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Posted on 3 May 2011 at 13:14 GMT

May Day: challenging the cuts in Leeds

Saturday 30 April saw the biggest May Day demonstration for some time in Leeds with around 500 participating, including contingents from the GMB, Unite, Unison, PCS, as well as local anti-cuts campaigns across the city and even from nearby towns and cities.

Iain Dalton, Leeds Hyde Park and Headingley Socialist Party

The presence of so many community campaigners alongside trade unionists shows the links that Leeds Against the Cuts (the local anti-cuts body set up by Leeds TUC) has made with all those wanting to fight back against the cuts, that will devastate Leeds if implemented.

The Socialist Party had one of the loudest and most vibrant contingents on the demo, chanting anti-cuts slogans down the streets of Leeds. Following this, on Monday 2nd May, Leeds Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) hosted a public meeting bringing together candidates standing on a platform of opposing all cuts in Leeds.

As well as the two TUSC candidates in Headingley and Horsforth, the Alliance for Green Socialism is standing five candidates across the city and there is also an independent anti-cuts candidate in Kirkstall ward, Stuart Long.

Andy Smith, Horsforth TUSC candidate and Socialist Party member spoke first, explaining the role that TUSC sees itself playing in challenging the cuts agenda of the mainstream parties and as a step towards a new mass workers' party.

He was followed by Mike Davies of the Alliance for Green Socialism who outlined some of the attacks facing public services in Leeds from cuts and privatisation, such as the plans to put GP consortia in charge of NHS spending or the introduction of more academies, and more direct cuts to jobs and services.

Rob Williams of the PCS national executive (speaking in a personal capacity) and a Socialist Party member, explained the attacks his members are facing.

PCS is balloting its members for strike action over attacks on pensions and is aiming to coordinate this with the teaching unions with the aim of striking on 30 June.

Rob also explained that although PCS and its predecessor trade unions have always been 'non-political' regarding elections, over the last few years the union has been engaging in a consultation process about supporting candidates that support PCS's policies.

A vote on doing so would be taken at the PCS conference next month. Stuart Long rounded off the top table speakers explaining his background, campaigning mostly on the issue of public transport, against high fares in Leeds and cuts to the Free City Bus service.

He reported on a recent victory in dropping the fares on the 95 bus. After this a discussion opened up with various points raised about the scale of the cuts locally and what is being done to fight against them.

It was clear that all in the room saw an electoral challenge to the cuts agenda as a vital part of fighting the cuts. It was noted that some on the left remain indifferent to this or advocate a vote for the Labour Party, which speaker after speaker noted is implementing the cuts in Leeds.

The logic of this led one of these groups to recently propose that one of the main speakers at an anti-cuts rally should be Keith Wakefield, the leader of Leeds City Council.

Such a move would repel many workers, especially those in the city council whose jobs Wakefield and others running the council are cutting. Furthermore, while most candidates were not sanguine about winning a seat, all saw it as fundamental that a marker is put down to say that ordinary people are opposed to the cuts and prepared to challenge the establishment politicians.

Several people expressed the aim, on the basis of further growth of the anti-cuts movement, of next year standing anti-cuts candidates in every ward of the city rather than just the eight this year.

We hope that when reality hits those who are currently advocating a vote for a Labour Party implementing the 90 million cuts in Leeds, they will support this, alongside the hundreds and thousands that will be drawn into the anti-cuts movement in the coming months.

In the meantime, it was clear from both the speeches at the May Day demonstration and the public meeting that the key date is 30 June, which with four unions out on strike against the attacks on pensions (amongst others) would be a big step towards a 24-hour public sector general strike.

If Leeds Against the Cuts goes ahead and organises a public demonstration over lunch time on that day, it will allow those who their union has not, at this stage, called out on strike to support the action as well as other anti-cuts activists.

Although in the run up to that date there are various protests, lobbies and direct actions taking place which Leeds Socialist Party will support and be a part of, it is mass action such as that of 30 June which will raise the confidence of ordinary working people that this government can be challenged and defeated.

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