Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/789/17787
Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition:
We need you to stand against cuts
Dave Nellist, National chair of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC)
In the weeks running up to Christmas, local authorities around the country will be announcing more savage cuts to local services. Already under this Tory-Liberal Coalition some six out of ten councils are either limiting, or planning to limit, home visits to the elderly with care needs to a maximum of 15 minutes.
16% of Sure Start children's centres have closed, and 8% of libraries. Youth clubs, street wardens, in fact many of the services that act as glue to hold together local communities have already gone. And hundreds of thousands of jobs providing those services have been lost as part of the 26% cuts in local authority spending during the lifetime of this parliament. But it's not enough for the Coalition.
George Osborne announced at the Tory Party conference a further 10% cut in local authority funding going into the first year of the next parliament. And Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition loyally agreed to match those cuts pound for pound. Those services could have been, and can be, saved if councillors and councils are prepared to fight and prepared to say no to the cuts. They have the power to make a difference. They control budgets of billions of pounds. They also have some £19 billion in reserves.
There are isolated examples of that resistance in Southampton, in Warrington, in Hull, in Harrow. There has been an abstention (then resignation) in Lambeth, there's been a resignation in York, another resignation in Barking. There's TUSC's own councillors in Preston, Walsall and Maltby. But compare that to the over 6,000 Labour councillors across this country whose only defence is that they're 'carrying out the cuts with a heavy heart'. That's no consolation to the victims of those cuts up and down Britain.
It's also nothing compared to the history of when socialists led councils. In Poplar, in Tower Hamlets, in 1921, socialists raised unemployment pay rates rather than subsidise richer boroughs in London and were jailed for refusing to obey the government of the day. But while the government ministers who jailed them are forgotten, the Poplar councillors are remembered today because of their maxim: "it's better to break the law than break the poor".
So are the Labour councillors in the tiny town of Claycross. 50 years later, eleven councillors refused to raise the rents which the Heath Tory government instructed them to do. They instead raised the wages of council workers. They were surcharged. They were barred from office by the Labour Party. They were banned from office by the High Court. But as the chair of housing said: "if we're going, at least we're going with a record".
And just like in that film Spartacus - when the Claycross councillors were banned from office there was a succession of local people coming forward to do the job. That should be the lesson today for any Labour councils or councillors prepared to stand up.
And then the battle in which the forerunner of this party played perhaps its greatest of roles, in Liverpool in the 1980s. 47 brave Labour councillors, one third of them supporters of the Militant newspaper, refused to make Thatcher's cuts. Instead they answered to the real needs of their city - building 5,000 houses, building schools, parks and sports centres, giving employment to thousands of workers.
They were savagely attacked by Neil Kinnock in 1985. He claimed 'a Labour council, a Labour council, was scuttling around the city, handing out redundancy notices'. But no one during the three years of the socialist control of Liverpool council actually lost their jobs. Where's Neil Kinnock today? Where is he when there are 77 Labour councils who are axing jobs, cutting pay, cutting conditions? Those councils are a disgrace.
So what do we next May when 4,156 seats on 160 councils come up for election? Do we leave the only choice for working people between the parties of the establishment who differ nothing on the direction of austerity but only marginally on the speed with which those cuts should be made? TUSC has decided that working people deserve better. TUSC plans to stand, on 22 May 2014, the largest number of candidates to the left of the establishment parties that ever stood in an election in the history of this country.
Now we've only been going four years and you've all heard the joke before. When I first googled TUSC in 2010 the top result was the Taunton Ukulele Strummers Club. It's not that now. We've stood nearly 600 candidates in the last four years in local and national elections and received over 100,000 votes, and, yes, some of those individual votes were modest.
We know we got less than 1% in Eastleigh and less than 1% in Lincoln. Byelections are the toughest terrain a new political party can fight on. So I want to pay tribute and say thanks to each one of those candidates, whatever the vote they got, for flying the flag for TUSC in those elections.
It seemed within minutes of getting less than 1% in Eastleigh and Lincoln, left-wing celebrity Owen Jones tweeted joyfully how TUSC was a waste of time. But when a week after Lincoln we got 9.7% in Caerphilly or 27% in Fleetwood or we win a seat just outside Rotherham then Twitter and Facebook are silent from our colleagues on the left.
Part of our problem is general visibility. There are other factors as well. There are general difficulties in the months before a general election. We know you don't win in the three weeks of a byelection except in exceptional circumstances or with very large budgets. You harvest the votes in those three weeks from the seeds you've sown in the months before that campaign.
Visibility is a problem. The only national TV interview we've had in four years of existence has been two minutes and 14 seconds with Andrew Neil on the Daily Politics show in the 2010 general election. So we need to raise our sights and stand sufficient candidates so the BBC in particular, and the media in general, can't ignore us. That's 15% of seats in an election, the benchmark for BBC 'fair coverage'.
Next May that means 625 contests, four times as many as TUSC has ever stood in previous council elections. The work for that has begun. Meetings in Plymouth, and all the way to Sheffield. Committees established on Merseyside and elsewhere. Visits to trade union branches and community organisations. We think we've got already prospective candidates for a third to a half of seats. But we need more.
We need to find ways of discussing this. That means discussing with the trade unions whose representatives sit on the TUSC steering committee. It also must involve the anti-bedroom tax groups, the anti-cuts groups and others. That's how we can ensure that, in every town and every city where there are elections next May, Labour can't hide behind its synthetic opposition to austerity cuts, and a real socialist alternative is on offer.
We're not even half way through the plans of the programme of austerity that the capitalist class has for working people in this country to save their banks and their profit system. Osborne at the Tory conference said seven more years to the beginning of the 2020s for his plans for cuts.
In reality they're using the excuse of austerity to rewrite the map of social provision in Britain, to reverse the gains in the public supply of education, health, social and welfare services in the post-war period. And there's no challenge from Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition. That's years more of cuts in pensions, more years of young people on the scrapheap of unemployment, or stuck in dead-end jobs or saddled with £50,000 pounds of student debt. But it doesn't have to be that way.
This is still the sixth richest country on the planet, but what we have isn't fairly distributed. Labour and Tory governments since 2008 have committed £141 billion to repairing the damage to the banking system caused by 2008's financial crash. Over the same period from 2008 to today the top 1,000 individuals in this country have seen their wealth rise by £138 billion. Their lives are enriched by austerity while millions of our folk live in a street with a food bank at the end of it.
If the division of wealth in Britain was only the same as it was a generation ago the average wage would be £7,000 a year higher than it is today. The gap between the rich and the rest wouldn't be accelerating. There's a single narrative in British politics today: their wealth has to be paid for by our austerity, our youth clubs, our libraries, our elderly care, our health and education. TUSC intends to challenge that with a socialist alternative.
Help us find the candidates for next year.
This is based on the speech that Dave gave on 3 November at the closing rally of the Socialism 2013 weekend event.
In The Socialist 20 November 2013:
International socialist news and analysis
Socialist Party news and analysis
Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition
Socialist Party workplace news
Socialist Party reports and campaigns
Socialist Party comments and reviews