During January and February many council budget-setting meetings are taking place across the country, slashing millions more pounds off vital services.

At the same time many councils are forging ahead with plans to build new developments at the expense of communities.

But despite Jeremy Corbyn’s anti-austerity leadership of Labour many of these councils are run by his party.

Ahead of council budget announcements and local elections in May we look at examples of the actions of Blairite Labour councils and why we need to oppose them.

Waltham Forest: outrage against ‘monster block’ plan

Waltham Forest Socialist Party members
Residents queue out the door at Waltham Forest monster block meeting, photo Ben Robinson

Residents queue out the door at Waltham Forest monster block meeting, photo Ben Robinson   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

140 people crammed into a meeting on 11 January called in opposition to plans to tear up our town square, build a monster tower block 29 stories high, build four more blocks on public land and reduce open space by a third.

The meeting was organised by Waltham Forest Trade Union Council’s Housing Action Network in east London.

The proposal also includes chopping down 81 trees and moving a children’s playground to the most polluted part of the square, just in front of the bus station.

And after all that, this development will make not a dent in the 20,000 people who are deemed as in ‘housing need’ in the borough. The community is in uproar.

Trade union council secretary and Socialist Party member Linda Taaffe chaired the meeting. She made it clear that even though the decision had been made by the Labour-controlled planning committee, we in no way see it as the end of the campaign.

The Save Walthamstow’s Town Centre campaign has been active for over two years and Socialist Party members have been involved since then.

At the meeting leading campaigner David and others outlined a strategy to help force either the majority-Labour council or the property company to withdraw.

We believe that we should use every tool available to us to get this monster block stopped – and this was endorsed at the meeting.

Some will investigate launching a judicial review. Some will attempt to use their influence inside the Labour Party to get London mayor Sadiq Khan to enforce his proposal that all developments should be 50% affordable.

The meeting also agreed to target the developers, Capital and Regional, so some people are researching opportunities to do this.

Many in the room were chomping at the bit to move to the agenda item to discuss mass activity, which will be a key tactic of the campaign. We agreed to hold a community demonstration on 24 February to occupy the square for the day in a show of strength and to proclaim that ‘this land is our land’!

Finally we discussed May’s local elections. There were Tories and Liberal Democrats in the room. Socialist Party members made it clear that we have no truck with them using this campaign to opportunistically feather their own nests – the blame lies at their door.

But these decisions are being driven through by Waltham Forest council – a Labour council. A motion has been passed in at least one Labour Party branch opposing the plans.

The Socialist Party welcomes this. But right-wing pro-gentrification councillors have been reselected almost without exception for the local elections.

This means that one of the Labour candidates for High Street ward, which will be worst affected by the development, is right-wing council leader Clare Coghill.

Socialist Party members argued that working class people, and all those being mobilised by this campaign, deserve better than a choice between the Tories, Liberal Democrats or right-wing Labour.

We need real anti-austerity, anti-gentrification candidates. Nancy Taaffe from the Socialist Party invited anyone interested in this type of a challenge to meet in the Red Room of the Rose and Crown pub on 20 February at 7.30pm.

Derby: Stop cuts to domestic violence services and save women’s lives

Derby Socialist Party campaign stall in support of Derby Women's Centre 12 August 2017, photo Derby SP

Derby Socialist Party campaign stall in support of Derby Women’s Centre 12 August 2017, photo Derby SP   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

Annette Oliver, Derby Women’s Centre service user and fundraiser and Unite the Union rep

This year Derby Women’s Centre enters its 40th year after being set up by a group of women in 1978. Sadly it may be its last as it is likely to close at the end of March unless Derby council reverses its decision and agrees to fund this vital service.

Derby Women’s Centre provides a range of activities and help to women who are suffering from the effects of domestic violence, offering advice on matters such as legal services, benefits, debt advice and employment and volunteering opportunities.

They also help restore self-confidence and empower women to take their lives back with a counselling service, coffee mornings, alternative therapies, drama and music workshops, relaxation and confidence-building courses.

Their funding ran out at the end of May and by August they were unable to pay staff, building insurance or their phone bill.

This meant that vulnerable women of Derby and the surrounding area were without the support and help that they need to escape a violent partner.

The leader of Derby council was visited by service users of the centre and members of Derby Socialist Party.

Although he admitted that the council had millions of pounds in reserves he said that they were keeping the money for a rainy day and reiterated that the centre would have to continue to self-fund.

Through the immense generosity of people, unions, businesses and organisations, the centre fought off closure with donations.

The BBC news exposure since autumn has highlighted the battle the centre has faced and raised awareness of their plight.

This is a vital service, current statistics show that more than two women a week are killed by current or ex-partners and figures are sadly on the increase.

Currently one in four women in the UK will experience domestic violence sometime in their lives. All research indicates that in an economic recession domestic violence and abuse increases but meanwhile the cuts are adversely affecting women’s support services and refuges.

Derby council sends out a miserable ‘happy new year’ message to women affected by domestic violence as the centre that has helped so many women over the years comes to a close unless funding is secured.

