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Posted on 22 November 2010 at 15:46 GMT

1,000 march in Gloucester against 'scorched earth policy'

'How would you like your cuts?' was the theme of Road Show consultations held by Gloucestershire County Council (GCC), mainly when working people could not attend.

Gloucestershire Socialist Party

Allegedly, 5,000 people (out of 600,000 living in the county) opted for cuts in youth services and libraries.

However, they got a different answer over the last week: scores of county employees lobbied a GCC Cabinet meeting on Thursday.

Then on Saturday 1,000 protesters joined a march and rally in Gloucester organised by the recently-formed Gloucester Districts Trades Council.

When the protest date was set no-one knew the true extent and savagery of the GCC cuts. But it's a scorched earth policy as far as youth services and libraries are concerned. Scarcely a youth club will remain, the library services face 43% cuts, legal aid and trading standards are to be ransacked.

One thousand county council jobs will go, plus police officers and firefighters. Gloucestershire is a rural county so the 40% cuts to bus transport and road maintenance will have a dire effect, especially if people need to travel further for other services.

Defying the cold and rain, trade unionists, library staff, youth workers and groups of people wanting to save their libraries, youth clubs and centres for the disabled turned out with an array of placards and colourful banners.

Not of our making

Trevor Hall, regional organiser for Unite, told us: "The crisis is not of our making ... why should we pay? The super rich must pay their taxes like you and I do. This is just the start ... the first of many big protests".

Billy Hayes, general secretary of the CWU also praised the big response. He said that his members are not just facing Tory cuts and lying Lib Dems, but also Royal Mail is under the renewed threat of privatisation.

He urged us to show the coalition government what we think of it at the ballot box. People around us muttered "too late", at this idea of waiting nearly five years for the next general election.

Fortunately, John McInally, vice president of the PCS spoke next, echoing what previous speakers had said about the nature of the crisis before reminding us that cuts and privatisation had been on Labour's agenda too.

Now Labour authorities in Wales are threatening to dismiss ten thousand council workers if they refuse new contracts.

He said that the government could be defeated but it would require coordinated strike action linked to community initiatives and local anti-cuts unions.

Applause

His words struck a chord at the rally, the anger was palpable. Every point he made was applauded.

In fact, all of the fighting speeches - and there were several - got a lot of support. Parmjit Dhanda, Gloucester's former Labour MP, looked a bit forlorn - it wasn't the weather, he'd got the message.

And he's aware that his broken pledge to defend the post offices has not been forgotten.

For local people one of the most important speakers was a campaigner from the Forest of Dean. Half of the forest (owned by the state since nationalisation in 1924) is to be sold off. Campaigners understand how this is linked to the cuts and demolition of the welfare state. The people there are livid. Strong local resistance thwarted Thatcher's attempt to privatise the forest in the 1980s, so this campaign will be big and militant.

Forty-five people heard John McInally speak at a meeting held immediately after the rally to discuss how to set up anti-cuts unions.

Phil Jordan, secretary of the trades council and FBU regional chair also spoke, and Sue Powell spoke from Gloucestershire Socialist Party.

Anti-cuts groups are being set up across the county and it is important that the trades council provides effective coordination through the anti-cuts alliance that it founded in October.

Community action will be crucial in the fight to defend youth services and libraries.

The GCC has launched its Big Offer - a cousin of the Big Society - which is a scheme to hand over 30 properties and assets.

The Tories say they are being "given back to the community" but in reality it's still privatisation.

Groups will be given grants to run facilities using volunteers; as one library worker said: "volunteering for my job".

One of our tasks will be to make this clear to charities and the voluntary sector.

County Council leader Mark Hawthorne has an appetite for cuts, clawing even more money back than the county has lost through Westminster's local government cuts.

In September the Road Shows were announced as the "community's chance to Meet the Challenge". Judging by last week's protests and the mounting campaign in the Forest of Dean, they might regret that offer.

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