Birmingham cuts: council workers must lead a fightback

TUC demo 20 October 2012, photo Senan

TUC demo 20 October 2012, photo Senan   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

Workers have only just returned from the enormous 20 October TUC demonstration where Ed Miliband was booed when he said that when in power Labour would have to make ‘difficult decisions’ and wouldn’t reverse the Tory cuts.

We returned to find that Labour-run Birmingham City Council has beaten him to it and announced an additional five-year package of cuts totalling £600 million.

A Tory-Lib Dem coalition council ran Birmingham until May. During its final two years it sacked 4,800 workers and viciously attacked terms and conditions. In its last two budgets, it ‘achieved’ cuts of £200 million and £100 million.

To its shame the present Labour council has willingly cooperated with the millionaires’ government of Cameron and Osborne to punish the poorest and most vulnerable people in the city for the gambling disasters of wealthy bankers.

These latest eye-watering cuts of £120 million a year for the next five years will see over 1,000 council workers sacked and, in council leader Sir Albert Bore’s words “the end of local government as we know it”.

If there is any doubt in anyone’s minds about whether Labour is likely to shaft workers when in power, Sir Albert unequivocally states Labour’s position: in future “there could be no more ‘salami-slicing’ of services… we have to start decommissioning services. I am not looking forward to this but it has to be done”.

In other words the Tories might not control this council any more, but Labour is quite prepared to do their bidding.

Inflicting hardship

Birmingham council workers strike, April 2008, included Unison, GMB, NUT and PCS workers, photo S O'Neill

Birmingham council workers strike, April 2008, included Unison, GMB, NUT and PCS workers, photo S O’Neill   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

The £300 million cuts already made are not enough for the Westminster parties. ‘Slicing bits off’ while producing pain – in transport, schools, elderly care etc, has not produced enough ‘savings’.

Last week the city was appalled to learn that the Children’s Services department has once again been criticised and rated ‘inadequate’ following an unannounced inspection.

Even before these new cuts this department has to make do with £22 million less this year and no doubt will struggle to operate even a basic service.

Pressure on Labour councillors across the country is ratcheting up as more and more pain is being inflicted by the councils they control.

A handful nationally have broken from the party line and courageously voted against cuts, which we welcome and support.

But they are a very tiny minority and will probably be disciplined or expelled for their trouble. This is further proof of the character of the Labour Party and how a new genuine working class party is urgently needed to fill the vacuum on the left.

Council workers’ role

If the threadbare social safety net that was fought for and built by previous generations of workers is to be protected and mended we cannot rely on anyone but ourselves to do it.

The Birmingham city council unions must offer a lead and step up to take on the council bosses, urgently organising a robust response to these latest attacks.

As a first step, trade unions must call emergency workplace meetings across all departments to explain the situation to union members and to draw up a plan of action to fight the cuts. This must be backed up with industrial action including strikes.

This struggle is not confined just to Birmingham, or the public sector, but needs to involve all workers including in the private sector where pay, jobs and services are under constant attack.

This is why struggles need to be linked up and workers united, to take action together in a 24-hour general strike.

Unison, Unite, GMB and other unions simply cannot justify handing a penny more of their members’ money to Labour.

Sooner or later this policy will become completely untenable. Members should start to debate how this money could be spent on building a new party which will fight for working class people’s interests.

Tony Leigh, Birmingham Socialist Party

This version of this article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 30 October 2012 and may vary slightly from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.