Stop the cuts austerity – save women’s lives!

Swansea council should oppose education cuts

Swansea Socialist Party

Swansea Socialist Party had an enthusiastic response when we took part in a 200-strong meeting in Gowerton to oppose education cuts.

The meeting at Gowerton Comprehensive School on 11 January was organised by the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) to campaign for fair funding for education in Wales.

The Socialist Party leaflet calling on Swansea’s Labour council to fight against Tory cuts – instead of proposing £22 million cuts next year – was snapped up by teachers and parents as they went into the meeting, along with a number of copies of the Socialist. One teacher gave their details to join the Socialist Party.

The first member of the audience called to speak was Carmarthenshire County Unison branch secretary Mark Evans, speaking in a personal capacity, who brought solidarity to the NAHT and spoke of how the branch fought off planned education cuts through a campaign which included leafletting 40 schools.

He said that all councils must stand up against the cuts: “Are children getting the support they need? No. Are children with special needs getting the support they need? No, they are not.

“Schools have had their budgets squeezed and squeezed and squeezed. It’s a choice. Councillors can stand up to cuts and say we are not going to do the Tories’ dirty work.”

Alec Thraves of Swansea Socialist Party said education would be devastated by the cuts and called for a deficit budget, using reserves and borrowing to ‘balance’ it, and joining with other councils to oppose Tory cuts.

We call for:
  • No more cuts – set a legal ‘no-cuts’ budget!
  • Link up action with other teaching and local government unions!
  • Set up a coordinating committee to fight the cuts!
  • Lobby the cabinet meeting (8 February) and protest outside the full council meeting (22 February).
  • Initiate a Swansea march and rally against the cuts!

Southampton Labour council votes to close vital respite centre

Nick Chaffey, Southampton Socialist Party
Anti-cuts protesters in Southampton, photo Paul Mattsson

Anti-cuts protesters in Southampton, photo Paul Mattsson   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

“Letts must go!” was the call of furious parents as Labour council leader Simon Letts and three Labour councillors shamefully voted to close Kentish Road Respite Centre days before Christmas.

This service provides vital support to families caring for loved ones with life-long special needs. Their campaign has fought heroically for three years to ensure there are facilities for the most vulnerable people in the city. They are right.

How can Labour claim to be an anti-austerity party when its councillors act in such a brutal way? “When you vote Labour in Southampton, you’re not voting for Corbyn, you’re voting for cuts!” was the view of one campaigner.

Others agree. Labour Party members who have actively supported the campaign are horrified at the decision.

They were hopeful that after their recent annual general meeting voted in a new executive committee made up of Corbyn supporters to replace the Blairites, things would change.

With the continued impact of Tory government funding cuts to local councils, the crisis deepens, with schools especially affected.

A dozen schools are in deficit in Southampton, with budgets being made for the year ahead this term.

How many jobs are at risk if Labour doesn’t step in to support ‘licensed deficits’ to stop the cuts? The severe housing crisis has seen homeless people camped out on the high street.

Corbyn’s supporters must seize the opportunity to change course and put an end to council cuts. A powerful campaign can be built by uniting all those hit by austerity.

Standing firmly and clearly in support of a no-cuts budget that protects Kentish Road, school budgets, and agrees a housing policy to open the empty properties to house the homeless would bring together the enormous anger and channel that in a campaign to restore the £100 million stolen by Tory governments since 2010.

But there is a serious warning attached to this crisis. As Labour has carried out Tory cuts, the local Tory group leader has launched a campaign to reopen Kentish Road.

Desperate to support their families, some campaigners have backed his call, despite the fact that just a few miles away Tory councillors in Hampshire are closing two respite centres themselves.

If Labour continues voting for cuts, they will continue losing support and risk a return of the Tories.

Last time that happened, the Tories implemented cuts to services and pay cuts to the entire council workforce, including those at Kentish Road.

Southampton anti-cuts councillor Keith Morrell, who was expelled by the Blairites from the Labour Party in 2012 for voting against cuts, has stood consistently with the Kentish Road families and given his full support to their campaign.

In 2013 Keith proposed a legal, balanced, no-cuts budget to Southampton council showing what is possible by using reserves that currently stand at £110 million.

This policy, advocated by the Trade Unionist & Socialist Coalition, offers a way forward for Labour councils in averting another round of cuts and mobilising a mass campaign to challenge the Tories.

There are no excuses now for Labour councillors, especially since shadow chancellor John McDonnell pledged £17 billion extra to councils, schools and the NHS.

In the weeks ahead running up to the council budget meeting in February Southampton Socialist Party calls on all those opposed to cuts to demand Kentish Road is reopened and the council puts an end to Tory cuts.

Implementing Corbyn’s manifesto now in Southampton council, and linking up with other councils nationally, would show in practice that change is on its way and add pressure on Theresa May to retreat and fund councils or further deepen their unpopularity in the run up to council elections in May.

Public Meeting – how can we get Corbyn’s policies into Southampton council?

Saturday 17 February at 1pm at Bitterne URC Church, 446 Bitterne Road, Southampton SO18 5EF