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21 January 2011
Leicester rallies against cuts
The main public sector unions in Leicester, Unison, PCS, NUT, GMB and Unite organised a 300-strong rally on Wednesday 19 January outside Leicester town hall. It was against a budget of cuts and job losses being voted through by Leicester's New Labour council.
Andrew Walton, Leicester Socialist Party
Council workers' pay is being cut, with the imposition of a 35-hour week. By contrast, the Socialist Party stands for jobs being created by a 35-hour week, but with no loss of pay.
As well as this, eight old people's homes are being closed and 1,000 council jobs are under threat across the city. In Leicestershire County, there is a similar picture, as vital services are being slashed.
Tony Church (convenor of Leicestershire Against the Cuts and Socialist Party member) drew attention to the £120 billion of unpaid taxes by the rich, and said that although the Con-Dem government wants to carry through a brutal assault on trade unions and public services, there is no need for Labour councils to carry these through. Britain is still a wealthy country, but while the bankers get fat bonuses, ordinary people are suffering.
He was followed by Becci Heagney (Youth Fight For Jobs and Education), who was inspired by young people who came to the rally - school and sixth-form students who face the axing of Educational Maintenance Allowance (EMA) and a lifetime of debt if they decide to go to university.
She said that students, with all avenues being closed to them, would unite in struggle with workers for a decent future.
Josie Nicholls (Leicestershire County Unison branch chair, personal capacity, and Socialist Party) pointed out that councillors do have a choice. They could simply refuse to pass on the deficit to working people, initially using any surplus money and going out into communities and workplaces to campaign for a mass movement that demands that the government saves jobs and funds decent public services, with no rise in council tax by councils.
Ordinary people cannot and should not pay for a crisis which they did not cause.
Sir Peter Soulsby (Labour MP for Leicester South) said that he would "stand with trade unions" and attempted to blame the Tories and Lib Dems for the cuts.
Beside platitudes, his speech offered nothing in the way of ideas or concrete support. He conveniently forgot that it was a Labour council carrying out savage attacks on services which would hit the poorest and most vulnerable in society the hardest.
If, instead, he took a principled stance, demanding that Labour councillors refuse to carry through the Con-Dem austerity measures and set a budget which meets people's needs, Leicester Socialist Party would support him. This is despite his record as former leader of the council, when he closed six local schools. We want councils up and down the country to join forces in refusing to pass on cuts.
Unfortunately, it seems that all New Labour is offering is tepid, false promises now they are in opposition. Labour leader Ed Miliband has summed up the right-wing view that Labour should have explained to people the necessity for the cuts.
Like Soulsby, he offers no solution for young people unable to get a job, or go to college or university, and no solution for the elderly who have to pay for privatised care. He does not care about the hundreds of thousands of public sector workers who are being thrown on the dole.
Leicester Socialist Party, alongside Leicestershire Against the Cuts and Youth Fight for Jobs and Education, is seeking to unite with other anti-cuts campaigners to discuss how we can build an alternative in the coming elections. We need to oppose all cuts, whether these are made by Tories, Labour or Lib Dems.
In nearby Coventry, the only person who spoke out in the council chamber was Dave Nellist, the Socialist Party councillor, who voted against the cuts and attempted to put forward a budget that would meet people's needs.
Labour councillors voted with the Tories for a slash and burn approach to public services. We need more councillors like Dave, who are prepared to oppose all cuts and fight for a socialist alternative.