Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/249/24778
Socialist Councillors make a difference
COVENTRY SOCIALIST Party will he standing in eight seats in the local elections on 2 May. One of our main tasks is to get Dave Nellist re-elected for his second term as a socialist ' councillor.
Since Dave was elected in 1998 we have caused huge waves on Coventry city council. There are now three Socialist Party councillors, making the Socialist group the second opposition group after the Tories.
Supporting council workers
AFTER NEW Labour lost nine seats in the 2000 local elections, the council was forced to ditch its ultra-Blairite former leadership and reverse its single status attacks on pay.
The Socialist Party played a big role in telling council workers what the deal would mean - our councillors were the only ones to vote against it.
Defending our hospitals
WE ARE still the only councillors campaigning to keep our hospitals. The Walsgrave PFI hospital deal could be the most expensive health rip-off ever! The cost has risen from around £194 million in 1998 to a staggering £330 million now. And it's on an out-of-town site where nobody wants it.
When councillors tried to move a motion on this recently, New Labour just wanted the deal to "go ahead without any more fuss".
Yet one week later it was announced that a fully private 70-bed hospital is to be built on part of the land. So the new hospital will have fewer beds than Coventry's current two NHS hospitals and will now have to jostle for space with a private hospital which NHS patients won't have access to.
Campaigning against housing privatisation
WHEN COUNCIL housing was sold off, Socialist councillors were pilloried for "opposing tenants who need repairs". This is scandalous coming from Labour councillors whose lack of fight for funds for housing during the Tory years led to the desperate state of council housing in the city.
We were the only ones to point out that much bigger private loans for repairs would result in higher rents, less security of tenure - and the demolition of housing seen as "uneconomic", without replacement.
Everything we warned of is coming true. We exposed the scandal of new tenants getting weaker tenancies in a city where evictions have gone up by 45% since privatisation, according to housing charity Shelter.
Standing up for tenants' rights
THE NEW landlord, Whitefriars Homes Group, announced late last year that it wanted to close the Manor Guild House, a hostel housing 156 homeless men. The building is in bad condition but many of the men see it as their home.
We took up the campaign, saying that either refurbished or rebuilt accommodation should be provided on site for residents who wish to stay, with extra bed-spaces for future homeless men.
Clearly, Whitefriars are reluctant to even consider this option - their bankers have told them that the building and its residents are not "economically viable".
They hide behind talk of wanting to find the residents "better homes" but ignore the sense of camaraderie and community amongst long-standing residents.
When our councillors raised this at a meeting they were accused of "scaring and worrying vulnerable people". One resident told us that Whitefriars' reps privately admitted that they had been "backed into a corner" by a campaign that they weren't expecting.
As a result any closure decision has been put on the back burner.
But residents are getting organised. With the assistance of Socialist Party members, 80 have signed a pledge that they will refuse to leave if closure goes ahead.
More proof of "social cleansing" by Whitefriars is the recent proposal to demolish a high rise estate in Hillfields in St Michaels Ward. Local tenants, helped by our members, resisted these attempts before.
Tenants have again risen to the challenge and will step up their campaign if there are any further moves towards demolition after a consultation excercise.
Socialists do not believe in bad high-rise housing. But we stress that any housing demolished should be replaced by new housing. This is not the deal on offer in Hillfields.
New Labour says it wants to build strong communities yet in two parts of the city it is shattering them.
Prioritising the needs of working-class people
LOCAL PEOPLE are sick of the lack of investment. Whilst the council invests £20 million in a land deal related to a new stadium in the city, they tell local residents that there's no cash for their communities.
One tower block in the city centre is part of a lighting display that supposedly predicts the weather by colour code! This cost £400,000.
Socialist councillors voted against this and asked for local street lighting to be prioritised but the council ignored this. Yet residents of that same block have been plagued by glue sniffers and intravenous drug users because Whitefriars won't provide a working intercom.
Building a community fightback
OUR COUNCILLORS take on loads of cases. They have the task of doing their best against opposition from 51 councillors in the main capitalist parties.
Last year, when the council opted to close five local primary schools, a senior Labour councillor said that 51 councillors would be "sensible" about the debate - in other words they would not mobilise opposition. Only the Socialist group opposed all school closures.
Our main task is to get the community to organise to defend and improve what we have.
We are not a 'magic wand' party, we have to tell workers the truth. We are the strongest advocates for the needs of our people but we are dealing with a council that has consistently cut back on vital services and neglected working-class communities.
Only strong unified collective action through tenants, residents, community groups and trade unions can make a difference.
When our councillors stopped the plans to close the Samuel Hayward day centre. we did it through organising pressure from the community and taking this into the council. We see the Manor Guild House residents' pledge to resist the destruction of their community as the "music of the future".
We use the official structures but don't sow illusions in them. They are weighted against the aspirations of working people. We must make sure that people are organised to take them on.
To this end, we want to organise a community conference and look at the idea of a "ward parliament" in the summer, to unify the communities in the ward that we represent to prepare for the campaigns that will be needed in the future.
Through being the best representatives of local people, we also want to spread the ideas of socialism and changing society as a whole. That way we can help make the poverty and deprivation that we suffer a thing of the past.
In The Socialist 12 April 2002: