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From The Socialist newspaper, 29 March 2017

Leeds Labour councillors resign over cuts

For a workers' movement conference on fighting austerity

Fight the cuts! Protesting against cuts in services outside Waltham Forest council, photo Paul Mattsson, photo Paul Mattsson

Fight the cuts! Protesting against cuts in services outside Waltham Forest council, photo Paul Mattsson, photo Paul Mattsson   (Click to enlarge)

Iain Dalton, Leeds Socialist Party

As Leeds Labour Council geared up to pass its latest budget cuts of 75.3 million, the cracks that had been appearing in the Labour group over the last few months finally resulted in a split.

First Mark Dobson and Sarah Field, and then on budget day itself Janette Walker, resigned from the Labour group to become independents.

In the back half of 2016, there had been a mini-revolt in the Labour group over the closure of 'The Green', a specialist dementia care home in east Leeds. This resulted in Leeds East Constituency Labour Party passing a motion in favour of a conference to discuss alternatives to local austerity measures.

At the same time, the council was planning on giving 4 million to Yorkshire County Cricket Club.

This revolt, undoubtedly influenced by the anti-austerity mood of the thousands who rallied in defence of Jeremy Corbyn in Leeds over the summer, led to a group of councillors 'calling in' the decision to close The Green, and a temporary climbdown by the Labour group leadership.

Dobson had been the council's executive member for environment in the past, presiding over the construction of the polluting east Leeds incinerator. But since returning to the council back benches last year, he has publicly declared support for Corbyn, speaking at rallies over the summer.

As the Socialist Party has commented, as austerity continues more Labour councillors will break under the stress.

Labour left

Momentum and others on the Labour left nationally have not taken this issue seriously. Unfortunately, this continues to include Corbyn and John McDonnell, who have gone along with the position of the right that nothing can be done.

This is why a wider struggle hasn't erupted inside the Labour group. Instead, councillors who wish to challenge the cuts have been left isolated.

Dobson and Field forming an independent group on the council did mean the ability to put their own amendments into the budget. One amendment reversed increased bulk waste collection charges by cutting the council's advertising budget.

Due to the resignations coming close to the budget meeting there was limited time to submit amendments. But a serious challenge to local cuts in next year's budget would need to be much more comprehensive.

There are growing calls for a conference of the workers' movement to discuss how the cuts can be fought, drawing on strikes by local government workers in Glasgow and elsewhere.

This should be linked to drawing up an alternative no-cuts budget to buy time to build a mass campaign to win the money, and calling on those councillors opposed to austerity to put it forward in the council chamber.

The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition in Leeds has written to the three councillors to offer to discuss a common approach in challenging austerity measures locally and nationally, as we have offered any councillors in the Labour group who want to fight austerity.

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