite at the recent Policy conference, to get involved in the Labour Party so they can be involved in policy making.
Resolutions supporting Keith and Don in their stand against the cuts should be passed at constituency Party and trades union meetings. They should be supported and copied in their fight against the cuts.