Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/924/23909
Newcastle council cuts: opportunity for trade union fightback
William Jarrett, Newcastle Socialist Party
Newcastle residents and council staff have borne the brunt of Tory austerity. £200 million of central government funding has been stripped from the cash-starved council since 2010. An important refuge for women and children fleeing domestic crises is slated for closure.
There are even plans to eliminate residential bin collection. With a council 'living wage' of £7.85, staff pay has been stalled only by national agreements, until now.
With a projected deficit of £30 million for 2017 and a further loss of £70 million from the central government grant by 2020, Newcastle's Labour council announced it intends to slash staff pay by £2.5 million, citing the possibility of 100 redundancies as an alternative.
Some Newcastle Labour councillors are associated closely with Jeremy Corbyn's successful leadership campaigns. The well-rehearsed 'heavy hearts' rhetoric has already been trafficked widely in local media, with councillor Veronica Dunn telling the Evening Chronicle: "This is not something that we want to do at all. Government cuts mean we have to make massive savings to protect services and jobs.''
Local workers appear positioned to fight though, with a coalition between Unison, general workers' unions GMB and Unite, and construction union Ucatt. Unison branch secretary and national executive committee member Paul Gilroy is playing a leading role in this.
Newcastle residents frequently communicate their anger about the Labour council to Socialist Party activists.
A common complaint is frustration with Labour councillors all too happy to be identified with left-wing causes, but who demonstrate no understanding of, or concern for, the damage they inflict on the community by unflinchingly passing round after round of devastating cuts.
The council's trade unions now have an opportunity to fight back, to protect their pay and their communities. The experience of Durham's besieged teaching assistants and their defiant stand against Durham Labour's cuts could and should inspire a new wave of resistance to austerity.
In The Socialist 9 November 2016:
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