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Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/articles/11303

Posted on 7 March 2011 at 14:34 GMT

Labour councillors' conference lobbied by hundreds of angry trade unionists

Better to break the law than break the poor!

"I've never been handed a petition quite like this before!" These were the words of David Sparks (Chair of the Local Government Association, Labour Group) as he received a 1,000 name petition, on the steps of Transport House outside a conference of Labour council leaders on Saturday 5 March.

Linda Taaffe

The petition, only recently initiated by the NSSN Anti-Cuts Campaign but enthusiastically taken up in local campaigns and workplaces across the country, called on Labour councillors to revive the spirit of councillors in Poplar in the 1920s, Clay Cross in the seventies, and Liverpool and Lambeth in the eighties, who courageously opted to stand by their class against rampaging Tory governments.

Sadly to date we know of only one Labour councillor, Kingsley Abrams of Lambeth, who has had the guts to even abstain!

A delegation of around 250-300, representing campaigns from London, Coventry, Leicester, Stevenage, Southampton and other places, started off from the Imperial War Museum, marched over Lambeth Bridge headed by a lively drum band and assisted by noisy cheerleaders and chanting.

Simultaneously 2,000 campaigners in Wales and the South West were holding a demo to the Tory Party spring conference in Cardiff with the same strong anti-cuts message.

Speaker after speaker, like Steve Hedley from RMT, denounced the government and the rich bankers for piling the debt onto the backs of workers. But just as much were Labour councillors slated for dismissing the lobbies of workers, some perhaps with an apologetic heavy heart, but some with outright arrogance.

Dave Nellist, Socialist Party councillor who voted No in Coventry, ended the lobby with a rousing speech telling the councillors to look on this lobby as a "calling card" giving notice that they may pass budgets causing thousands of redundancies and closures - but implementation will be fought "library by library, swimming pool by swimming pool." He warned that unions were already setting up ballots for strike action.

Indeed the demand for a 24-hour general strike will be the theme for the intervention of the NSSN Anti-Cuts Campaign on the forthcoming TUC demo.

This lobby, along with all the other lobbies outside town halls in recent weeks, has helped to increase pressure on Labour councillors. Facing the crowd, but flanked by police, these Labour leaders looked all at sea.

But cracks will begin to appear. They know there is very little wriggle room.

A redundancy notice feels the same whether doled out by a Tory or Labour council. The reaction will come - tsunami style - and these councillors will feel the rage of workers' anger.

If they can't stand up, they should step aside and let real fighters take their places. The NSSN Anti-Cuts Campaign aims to continue to maintain the pressure after this very successful lobby.

This report was first carried by www.stopcuts.net , website of the anti-cuts campaign of the National Shop Stewards Network

The view of a marcher:

They don't realise that we are coming for them

On Saturday 5 March a whole load of anti-cuts protesters from various different unions, campaigns and organisations came together to march on the Labour Party local government conference at Transport House, ironically the old TUC building.

I'm registered blind and my first big demo was a real experience. I arrived just after 11am, with others from Stevenage.

We set about signing the petition that was to be handed to Labour delegates.

Before we set off we had some speeches, many with real stories of struggles over the years. We heard from Martin Powell-Davies, secretary of the NUT teachers' union in nearby Lewisham.

He reminded us of some great battles the left had won back in the 1920s in Poplar and in the 1980s with inspirational moves by Lambeth and Militant-led Liverpool Labour councils.

Linda Taaffe, secretary of the National Shop Stewards Network, really got the crowd going. She reminded us that the Tories are coming for us, for our jobs, our pensions, our benefits, our working conditions.

The phrase that will stick with me from the day is that what they don't realise is that we are coming for them! This line was repeated several times later in the rally and was an excellent point to make.

A speaker from 'Right to Work' flagged up a protest in Trafalgar Square on the day of the budget.

On the march itself we had excellent drummers leading the way who, as I understand, have also been hired for the 26 March TUC demo in London with three times as many drummers.

They were supplemented by whistles and continuous chanting from up and down the demo. Being a big football fan I enjoyed the chants, led by Rob Williams on the megaphone.

They really got the crowd going and sent shivers down my spine. Working class people are finally finding their voice to fight this vicious cuts package.

I was guided along the whole route by a good friend who has his own work-related troubles - he is set to be made redundant. Every person on the march had a reason to be there.

When we reached our destination we congregated in the small square outside the conference building. We heard more excellent speeches, including from Dave Nellist, a Socialist Party councillor in Coventry.

I'd been looking forward to hearing Dave, who I follow on Twitter (@davenellist), for a long time. He made an excellent point, saying: 'Forget any trade union strikes over the last few years - the bankers have been on strike refusing to lend money and spend and help the country out of this mess that they caused'.

The bankers are sloshing around huge profits and bonuses but ordinary working class people see none of it.

Rob Williams reported that 2,000 people had marched in Cardiff to protest to delegates attending the Tory and Lib Dem spring conferences. Rob then highlighted major struggles happening around the world today from Egypt to Libya and even in America, the belly of the capitalist world, where trade unionists in the state of Wisconsin are putting up an excellent fightback against anti-trade union laws.

Paul Callanan spoke from Youth Fight for Jobs, saying that young people do not know what the future holds for them. He highlighted the importance of the student movement and the big 50,000-plus demo towards the end of 2010 against the trebling of tuition fees.

In October of this year several Youth Fight for Jobs activists will be re-enacting the famous march from Jarrow to London 75 years ago. The rally ended with Linda Taaffe and Rob Williams handing over the petition.

Some Labour delegates came out to greet the crowd and were met by a bit of heckling. I'm not sure what they expected as currently many, if not all, Labour-run councils are doing the Tories' dirty work for them.

But a delegate took the petition and snuck away quietly. I, and many others, will be hoping that, although cuts have been shamefully voted through by Labour councillors, the battle now begins to prevent them from implementing the cuts.

That means we must fight every library closure, every swimming pool closure, every closure of a youth connexions scheme, every job loss and everything else that is being cut.

All in all, it was a very good day and very enjoyable for me, on a personal level. My first real big demo touched my political senses and enlightened me to the fact there is a growing number who share my views and anger at this government and what it is doing and want to fight back.

Mark Wright

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