Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/796/18066
We need councillors who stand up for us
TUSC local elections conference 2014
11am-4pm 1 February
Indian YMCA, 41 Fitzroy Square, London, W1T 6AQ
Campaign for the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition in May
Paula Mitchell, London Socialist Party
On Thursday 22 May a little bit of history will be made. Hundreds of working class people - some of them already organised socialists, but many of them ordinary workers, trade unionists, young people, members of their local communities - will stand before the electorate and ask for votes.
It's no easy job to make a stand against the three arrogant capitalist parties. But in May over 4,000 council seats are up for election, and a record number of people are deciding that enough is enough.
The facts recently released by Oxfam underline how utterly unjust society is. While we are told there is no money for jobs, decent pay, housing or benefits, we learn that just 85 people - one double-decker bus worth - have the same wealth as half the world's population.
But the reason why people are standing for election with the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) is not facts like this alone, it is because the party that they used to look to to stand up for them no longer does that job.
Four years ago in the 2010 general election, many voted Labour in the hope that it would prevent a Tory government.
Often this was against their better judgement. As they already knew Labour, especially after Blair, is a party of privatisation and wars.
But the council elections were at the same time, and Labour councillors were returned in big numbers in 2010 as workers desperately hoped for some protection from the cuts.
Labour councils have repaid this hope by passing on the Tory cuts. Hundreds of millions of pounds in cuts have been made by Labour authorities, hacking services.
Labour councillors have compliantly implemented the bedroom tax, removed EMA, reduced council tax benefits and sacked thousands of staff.
Labour makes it clear that it would continue Tory policies in power. Shadow education secretary, Tristram Hunt, has argued for academies.
Shadow minister for work and pensions, Rachel Reeves, has pledged that Labour will be tougher on benefits than the Tories and even plans to cut benefits if job seekers don't pass English and Maths tests.
When Chancellor George Osborne announced a further £25 billion in cuts, shadow chancellor Ed Balls immediately pledged to stick to the plans if they win the general election.
The May elections will take place after the latest round of budget-setting meetings, when once again councils will be pushing through vast cuts.
They are also happening as benefit cuts bite, and people are dragged through the courts or evicted for council tax and bedroom tax arrears.
Importantly they also follow Labour's special conference on the relationship with the unions. This will hear the proposals of the Collins Review into the relationship between Labour and the unions, instigated after Miliband called the police on Unite in Falkirk.
Miliband is allowing an incredible two hours for this historic event! TUSC's conference on 1 February will spend more time debating the issue.
Whatever the exact outcome of this conference, it will mark the end of the collective voice of the trade unions in Labour.
There will be ferment in the unions as workers discuss what to do. The chance of large numbers joining Labour as individual members is unlikely.
It will be harder for union tops to block donations to candidates other than Labour. Pressure inside unions to make the break and take steps towards founding a new party will further increase.
The TUSC election challenge will step in to this debate. The fact that bus drivers, hospital porters, nurses, construction workers, train drivers and tube workers, cleaners, civil servants, teachers and firefighters are standing in the elections will have an impact on the debate in workplaces and union meetings.
Or when housing campaigners, community groups and anti-racist activists take to the electoral field and put the big parties on the spot.
Or the discussions that will go on in student halls when a couple of their mates are standing in the elections.
In many communities there will be well-known local figures who can head up campaigns. Alongside them there will be many others, boosting the credibility and the impact of the campaign.
When TUSC supporters are leafleting at a train station, with a widespread stand, they'll be able to call on nearly everyone passing by to vote TUSC. The local papers and radio might get interested.
Socialist election campaigns usually face a media blackout. To get what the BBC calls "fair" media coverage, a party needs to stand in 15% of the seats - which means 625 TUSC candidates.
We know this will still mean an uphill struggle as the last thing the millionaire-owned press wants is to allow an alternative working class voice. But a wide stand helps our case.
