Trade unions have described the electoral wipeout of the Tories from Southampton City Council as “the chickens coming home to roost”.
The Tory council, under the leadership of Royston Smith, pursued an aggressive cuts agenda, targeting both local services and pay and conditions for council employees. The cuts sparked a high-profile industrial battle which saw workers take months’ worth of strike action. The campaign had an unusually high-levels of grassroots participation and rank-and-file control of the direction of the strike.
Despite the action, the council’s attempt to impose new, worse, contracts on its staff was ultimately successful and unions settled into a months-long trench warfare with council bosses involving ongoing actions short of strikes.
Unite and Unison both have close links with the Labour Party locally and saw voting out the Tory leadership of the council as a key political step towards breaking the industrial deadlock.
Unite regional secretary John Rowse said: “Southampton voters have delivered their verdict that cuts do not work and sent the party addicted to austerity packing.
“The campaign to rid this city of the cuts scourge was a success because working people and their unions joined forces to unseat a council leadership that was out of touch with the needs of Southampton.
“We urge Labour to now work with the workforce and their unions to begin the urgent duty of delivering ... strong public services, fairness at work and thriving communities.”
Prior to the election, a statement from Unison said: “Southampton is not a ‘normal’ Conservative-run council. It has become a council in which Royston Smith has, in effect, taken on the role of elected mayor. All the decisions he makes have one objective – to help the Conservative remain in political control and to advance his political career.”
The Labour Party made pre-election commitments to council unions to begin a phased reversal of the Tories’ pay cuts. If they are to be held to that promise, continued trade union pressure will be essential.