The Socialist 7 April 2021 |
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Councillors have a choice - don't vote for cuts
330 Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) candidates, of which the Socialist Party is a part, are standing in the elections on 6 May. 307 candidates will contest seats in 95 different local authorities. TUSC is also standing candidates for the Welsh Senedd, Scottish Parliament, Greater London Authority assembly and city mayor in Bristol and Liverpool.
Find out more at tusc.org.uk
photo Dave Reid (Click to enlarge)
Nick Chaffey, Socialist Party Southern Regional Secretary
A new wave of austerity is following the Covid pandemic through working-class neighbourhoods, bringing with it further anguish and misery to families already struggling after a decade of council cuts that stripped our communities bare of vital services.
But it has also seen a new era of resistance, as workers and youth begin to strike and protest at the pro-business policies of Johnson and the Tories.
As the attacks rain down, rather than mobilising opposition, Starmer has rallied at every turn to the government, including supporting unelected commissioners moving in to 'oversee' the work of elected councillors in Liverpool. Not content with this slavish support for the capitalists' interests, he has also taken a stick to the Labour left - suspending Corbyn and local Labour Parties who dare to raise any criticism.
This has once again reinforced the urgent need for a political voice for the working class, to provide a socialist alternative to the capitalist crisis and lead a fightback against cuts. That's why the Socialist Party is standing in this May's elections as part of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC), alongside the RMT transport union, the Resist movement of the ex-Labour MP Chris Williamson, and others.
Since its inception a decade ago, TUSC has established a clear fighting programme to oppose all council cuts, and a commitment that TUSC councillors will refuse to vote for cuts. Councils have the ability to set no-cuts budgets, to 'formally' balance the books in the short term by using their reserves and borrowing powers. By taking these steps, mobilising mass action of council workers and their trade unions alongside working-class communities, and coordinating with other local authorities, councils taking a stand could force yet another U-turn from the Tories. This is what is required to win the funding our communities, and the council services that serve them, vitally need.
In the first wave of austerity following the 2010 general election, a heroic handful of rebels voted against cuts in Southampton, Leicester, Warrington and Hull. In 2013, Southampton anti-cuts councillors Keith Morell and Don Thomas presented a no-cuts budget to the council, showing what is possible.
Every TUSC candidate will give confidence and fan the flames of opposition over the next five weeks of election campaigning and beyond. In the 1980s, the socialist Liverpool council - led by Militant, forerunner of the Socialist Party, refused to implement cuts, and mobilised the council unions and city workers in a mass campaign that forced a retreat from Thatcher, winning £60 million.
It's in these traditions that we go forward into a new era of resistance, armed with our programme and confidence in the working class to resist and revolt against a new round of council cuts, and to promote the need for a new mass workers' party and a socialist future.
Council workers - defend jobs and services, fight for fair pay
Paul Couchman, secretary of Surrey County Unison (personal capacity) and TUSC candidate for Staines South ward, Spelthorne Borough Council
At Surrey County Council, hundreds of low-paid care workers have recently won a major campaign, led by the Unison union, for a Covid-19 frontline bonus. The campaign got local press coverage, over 800 signatures on a petition, and allowed me to speak to the council cabinet as secretary of our Unison branch.
We were calling for 'fair pay for Covid care'. The result was a £250 one-off bonus for frontline care workers. However, the unexpected consequence for many of these workers was a reduction in benefits!
The cost of living in Surrey, and the minimum wage levels these workers are paid, mean that many rely on benefits to top up their meagre salaries. Meanwhile, the number of council officers earning over £100,000 a year has tripled in the last few years. We get austerity whilst the rich get richer. Councils have the power to set the pay of their employees. They could implement a living wage of £15 an hour for all employees to ensure council workers don't have to rely on benefits.
Local authorities have cut hundreds of thousands of jobs in the last decade. Surrey has avoided the worst of this, but has still made cuts - workers are doing more with less. Surrey County Council also sold off and outsourced huge chunks of local services - including care homes, youth services, adult learning, children's centres and day centres.
