Nick Chaffey, Southampton Socialist Party
This year’s council elections came as food inflation hit 19%. For TUSC candidates in Southampton, it was an opportunity to hit back at the crisis facing many families, and demand council action from Labour councillors to use their powers to provide free school meals for all school and college students during term time and holidays. The campaign had been launched by Barrie Margetts, former Labour councillor for the Coxford ward, who had been deselected by Labour for raising demands that the Labour group refuse to raise council tax and rents, and use reserves to provide free school meals. We took the petition with Barrie to school gates in his ward and across the city and got a great response from parents who are getting hard hit by rising food prices but also council tax, rents and charges put up by Labour.
We’ve met hundreds of people over the last four weeks, many on picket lines, who are angry at the problems we face. It’s not lost on many that supermarkets and energy companies are making huge profits and the government does nothing. Many were enthused to hear we were standing candidates and were prepared to back the strikes, unlike Labour. On the NEU teachers’ strike march and rally, one of our candidates was asked to speak.
This year May Day was marked with a march and rally organised by Southampton TUC, with striking workers from UCU, NEU and PCS unions speaking about the need to strike together, and others from the RMT, health workers, tenants and environmentalists who are fighting back against austerity. TUSC candidates joined the march and raised the call to Labour councillors that it was time to fight back and not add to the attacks facing working-class families.
At our election day campaign stall nine of our candidates were out campaigning and had a great response. Two young workers we met on our teatime stall came to our meeting that evening. One was a young nurse livid at the bills she was struggling to pay while the royals were set to wine and dine.
These elections have been a bloodbath for the Tories. Over a third of the seats they lost were in the South East. In Southampton they lost 12 seats. Labour now have 35 of 51 councillors. What reason can there be not to act now to help families and send the bill to this weak and divided government? But in local councils across the country Labour have carried out Tory cuts. Here in Southampton, talk is of a looming 114 notice to halt all non-statutory spending. In Labour’s hands, further cuts are inevitable. We have to step up our campaign, mobilise parents and trade unions to demand council action on food poverty and, make the case for socialists and trade unionists to prepare to stand in the next general election.