The Socialist 26 January 2011 |
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Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) conference
'We need hundreds of challenges to job-cutting, services-axing councillors'
The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) conference on 22 January was attended by 150 people and aimed to, according to chair Dave Nellist, "lay the basis for hundreds of challenges in the council elections this year".
Dave, a Coventry Socialist Party councillor and former MP, spoke of the need to increase the profile of the TUSC election challenge, including by promoting the campaign at the TUC national anti-cuts demonstration on 26 March.
The first speaker, Independent Socialist Preston councillor and Socialist Workers Party member Michael Lavalette, said that Preston city council and Lancashire county council cuts add up to £180 million, with attacks on children's services and pensioner services affecting the most vulnerable.
Michael exposed the hypocrisy of five Preston Labour councillors, who voted against cuts at an anti-cuts campaign meeting, but then voted for those cuts in the council chamber.
However, Michael thought that it could be difficult to build a left-of-Labour challenge. This was, he said, due to an increase in Labour support as shown by the estimated 60,000 people who have joined Labour since the 2010 elections and the increase in the Labour vote at the recent Oldham and Saddleworth by-election.
The next speaker, TUSC steering committee and Socialist Party member Clive Heemskerk, said that a quarter of the Con-Dems' cuts were to local authority administered services so it was important to have election candidates rooted in the anti-cuts movement.
TUSC must show that councillors do have a choice, that they should set 'needs' budgets and demand the extra money needed from central government. In 1984, by following this strategy, the Militant-led Liverpool Labour Party council won £60 million from Thatcher's Tory government that was stronger than the current Con-Dem coalition.
Clive pointed out that the 47 Liverpool Labour councillors were not surcharged for setting a deficit budget, but for not setting a rate 'on time'. Now, the law has changed so councillors can only be surcharged for using the council budgets for personal gain.
In answering Michael's concerns, Clive gave the example of the support for Labour during the anti-poll tax struggle, which initially increased. However, Labour only saw a 2% rise in its vote in the May 1990 council elections as Labour local authorities were administering the Conservative's poll tax.
The third speaker was RMT transport union national executive member Owen Herbert, who reminded us how Tony Blair had promised that New Labour would renationalise the rail companies before being elected in 1997, but then continued privatisation when in government. Having privately owned rail operators, which put profits before safety, helped to increase fatal rail accidents such as the Ladbroke Grove rail crash.
Owen pointed out how Labour has said that, if it was in government, it would not stop cuts but instead carry them out at a slower rate.
Contributions from the audience included experiences from the 2010 election campaigns, discussion over how many seats TUSC should stand in this year, and ways of promoting TUSC's profile.
There was discussion over an amendment to the TUSC policy platform for allowing above inflation council tax increases if agreed by the electorate. In some areas, such as Darlington, councils have kept council tax low to help win elections, resulting in greater cuts to services. However, after discussion, this amendment was withdrawn.
Former 'Liverpool 47' councillor Tony Mulhearn pointed out that putting forward any above inflation council tax increases would take away from TUSC's argument that working class people should not have to pay for the Con-Dem's funding cuts.
- The conference voted unanimously for the TUSC 2011 local election platform