Two successive RMT conferences in 2012 and 2013 have endorsed RMT support for TUSC candidates and the RMT formally appoints representatives to the TUSC steering committee. The steering committee also comprises leading figures from other trade unions.
There have been over 500 candidates, including many trade unionists, since TUSC's launch in 2010. TUSC stood in 37 local council byelections in 2013, in which TUSC candidates received an average of 5.2% of the vote. (This compares to an average of 6.5% for Green candidates in the same seats.)
These are modest votes at this stage but are a warning shot to Labour and a pointer to the future.
New mass workers' party
More likely after the next general election than before, at some point the massive pressure inside the Labour-affiliated unions will lead to a break.
Whether it's under the blows of a Labour (or Labour-Lib Dem) government implementing austerity, or whether Labour's opposition is so feeble that the Tories scrape back, the floodgates could open and moves to form a new party could escalate.
The TUSC model of organising - on a federal basis, meaning that all participating organisations have a vote but also have the right not to be bounced into anything they don't support - is an important factor in giving serious trade union forces the confidence to take those vital steps.
The Socialist Party argues for unions to disaffiliate from the Labour Party. We are in favour of a conference called by the trade unions to discuss concrete plans to launch a new party based on the organised working class.
TUSC is already an important pointer towards what is possible, and in the 2014 May elections, by mounting the biggest left-wing stand in many years, the Socialist Party believes it can help to speed up the road to a new mass workers' party.
Campaigning to get fighting socialists re-elected
In 2011 council workers and their supporters fought a prolonged battle against the Southampton Tory council's vicious cuts to pay, jobs and services.
Over one million bin bags covered the city's streets but the city stood with the council workers. Throughout that strike, councillors Keith Morrell and Don Thomas attended picket lines, demonstrations and mass meetings to support the strikers and take their fight to the Labour group on the council who refused to back the workers.
In May 2012 the Tories were kicked off the council. Under the pressure from the strikers Labour promised they would be different, "Your friend in tough times!" sang their candidates.
Yet within two months they put forward their first budget to cut jobs and services, including the local swimming pool in Keith and Don's ward. Business as usual, capitalist politicians breaking their promises.
Keith and Don refused to betray their supporters for their political careers and refused to vote for cuts.
With the support of their community, the trade unions, anti-cuts campaigners and the Socialist Party, Keith and Don fought a battle to save jobs and services, to oppose the closure of their local swimming pool and won.
They did this because it's what they always do, it is why they stood to be councillors. Keith and Don have a long record of standing by their community.
When the Tory council tried to close a local old people's home, Erskine Court, in 2010, Keith and Don stood with the residents and told the council they had a fight on their hands.
They mobilised hundreds of people in a ring of steel around the home and forced the council to retreat.
Just a few weeks ago when the local bus company cut a service to an area of the ward with high numbers of elderly residents who relied on the bus, Keith and Don helped to collect 600 signatures to restore the route. They fought and won again.
In 2013 they proposed a budget to protect all jobs and services by using the council's legal powers to access prudential borrowing, paid for through reserves to balance the budget.
In November they moved a motion calling for the council to organise a city-wide anti-cuts conference of the community and the trade unions to mobilise support to fight the government for the return of money stolen from the city since 2010.
While anger at pro-capitalist, pro-cuts politicians is at a record high, Keith and Don have won support and respect for the simple fact of doing what they promised.
They have principles they won't break and for that they have shown you can win even in the toughest of times.
Our communities urgently need more socialist fighters like Keith and Don, which is why we will be standing TUSC candidates again across the city in May as well as campaigning to ensure Keith is re-elected to the council.
Nick Chaffey, Southampton Socialist Party
Coventry Socialist Party is organising for TUSC to stand in all 18 of the Coventry council seats up for election this May - including Dave Nellist in St Michael's ward, fighting to retake the seat.
We are basing our campaign across the city around key demands of: no austerity, a £10 an hour minimum wage, a mass programme of house building and job creation, scrap the bedroom tax and cap rents.
