Southampton TUSC: Labour resigned to austerity
Last week Southampton TUSC was asked by the Labour Party to discuss the campaign against the Tory council cuts in the city and the forthcoming local elections. The request was accepted.
However, Southampton Labour’s track record has been less than impressive. In 2011 they failed to present an alternative budget. This year they opposed the £14 million Tory cuts by proposing £13 million of their own, so it was with considerable interest that TUSC candidates and supporters waited to hear what would be said.
What became clear was that what Labour described as an “historic opportunity to strike a blow against the Tories” meant no alternative to the austerity agenda.
Southampton Labour likes to highlight their intention to restore council workers’ pay and the support they have received from the local Unison and Unite leadership. But what they don’t say is that this is a concession won by the strike action that Labour didn’t support.
When Labour talks about protecting jobs they simply mean no compulsory redundancies for a year, ie massive job cuts after 2013, when there are no elections!
Labour councillor Simon Letts said Labour will “protect the poorest” but what he didn’t say was that Labour are planning to make £34 million cuts if elected. He outlined plans for privatisation and didn’t explain how the cuts would be stopped.
So what did Labour want from TUSC? Despite the strong opposition to Tory cuts they are not confident of winning. But out of 18 seats up for grabs, 16 are sitting Tories. Labour only needs six seats to take overall control and asked TUSC not to stand candidates in some wards.
Unsurprisingly there was sharp criticism of these proposals. TUSC argued for the need to offer an alternative to all cuts if a campaign was to be successful. TUSC however did not reject any proposals to work together against the cuts.
TUSC proposed calling a conference before the elections with the trade unions, community and party activists to discuss how best to fight the cuts. On the basis of reaching an agreed anti-cuts programme we could then decide who best to stand as candidates. TUSC candidates asked where Labour would stand down in favour of our candidates in return.
All these suggestions were dismissed out of hand. Councillor Letts appeared to contradict his initial suggestion that our stand risked letting the Tories in by saying that their canvassing showed TUSC support not coming from Labour voters but those who don’t normally vote or who won’t vote Labour anymore.
We pointed out Labour’s weakness was it had nothing to offer people who were angry at the cuts; they were influenced by the right-wing media; and why it is essential to argue for socialist policies.
In reality, Letts’ argument was the voice of the demoralised left in the Labour Party who have given up fighting for what they say they believe in.
TUSC candidates agreed that they were more convinced and determined than ever that it was vital to stand and build a mass movement to stop the cuts.