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Gaining momentum in Lewisham
James Kerr, Socialist Party Lewisham
Socialist Party members recently participated in another large Momentum meeting in Lewisham, south London. Momentum was established to support Jeremy Corbyn.
The meeting was convened to discuss the £45 million worth of proposed cuts to local council services.
The Labour controlled council, with its directly elected Mayor, has made huge cuts in recent years, including the loss of nearly a third of the workforce.
Luke Sorba, Labour councillor for Telegraph Hill ward and a Corbyn supporter, introduced the discussion; explaining 'the council had no choice but to make the cuts' because they 'can't set an illegal budget'. Otherwise, Tory appointed commissioners would be sent in and it was better that the Labour council 'mitigate the cuts'.
He also argued the directly elected mayor has all the power in decision making and reiterated there was no national movement to back up anti-cuts councillors.
However, nearly all speakers from the floor expressed opposition to all cuts and said the councillors should fight. Councillors could play an important role in standing up to the government and building a national anti-austerity movement.
Socialist Party (SP) members asked how far councillors were prepared to go and raised the 'needs budget' amendment, moved by the rebel councillors in Southampton in 2013, as a model for the type of action they could take.
This was never properly answered, although the three councillors who were there said they'd look at it.
SP members also suggested collecting an 8,000 signature petition to trigger a debate in the council chamber over spending cuts, which was endorsed.
Former Socialist Party Lewisham councillor Chris Flood pointed out that while council officers may not agree with you, they are obliged to explore the possibilities of a 'needs budget'.
Chris also suggested writing to Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell to ask for clarification on their anti-austerity position and support for councils and councillors opposing cuts. This was unanimously endorsed.
Many contributions from the floor highlighted the housing crisis and dire state of services but also pointed out that the 2013 Lewisham Hospital campaign had been successful because a fight was mounted.
Library workers in Lewisham faced with closures attended the meeting and asked for the backing of the meeting and councillors. Councillor Sorba was asked if he would support them if they went on strike. Eventually, after pressure from the meeting, he agreed to. A step in the right direction!
This meeting needs to be built on with the petition being taken into workplaces, communities, schools and colleges.
The demand for a 'people's budget' should also be put forward by the local trade union movement and community organisations.
Momentum in Lewisham could play an important role in coordinating this work inside and outside the Labour Party so that a fighting alternative to austerity is built in Lewisham and nationally.
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