These demands are part of our wider programme, 'A Socialist Coventry City Council' explaining what we would fight for and implement, which we are launching in February.
Our campaign is attempting to draw as much involvement as possible from our wide base of supporters and more than 3,000 voters across the city, built up over many years.
We have started our 'campaign for 100' to sign up over 100 volunteers to our 'Socialist Campaign Team' who will help leaflet, canvass, collect nominations, raise money and a host of other stuff, to build the socialist fight this May.
Despite our absence from the official council chamber since Dave lost his seat in 2012, the Socialist Party in Coventry has only increased its presence and maintained support across the City.
We never stopped organising opposition to the devastating austerity measures being implemented by the Labour council in Coventry and by the Con-Dems nationally, while constantly raising socialist ideas.
Our candidates are some of the best class fighters in the city with workers and youth from the RMT transport workers union, the Communication Workers Union, Unite the Union and the public sector union Unison, as well as students from Coventry and Warwick universities.
Lenny Shail, Coventry Socialist Party
Waltham Forest has been ravaged by cuts from the Labour-led council and the Con-Dem government. 700 council jobs have been axed since 2010.
Services like libraries and children's centres have been butchered. Eviction proceedings are in progress against people who haven't been able to pay the bedroom tax.
Waltham Forest TUSC is aiming to stand for every council position this May, contesting 60 seats. We have teachers, firefighters, tube workers and community activists on our list. We're saying no to all cuts and privatisation.
We're also, with our campaign 'Rent Control in Waltham Forest', highlighting some ways that things could be different if we had councillors willing to fight.
The private renting sector in the borough, like across London, has ballooned - from 18% of households in 2001 to 32% now.
Rents are sky-rocketing but for young people, recent immigrants and many others, there's no other option. 25% of council housing stock has been sold off since 2000, 20,000 households are on the waiting list and last year house prices rose more than anywhere else in the country.
This year the council is planning to introduce compulsory licensing for private landlords. If used properly, this could allow the council and the community to have real control over the rip-off private rental sector.
Why should landlords who let overcrowded, substandard accommodation at outrageously high prices be given licenses?
Waltham Forest TUSC candidates are standing on a promise that if elected they would build a mass campaign to win:
- Rent control to bring private sector rents in line with social housing rents
- Rent councils to democratically decide what's really affordable
- A programme of council house building and renovation to meet growing need
- Bring all housing association stock and housing services back in-house
- Axe the bedroom tax and halt all associated court proceedings
Whether elected or not we're planning a big campaign to win these demands and think local people will be enthused to get involved.
The election in May will be the perfect platform to raise the demands and show what support there is for the idea of public representatives who understand and fight for what local people want and need.
Sarah Wrack, Waltham Forest Socialist Party
What can councils do?
- Introduce local replacements for Education Maintenance Allowance for 16-18 year olds staying in education (as has been done in Tower Hamlets).
- Refuse to implement the cuts! Councils can use their reserves and prudential borrowing powers to avoid making cuts this year, while organising a mass campaign to demand that the government makes up the funding shortfall.
- Support free school meals for every primary school pupil (as has been done by the Welsh government and some English councils).
- Build council homes now. Use councils' borrowing powers for capital spending to build council homes, while campaigning for the government to divert its subsidy for private developers to finance a mass programme of public housing.
- Refuse to implement the Bedroom Tax. Write off all Bedroom Tax-related arrears, withdraw all court proceedings and eviction orders where the Bedroom Tax has been a factor and call on housing associations to do the same.
- Use councils' powers to exclude firms that have participated in blacklisting from tendering for public contracts (as has been done by the Welsh government and several UK local authorities).
In The Socialist 29 January 2014:
Socialist Party news and analysis
International socialist news and analysis
Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition
Stop London Underground cuts
Socialist Party workplace news
The Socialist readers' comments
Fight all cuts!
Socialist Party reports and campaigns