The Socialist 3 March 2011 |
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Fighting the cuts: Thousands protest, lobby and occupy
Parents and young people marched on Camden council on 28 February., photo H. Pierre (Click to enlarge)
2,000 march in Hull
Up to 2,000 angry local authority workers, trade unionists, students and people involved in the community and voluntary sectors demonstrated on Thursday 24 February in opposition to the council slashing its budget by £80 million.
As the Lib Dem-led council discussed the budget, the protesters marched around Hull city centre demanding that every job be saved in the local authority.
Later, as the council made its decisions, many of the protesters joined a 'street party' outside the Guildhall. There were numerous speakers, the majority of which called on those in attendance to "vote Labour" to "solve the problems". It was only Socialist Party member and NUT teacher's union divisional secretary Mike Whale who put forward a genuine alternative to all cuts. Mike received loud cheers for this.
After the wonderful spontaneous council invasion in January, at the request of the Labour Party and agreed to by right wing union leaders, the lobby was prevented from disrupting the council meeting.
However, the 30-at-a-time who were allowed to "observe the meeting" had a huge effect. Two 13 year olds, on their first ever demo, stood up in the public chamber, calling the councillors "disgraces" for the proposed cutbacks. When asked to leave, the teenagers refused. The meeting was suspended until they left.
One Socialist Party member commented that he had not seen scenes like these since the anti-poll tax campaign that led to Tory prime minister Thatcher's resignation.
Matt Whale Hull Socialist Party
Camden: locked-out by Labour
Parents and young people marched on Camden council on 28 February., photo H. Pierre (Click to enlarge)
Nearly 1,000 council workers, teachers, day centre users, parents and young people marched and lobbied Camden council on Monday 28 February to defend their services from £25 million cuts this year and up to £100 million over the next three years.
Cuts to elderly people's day centres, children's play centres and nurseries are among the savage attacks on Camden council services. The Labour council admits there could be 1,000 job losses resulting from their plans and they've built up a war chest - not to fight the cuts but for redundancy pay.
The entrance to the town hall was shuttered down. The deliberate attempt to shut out Camden residents and trade unionists from witnessing Labour councillors' abdication of responsibility was met with outrage as the very same councillors attempted to address the demo.
Though a deputation from the trade union Unison, and a petition from parents opposed to the effective closure of Camden's play service was heard by the councillors, the public remained locked out. A mass block of Euston Road led to a traffic jam all the way to west London.
Camden councillors sit on almost £84 million of reserves, including the £12 million redundancy fund. Unison demanded that if they attend the TUC demo on 26 March they should act like they mean it and refuse to make the cuts.
Socialist Party members believe that the council can use its reserves to not make any cuts this year, and then join with the existing hundreds of anti-cuts protesters to build a mass campaign across the borough against the cuts.
Hugo Pierre Camden local government worker
Lambeth anti-cuts occupation
A little bit of Wisconsin came to Brixton on 23 February as over 100 protesters invaded Lambeth council's budget meeting after a lobby of 300 local people. The visitor gallery was full and looked down on a meeting, not of the Labour-majority councillors debating where to let the axe fall, but of anti-cuts campaigners holding an impromptu meeting on how to defeat the cuts.
Visitors heard from local trade unionists telling us about their dealings with the council and from members of the local community facing the decimation of services that they rely on.
Andy Tullis, the Unison convenor for children's services in the borough and Socialist Party member brought three young people in, who gave emotional speeches about the loss of their adventure playground.
Councillors should follow the example of Ted Knight, who was in the occupation, who led the Lambeth council into defying Thatcher in the 1980s along with the 1983-87 Liverpool council.
Shamefully the councillors, who had been blocked from the chamber, shuffled off to a side-room to vote through £79 million cuts.
Earlier in the week the local Labour leadership had disgracefully suspended councillor Kingsley Abrams who had declared his intention to vote against cuts. However, councillors be warned: implementing cuts is a different story - we'll fight them, library by library, if we have to.
Haringey protesters occupy
Youth Club members facing 75% budget cuts, Asian people facing the closure of their community centre, and council workers were among the hundreds attending the lively protest and rally outside Haringey council's Civic Centre in north London as the Labour council made £41 million cuts for 2011-2012 at its budget meeting on Thursday 24 February.
1,000 Haringey council jobs, over 20% of the total workforce, are due to be cut during 2011-2012. This will be followed by a further £43 million in cuts.
As the protestors entered the Civic Centre to go to the public gallery there was a spontaneous occupation of the council chamber, which delayed the council meeting for two hours.
The protest inside the chamber remained overwhelmingly peaceful and good natured. Not surprisingly the council and media focussed on a staff member who was unfortunately injured when the protesters entered the Council chamber, a damaged glass door, and graffiti - written with chalk! - rather than the details of the effects these massive cuts will have on Haringey. There was also a heavy-handed response by the police, including the Territorial Support Group, to remove protesters.
Haringey Council may have formally voted through its cuts - but they still have to implement them in practice. The fight against the cuts go on!
John Dolan Haringey and Enfield Socialist Party
Lewisham election: There is an alternative!
Voters in the Bellingham by-election in Lewisham, south east London, have a clear choice. They can either vote for a candidate who will push through massive cuts to local services, or they can vote for Socialist Party/Lewisham People Before Profit candidate Ian Page.
Ian has a proud record of fighting against all cuts to public services. Local members of public sector union Unison have said they will be voting for Ian and window posters are now starting to go up in the ward.
The by-election takes place on 24 March. For more information, or to help in the campaign phone 07906 591794.
Birmingham opposes cuts
On 26 February, 700 people marched though through the centre of Birmingham city on a demonstration against cuts by the city council.