Many of those services are now in the private sector and have been unable to make profits during the pandemic. Many are looking to close entirely. The council should bring these services back in-house so they can be run in the interest of the community, not for profit.
The council says that without a major cash injection over the next couple of years they will have to make further huge cuts. Surrey County Unison is preparing our activists and members to defend jobs and services, and to fight for a fair pay increase for our members.
Kick profit out of social care, fight for care workers' pay and rights
Katie Simpson, care worker and TUSC candidate Castle ward, Northampton Borough Council
Like most carers, I work for a private care company. In Northampton, Olympus Care was brought back into council control because it was failing. Not only did this protect jobs and the service users but, with the support of the trade union Unison, the staff were able to win six months sick pay instead of just four weeks. This victory was made easier because once it was council-owned, the service needed to be in line with other trade union-organised council workers' conditions. In his 2019 election manifesto, Corbyn pledged to end outsourcing of care services and bring them back in-house - councils could do this now.
Northampton is also home to St Andrew's mental health hospital where I used to work. I left because of the way patients were being treated. If you've watched enough Panorama you've probably heard of it. Many of those I supported in one of the most secure wards should have been in community care, not locked up! If they allocated adequate funding, councils could deliver person-centred adult care support, with the priority being independent living.
Care companies often use care packages drawn up by local authorities to determine whether or not to take on a client. Those with the most funding attached are typically more appealing, but in reality often present a higher level of risk. As a result, care companies will accept individuals into a care home who, without the staffing levels and training needed to support them safely, present a danger to staff and residents. Better funded care packages, which a willing council could deliver, would go a long way to ensuring the right people are placed in the right form of care.
I also used to be a domiciliary carer - going into people's homes for a 'care call'. We would provide medication, personal care, meals and emotional support among other care needs. I never finished any call in 15 minutes. I know many carers who are still providing 15-minute, so-called 'care calls'. Some of these carers are not even paid travel costs; they have to claim this money back as a tax break!
Many carers who do sleep-ins are also still being paid a flat rate, not being paid for hours they have to spend at work during the night. Councils could ensure an end to 15-minute 'care calls', and ensure that all care workers delivering care for their authority are paid travel time and for sleep-ins.
These are some policies Corbyn put forward in his 2019 manifesto. A Labour councillor I'm standing against put her name twice on the 2016 list of councillors demanding Corbyn step down from his elected position as Labour leader! I'm standing for TUSC to keep up the fight for decent care.
Housing - councils have the powers to tackle the housing crisis
Jack Jeffrey, secretary of Unite the union housing workers branch and TUSC candidate on the London-wide list for the Greater London Assembly
Key workers cannot afford to buy an average-priced home in over 98% of the UK. Although many people from my generation have now reconciled themselves to never owning a home, we are also increasingly being priced out of renting one.
Despite the economic impact of Covid, rents still rose by 1.3% in the 12 months to January 2021. This is the reason why private rental sector eviction has become the main cause of homelessness since 2012, overtaking relationship breakdown.
I work for a homeless service in Westminster and am the branch secretary of the Unite Housing Workers branch, and I see the effects of this every day. Whether it is clients at work becoming homeless through poverty, reports of housing associations moving away from social to private housing, or increasing number of members accessing our hardship fund because they cannot pay the rent - it is clear that the UK is in a housing crisis.
The 'Everybody in' scheme launched at the beginning of the pandemic proved that it doesn't have to be this way. The scheme offered many of my clients the chance to engage with physical and mental health services, tackle substance abuse, and start to practice self-care. Who would have thought that the answer to homelessness would be so simple as to give everyone a home!
However, now with hotels due to resume usual business in April, and clients being rushed into unsuitable accommodation, it feels like we are throwing all the progress away. What is stopping local authorities continuing to house the homeless?
No faith in Labour
I have no faith in Labour to offer a path out of the housing crisis. I am fed up of hearing different reasons why Sadiq Khan has never managed to meet his self-imposed target of building 50% of new developments as social housing. I will never forgive Keir Starmer for scrapping Corbyn's policy of forgiving rent arrears accrued during Covid as soon as he came to power.
