University of Sheffield and Hallam strike action: Council Leader in picket line row amid chaotic council meeting

The Leader of Sheffield Council was involved in an angry confrontation as councillors refused to cross a picket line to attend a meeting.

Wednesday, 1st December 2021, 5:01 pm

Labour and Green councillors wouldn’t cross the picket outside the Octagon building where a meeting of the full council was due to start.

They said they were in solidarity with lecturers at both universities who are striking over a pension dispute.

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Three days of strikes at University of Sheffield and Sheffield Hallam University...

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Labour councillors, along with Green councillors, refused to cross a picket line outside the Octagon building in solidarity with striking University lecturers.

Council Leader Terry Fox entered the Octagon but then came out to announce Labour would not attend full council in solidarity.

In a video, he says: “We’ve had a meeting of the Labour Group and have collectively said we are not crossing the picket line, we will not be taking part in today’s council meeting.

“We will lobby anybody going in, in the hope of deferring the meeting. It was a unanimous decision by Labour Group.”

Labour councillors, along with Green councillors, refused to cross a picket line outside the Octagon building in solidarity with striking University lecturers.

But he was challenged by a man who said: “You’re a scab because you’ve already crossed our picket line.”

A furious row broke out and Coun Fox – a former miner – said: “Never use that word with me. Never ever tell me about scabbing. That is most disgusting thing to say.”

Several Labour councillors, including Coun Fox’s wife Denise, went between the two men to break up the row.

How the strike action affected a council meeting

While Labour and Green councillors refused to cross the picket, Liberal Democrat councillors and sole Conservative councillor Lewis Chinchen did go inside.

There was enough Lib Dems for the meeting to be quorate and for it to go ahead.

Technically, but highly unlikely, it meant that despite being in opposition, the Lib Dems had complete control to pass any motion they wanted.

Full council meetings haven’t been held at the Town Hall since the start of the pandemic due to social distancing. Several have been at Ponds Forge but the last two have been at the Octagon.

Coun Fox said in a statement: “Firstly, I want to apologise to the public of Sheffield who expected this full council meeting.

“Given the circumstances it is no way appropriate for councillors to attend – and shame on any of those who break the picket line and do so.

“The first I became aware of the strike activity was 7am this morning.

“As a miner for over 30 years, including the strikes in the 1980s, I know how important industrial action is, and Labour councillors took the collective decision today that it would not be appropriate to cross the picket.

“This would never have been an issue in the Town Hall, and I want to see us back in there having all-member meetings as soon as possible.”

Green councillor Brian Holmshaw said: “My father was a shop steward in the AUEW in Sheffield and he never crossed a picket line. He never said don’t do it, but it was part of the fabric of Sheffield life and it still is.”

The Liberal Democrats criticised Labour and the Greens. “The strike was announced on November 16. The Labour and Green coalition in charge of Sheffield Council booked the Octagon on November 17 – it has cost taxpayers £10,000.

“Members of the public have turned up to present petitions and ask questions. This is extremely bad judgment from Labour and Greens.”