Monday Afternoon of Discontent: Unions to take to the streets this Monday over Library and University Cuts

Posted on June 19, 2010 by

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Southampton will see Public Sector Union members and campaigners taking to the streets this coming Monday 21st over proposed cuts in both the Cities Libraries and the University of Southampton.  The upsurge in Industrial unrest comes as cuts in Public Services from Central and Local Government approach and their proposed severity increases.

Southampton’s Libraries have been living in the shadow of the axeman for some time – with a proposed closure at Millbrook Library mooted even before the election – but the scale of the cutbacks has agitated Unison members to organise a rare protest and strike.  Southampton City Council has proposed chosen a new system in which most libraries will be retained, but the current librarians will be replaced with volunteers and machines, which critics have pointed out will reduce the quality of service as the volunteers will have less experience, training or the knowledge needed for the best service.  Library staff have also complained about the lack of clarity in communication from the council about the proposals, with many remaining confused about the fate of their jobs, and an increase in unionisation in response.

In response Unison members are going on strike with closures and pickets at Bitterne, Portswood, Shirley, Thornhill, Woolston and Central Libraries, as well as a Unison rally at Civic Centre Central Library at half 12 in support of the librarians with Alan Whitehead MP and John Denham MP in attendance, the former of which accused the council of making “‘stealth closures’- keeping the buildings but cutting the quality of the service inside”.  From the 22nd, Unison members also voerwhelmingly voted to boycott anything to do with the volunteer replacements, and so will not assist in their training, inducting, recruitment or supervision.

Oh, the Irony...

Unison members are also staging a demonstration at the University on the same day along with UCU and Unite workers (respectively representing admin, academic and other workers), with a “Day of Dissent” planned against a pay rise far below inflation – as the unions point out, a 0.4% rise when RPI inflation (i.e. the cost of the basics of life) is running at 5.3% in reality translates as a large paycut.  There is also growing anger over the cutting of around 200 admin jobs through voluntary (and likely to eventually be compulsory) redundancies, despite the Universities commitment in its Strategic Vision to recruit 100 internationally renowned researchers, in the context of a decreasing budget for Higher Education.

The amount of money being spent on the Universities expansion in the context of cuts to staff numbers and pay is also another source of tension, with a couple of million likely to spent on demolishing The Gate and The Crown and Sceptre pubs to replace them with landscaping and car parking spaces, as well as rebuilding the bus Interchange and acquiring the buildings along Burgess Road adjacent to The Gate.  The University is also apparently in negotiations with the City Council over acquiring the Broadlands Road Allotment Site, whose tenants were offered significant amounts of money to agree to the acquisition at an earlier stage but have rejected and are opposed to it, and there are even alleged hints that Burgess Road Library may be involved in University expansion as the council is ‘seeking a better use’ for it.

The Day of Dissenters are hosting a picnic on the grass outside the staff club between 12 and 2pm on Monday, along with a raffle with the top prize of the difference between the pay rise and inflation rates for a worker on £20grand, and are also requesting staff, students and local residents to sign a petition against higher education cuts.

With more and deeper Public Sector cuts on the way under the Coalition government, it is likely that these will be the first of many protests and strikes in Southampton on these issues in the struggle to minimise the harm to workers from the cuts, that in the end result from the behaviour of a small, rich elite in the City of London over the last years.   Will the City Council and University seek to minimise the impact of the imposed cuts on ordinary people, or will they sacrifice too much to the altar of austerity whilst continuing their hypocrisy as they spend in other areas?

Update:

There will also be a protest on Monday at Crowlin House in Totton – an accomodation unit for people with learning difficulties set to be cut as part of Hampshire Partnership NHS Trust’s saving of £2.2 million despite residents being promised permament residence and private homes costing far more than many can afford – and in response a noisy protest outside Crowlin House, Calmore Rd, Totton, on Monday the 21st June at 16:30 has been planned.

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Posted in: News, Southampton