The anti-rich nature of these demonstrations is becoming well-known as all the big banks, mobile phone shops and Tesco had police guards on the door as the demo wound its way through the city centre.
The chief target of anti-cuts demonstrators, Vodafone, had its shop closed for the duration of the demo. There was a small anti-tax dodging picket outside flanked by police officers who just let the picket remain there!
Clive Walder, Birmingham Socialist Party
Hundreds lobby in Swansea
Hundreds of public sector trade unionists and users of council services lobbied Swansea's city and county budget setting meetings on 28 February.
As well as cutting council services, the council is proposing an all-out assault on local authority workers' terms and conditions. Included in a raft of 30-plus proposed changes are reducing annual leave to 28 days, including all bank holidays and other closure days and not paying sick pay for the first three days of any sickness absence.
Labour party speakers, including the leader of the council's Labour group on the council and the local MP, opportunistically used the fact that Swansea council is led by the Liberal Democrats to portray Labour as the defender of local authority workers.
Yet in Rhondda Cynon Taff Labour has used section 188 notices that threaten redundancy, to try to force its workforce into signing new contracts. Labour Neath and Port Talbot used the same threat to bully its workforce into accepting an average 2% pay cut.
Ronnie Job Unison steward (personal capacity)
Anger at Bradford council axe
On Thursday 24 February Bradford council set the 2011-12 budget in front of an angry, packed out public gallery.
Bradford People's Coalition Against the Cuts has tirelessly campaigned for the council to defy central government and set up a deficit budget. Instead, the council agreed £47 million of cuts, including 2,000 job losses and an attack on vital disability and community services.
Green Party councillor Martin Love and Labour councillor David Green both made apologetic speeches but made it clear they weren't going to stand up to the government.
Councillor Green said it was better that Labour swing the 'little' axe than let Eric Pickles come in wielding a much bigger one. This was met by fierce heckling from the gallery, suggesting that he may as well let Pickles in as he was doing the Tory local government minister's job for him!
David Green responded to the heckling by stating he will defend his position. Green has been invited to do that at the next Bradford Socialist Party meeting - we shall see if he turns up.
STOP PRESS: In Waltham Forest, east London, two Labour Party members put forward a motion at the Unison local government branch to end all links with the Waltham Forest Anti-Cuts Union, that has challenged the borough's Labour council. After discussion, the meeting rejected this motion. Only the two people who proposed the motion supported it!
Visit the National Shop Stewards Network anti-cuts campaign website at www.stopcuts.net
From The Socialist newspaper, 3 March 2011
What we think:
Determination to beat the cuts
David Cameron's announcement that private companies and charities will be able to bid to run schools, hospitals and council services was a further declaration of no-holds-barred war on the public sector.
His agenda was spelt out when he wrote in the Times: "We are in the process of opening up billions of pounds' worth of government contracts so charities and social enterprises can compete for the first time.
"The scale of this opportunity dwarfs anything they've ever had before".
Working class people are being hit from all sides, losing jobs, pay increases, services and chunks of their pensions, while paying more for all the basic costs of living.
Reports have revealed that high street prices rose at the fastest rate for 20 years last month, while families suffered a record fall in their disposable incomes.
Half of UK households have less than £5,000 of net wealth, so have almost nothing to fall back on.
Meanwhile, top bankers continue to receive multi-million pound bonuses and many major companies have more cash than they know what to do with - for example, it was reported that pharmaceutical company
GlaxoSmithKline may resort to spending £1-2 billion this year just in buying back its own shares!
It is therefore no surprise that anti-cuts protests are increasing in number and size throughout the country. It is one thing to make sacrifices if there is the prospect afterwards of improvements to living standards and services but quite another thing when there is no such prospect - when young people face a far worse future than their parents had.
The government is well aware that this movement of opposition has the potential to develop massively so it is trying to be make its savagery a rapid 'fait accompli', hoping this will demoralise and deter the movement.
It is helped in this by the right-wing trade union leaders who condemn the cuts but adopt a stance that little can be done to counter them. If they have their way, the national Trade Union Congress demonstration on 26 March will simply be to let off steam, rather than being a vital initial step in building a mass movement that can halt the government's onslaught.
The Socialist, however, will be calling for and suggesting concrete steps to build an almighty, powerful movement capable of forcing the government headlong into retreat.
This includes putting pressure on Labour-led councils to set needs-based budgets using their reserves and borrowing powers, so that local authority jobs and services are fully maintained while mass opposition to the government is being developed and organised.
As well as helping to build the many lobbies and demonstrations around the country, Socialist Party members will be fully supporting all moves towards public sector coordinated strike action, both at local authority level and nationally, including building for a one-day public sector strike.
The Socialist Party is also urging anti-cuts candidates to stand in the 5 May council elections taking place in most areas of England. Nominations for candidates have to be submitted during the week beginning Monday 28 March, which is only three weeks away, so anti-cuts alliances, trade union activists, community campaigns etc need to quickly discuss who will be standing.
As many as possible should stand as part of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC), in opposition to all cuts in council jobs, services, pay and conditions (see www.tusc.org.uk/policy.php for TUSC's election policy platform).
Last month Kirklees council's cabinet was forced to retreat from seeking to turn Fartown high school in Huddersfield into an Academy, not least because angry parents warned councillors they would lose their council seats if they went ahead.
Also last month, a huge campaign in Renfrewshire in Scotland forced the council to abandon a plan to axe 60 teachers' posts. The campaign included a 97% 'yes' vote in an indicative ballot of teachers for industrial action.
These victories indicate the route ahead to stopping council and government cuts; ie making it crystal clear, through mass action and standing candidates, that ordinary people are determined to defeat them.