UNION members yesterday prepared the way for industrial action over council budget cuts in Southampton that could see up to 327 staff lose their jobs.

A mass meeting of Unison and Unite union members was held in the city centre in response to proposals announced on Monday by Labour leaders for the council’s deepest ever budget cuts.

They agreed to hold a demonstration and lobby of the council’s budgetsetting meeting in February alongside a possible one-day strike.

A series of public protests will be held in the run-up to the meeting.

But the Unison and Unite unions stressed they will protest against Government funding cuts imposed on the council.

A motion agreed by around 300 members to one at a meeting at Above Bar Church rejected Tory claims that the restoration of pay cuts they imposed on council workers last July, which led to a summer of strikes and industrial unrest, had caused the proposed record job losses.

It also rejected suggestions that Labour should refuse to set a budget, or an unlawful one, in opposition to the Government funding cuts as unelected commissioners would then be sent in by Communities Secretary Eric Pickles to run the council. The motion also called for improved severance packages for staff facing compulsory redundancy and an enhanced redeployment scheme to be fully implemented.

Members also voted to condemn coverage of the council’s budget situation by the Daily Echo as “biased” towards the Conservatives and agreed to consider a boycott of buying the paper until they considered it “objective and accurate”.

Unison branch secretary Mike Tucker complained that Tory group leader Cllr Royston Smith had been given unfair space in the paper and that coverage of the Labour administration had been too negative.

He cited “false allegations” by the Conservatives that council workers had been “betrayed” by Labour.

A further union membership meeting will be held in January to review the campaign.

Echo comment - Unions’ slur clear case of shooting messenger

THE suggestion that this paper’s coverage of the budget cuts proposed for Southampton City Council has been biased is unfounded and a slur against the professional journalists that work on the paper.

A look at the in-depth reports before and since Monday’s announcement in the columns of the
Southern Daily Echo reveals a balanced and fair overview.

Indeed, by providing ample coverage of both the ruling Labour group and the Unite and Unison
unions’ opinions, it could be argued that the balance of reports has swung in their favour.

This paper has given the Tory opposition and its leader the right to reply to the budget, however this was the case when the Conservatives were in power and both the then opposition Labour group and the unions were also given their say.

At no point, as the unions’ joint statement claims, has this paper stated it believes the reinstatement of council staff wages has led to job losses, but it has reported the fact the Tory group claims this to be the case.

It is hard not see the unions’ statement as a clear case of shooting the messenger.

However, despite the threats to silence fair debate on these important issues, the Daily Echo pledges to continue to explore the truth behind the reason why the cuts are being made and what impact they will have.