This is why in the upcoming elections I will be standing for the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition. It is clear the main parties will do nothing to solve the housing crisis in the UK. But by electing local representatives that are clearly anti-austerity and prepared to fight for their residents, we can make a difference. When Liverpool City Council refused to implement Tory austerity in the 1980s, the city built 5,000 new homes in three years from 1984-87. In stark contrast, this government's much recycled pledge to end homelessness involves creating only 6,000 new bed spaces across the entire country over a four-year period.
Local authorities have the powers, land and ability to take decisive steps to address the housing crisis. Despite years of attacks they still manage around 1 million homes, although only a small proportion are council homes. Democratically controlled, they also have the land required to build the 340,000 homes a year the National Housing Federation estimates we need.
Local authorities in England alone own around 1.3 million acres of land. For perspective, London is a city of around 9 million and takes up around 390,000 acres. They also have the power to requisition some of the UK's 500,000 homes currently sitting empty, and to convert some of the hotels now being used into permanent supported accommodation.
Housing should be a human right not a privilege, we need councillors prepared to put forward a bold socialist programme and use all the powers at their disposal so we can begin to address the housing crisis in England and Wales.
Fire safety - councils have the responsibility and power to keep us safe
Pete Mason, chair, Barking Reach Residents Association and TUSC candidate for Thames ward, Barking and Dagenham borough council
If the council had taken the powers on itself to inspect Samuel Garside House on the Barking Riverside estate, east London - I believe around 20 flats would not have been destroyed in the fire that ripped through the building in 2019. The fire took just over five minutes to engulf the building, forcing residents of 79 flats to flee into the street, carrying their children.
Reporting on the fire, the London Fire Brigade said that it was an accident waiting to happen. The report shows how the balconies did not comply with building regulations.
It was only through the threat of legal action that our residents association managed to get the council to inspect the building after the fire, raising additional fire safety issues. The wooden balconies, which spread the fire, would certainly have failed a proper inspection by the fire brigade, had they the resources to inspect and enforce. It was a miracle no one was killed, and pure luck that it did not set fire to nearby wood-clad buildings.
To this day, the builders and landlords maintain their innocence, yet the basic building safety regulations state that external walls should not assist fire spread. Government and builders' greed meant that this simple ruling was twisted to exclude balconies.
Councils have the responsibility and the power to enforce building regulations, and set their own higher standards where those of central government fall short. They can allocate resources to fit sprinklers and other fire safety measures in existing council and housing association blocks, as well as enforce the replacement of dangerous Grenfell-style cladding.
Retail - councils should fight to defend interests of retail workers
Iain Dalton, chair, USDAW broad left and TUSC candidate for Gipton and Harehills ward, Leeds City Council
The announcement by Tory minister Robert Jenrick, that retail stores could open from 7am to 10pm, six days a week, from 12 April will be greeted with mixed feelings by retail workers.
Some, who have felt cooped up at home for most of the last year, only receiving 80% of their contracted wages, will welcome the opportunity to try to recoup some of the income they've lost with extra shifts.
Other workers, especially those with caring responsibilities, will have real worries about being forced to work longer shifts, or hours that don't fit with their pre-existing commitments.
Although it was Tory Jenrick making the announcement, it's actually local councils - many of which are Labour-controlled - that would implement this by relaxing the enforcement of planning legislation governing retail opening hours.
Instead of just implementing this Tory directive, councils could help empower retail workers by refusing to relax enforcement until any shops' proposals for extended opening are agreed by the workers' trade union representatives. This would mean that the unions are in a position to negotiate proper overtime pay, and prevent any undermining of existing terms and conditions.
Unfortunately, during the pandemic Labour councils have marched to the beat of the retail bosses and Tory government, with many councils relaxing enforcement of Sunday trading.
That's why a number of Usdaw members will be standing for local councils as part of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition - prepared to back up workers 100% of the time.