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Southampton Protest Round-up 24/11/10 - Student and Council workers' Actions

The Dolphin's Blowhole | 25.11.2010 11:12 | Education | Public sector cuts | South Coast

Southampton saw multiple protests against national and local government yesterday, with students from schools and colleges walking out to protest against proposed fee rises and university cutbacks by the coalition government, whilst UNISON members agreed a resolution to oppose the City Council's cutbacks in a packed meeting before spontaneously marching on the Civic Centre.

UNISON's packed meeting, followed by a spontaneous march on the Civic Centre
UNISON's packed meeting, followed by a spontaneous march on the Civic Centre

Reports have been coming of multiple school walkouts yesterday, with reports of teachers in Bitterne letting their pupils walk out and of police at Cantell school turning back students attempting to walk out there. College students from City and Taunton Colleges also walked out, with many attending a rally at the University of Southampton. School and College students were well represented at the University rally, although attendance by University students was poorer than expected. Estimates for attendance range from 50 to 100, with at least 2 police officers present.

Meanwhile, Students in Winchester, including from the University and Colleges, staged a well attended silent march across the city numbering in the hundreds which was supported by their Union, and mass walkouts occurred in colleges in Eastleigh too. Around the rest of the country multiple Universities were occupied, well-attended marches held and walkouts reported in most cities.

Many campaigners blame the low University student turnout yesterday on Southampton University Student's Union's (SUSU) refusal to support the protests, which they allegedly decided on as they were worried about another 'Millbank event', that it would be too 'political', and bizarrely that they were worried people might swear at the protest. This has angered many of the protestors, some of whom branded their worries as "pathetic", with Andy Godfrey providing a summary:

"I attended one of the protests today at Southampton Uni. The event was very well organised, and it was great to see an amazing turnout from local colleges – students who had no chance to vote at the previous election but who will have to pay for the mistakes made by politicians and bankers.

However, it was rather disappointing that there was such a low turnout from Southampton Uni students at the event. In contrast to thousands of students attending similar events elsewhere, only a handful turned up from Southampton. This isn’t because Southampton students care less about the education cuts and fee increases than others but because Southampton University Students’ Union (SUSU) refused to support the protest.

I heard various incredible excuses for this: they thought the event was too political. They were worried about the possibility of Milbank-style violence. And of course the clincher: they were worried that the speakers at the event might swear.

This is shameful and pathetic. SUSU are not the BBC – they don’t have a watershed for swearing, and they aren’t bound to neutrality. And they certainly shouldn’t be giving credence to media lies about the violence perpetrated by a tiny minority. What they should be doing is standing up vocally for students’ rights – that is precisely what they are there for! If they aren’t going to raise a finger when the government threatens to triple tuition fees, if they aren’t going to provide a focus for Southampton students to make their voices heard, then what on earth are they there for?

For years, student unions have become increasingly apathetic and forgotten why they exist in the first place. But most of them have now woken up and remembered. SUSU need to do the same immediately."

Despite SUSU's intransigence it is clear that many school and college students did take action across Southampton yesterday, visibly showing their anger over the plans. SUSU is instead planning to lobby local MPs instead tomorrow (the 26th), emphasising it will not be a protest, it will be peaceful, and it is open only to its members. However, as two of Southampton's MPs are Labour and will therefore be very likely to agree with them already, campaigners have pointed out this will have little effect.


The city centre also saw another protest yesterday, when a packed member's meeting of the UNISON union, which represent many of the public sector workers in the Council, resolved to oppose the Council's cutbacks to staff numbers and pay, and then formed a spontaneous march to the Civic Centre. Over 400 members attended the event, with many turned aay for lack of space, and the unanimously agreed to a wide-ranging resolution, including the following key points:

- That we are not all in it together. The budget cuts are unnecessary and are being driven by political dogma.

- That any reductions in Council workers working conditions can only be implemented by agreement.

- That any changes would not be agreed unless there was an agreement by the Council not to make any Council staff redundant.

- That if the Council threatened to impose changes in working conditions, UNISON members would be balloted for industrial action.

- That UNISON would campaign with other trade unions and community groups to defend Council services.

Following the meeting the meetings attendees marched on the Civic Centre, demonstrating and chanting outside the windows of the Council leader Cllr Royston Smith and new Chief Executive Alistair Neill. Smith in particlar was the centre of attention, having suggested last week that redundant Council workers could find work at the new cash and carry superstore opening in Southampton next year, and was met with chants of “Why don’t you go and work at Costco” to his 1st floor window. UNISON Southampton Branch Secretary, Mike Tucker, commented:

“The turnout at today’s meeting demonstrates the growing anger at the Conservative Council’s budget plans. The people of Southampton should not have to pay for the mistakes of the bankers. Council workers are determined to defend local services and ensure that the vulnerable do not pay for the bankers crisis”

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