The Southwark Two

Submitted by martinh on March 8, 2006

The Southwark 2, The Feeble Full-Timer And The Laughable Revolutionaries

On October 31st 1995, John Jones, a building shop steward, and Terry Mason, a fellow worker at Southwark Council were sacked. They had refused to transfer over to Botes, a contractor more fitted to riding in a rodeo than repairing a home. The fact that these two workers took a stand while thousands of other direct labour workers have been transferred or laid off over the last seven years or so, is cause enough to celebrate.

However, this case becomes more complicated as it proceeds. The unelected full-timer, Tony O'Brien, has long been a bit of a noise in the left in UCATT, the building union. He is Secretary of the now-emasculated Construction Safety Campaign, and is close to the Workers Revolutionary Party. (The WRP obliged him by printing two pages in their paper against the Building Worker Group). O'Brien has been convenor at Southwark for 20 years, which is a telling argument for limiting full-timers' terms of office. During that time, the workforce has declined to barely 250. That in itself doesn't mark O'Brien out as any different from other direct labour organisations. But O'Brien has made a few exaggerated claims about his record. The one steward on the committee to stand up to him was John Jones.

Naturally enough, the two sacked men put a picket on the gate of the main depot in Peckham. This was taken off at O'Brien's request so that a campaign could be mounted through the union. This was agreed to, with the proviso that if no campaign appeared, the picket would be back. A week later, the picket was on again, and was greeted by a ludicrous counter demo by O'Brien and his supporters. One of these, a shop steward, even directed lorry drivers to cross the line. O'Brien's instruction of union members to cross the picket has meant that workers are reluctantly going in.
That morning, the Socialist Workers Party turned up as well. Not to offer their support, of course, but to sell papers and tell John and Terry where they'd got it wrong. When Unison gave the men £1000, the SWP got it passed not to support the picket. I know that SWP industrial strategy is to build up hopes and lead them to defeat and say "I told you so" at the end, but this is ridiculous. What should John and Terry do if they don't picket, sell papers? And this was in a "Southwark Council Workers' bulletin" full of militant language about the Southwark library strike on the front page.
The two workers are still fighting to get their respective unions to properly take up their case.

From Black Flag #207