Category Archives: Councillors

Fighting the next round of council cuts

Fighting the next round of council cuts

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Below we publish an article by Nick Chaffey, a Socialist Party member from Southampton, regarding the way forward in the fight against council cuts. It first appeared in the February edition of Socialism Today, the monthly magazine of the Socialist Party. The Labour council here in Coventry voted to pass on another £19 million of cuts to the people of our city. Union members at the Council need to discuss how we respond to this.

We welcome comments and feedback.

Fighting the next round of council cuts

By Nick Chaffey

During February and March councils are meeting to decide budgets for the year ahead. Google ‘council job cuts’ and you will get a map of Britain with endless stories of local services falling apart at the seams. It is clear that council workers and communities face another wave of damaging cuts. What are the prospects for a fight-back from council unions and the community? What alternatives are being posed to cuts?

The ConDem coalition is out to decimate council services. Cuts to the local authority budget have been the biggest of any government department: Unite the union estimates a 43% real terms cut in funding (over £6 billion) in the five years to 2015. Urban areas have been hardest hit, with Liverpool city council facing a 62% cut in funding between 2010 and 2017. In the current financial year, councils have received 73.6p for every £1 of central government funding they had in 2010.

Increasing numbers of councils are struggling to find services left to cut, with 28% of unitary authorities in a state of ‘high financial stress’, according to the Audit Commission’s, ‘Tough Times’ report. Andrew Johnson, cabinet member for Wolverhampton council, is just one of many raising the prospect of Detroit-style bankruptcy: “We are now realistically looking at the prospect of becoming insolvent unless we make very deep and very fast cuts to address this enormous budget deficit which has been forced upon us by government”. Even Tory Local Government Association chair Sir Merrick Cockell talks of cuts stretching “essential services to breaking point in many areas”.

Rather than mobilising opposition to the government cuts, councils – including every single Labour council – have turned to cutting jobs, services and terms and conditions, as well as privatisation, to balance the books.

Since 2010, 400,000 council jobs have been cut – 20% – with those left in work struggling to maintain services on less pay, many with cuts to their terms and conditions. Local government workers have suffered a £3,544 cut in pay since 2010. Over one million local government workers earn less than £21,000 a year. Just over half a million of these earn less than £15,000 a year.

Adult social care services, youth services and libraries have been decimated and are continuing to face cuts. Whole communities have nothing left but the local school, which is likely to be under threat of privatisation to academy status. Councils report increases in demands for looked after children as well as an increase in homelessness, in part due to the hated bedroom tax. The financial pressures on families whose incomes have been squeezed and costs increased, have meant growing demands for food banks, as well as increases in rent arrears, evictions and court summonses for council tax.

Enormous anger is set to boil over among council workers and service users. No wonder a recent Guardian poll showed huge anger among voters, mainly over broken promises

made by politicians. That means falling turnouts in council elections, where just 30% typically come out to vote. While politicians have attempted to calm the waters and paper over the cracks of the crisis, the Met Police’s request for the use of water cannon on the streets of London by this summer shows an awareness of the real mood in society.

In the face of a combination of Labour’s failure to oppose cuts locally and nationally, and the lack of a national fight-back led by council unions, Unison, Unite and the GMB, the Tories have been encouraged to go further still. A further 10% cut in council funding is reward for their obedience.

What is the alternative? Writing in The Guardian on 7 January, Andy Sawford, the shadow local government minister, spelt out Labour’s position in black and white: “The next Labour government will not be able to stop the cuts or turn back the clock”. Wringing their hands, pleading for sympathy with the difficult choices they have to make, Labour councillors have dutifully carried out the austerity cuts. It is an abject failure to provide leadership to the millions looking for a way to defend themselves and their families from the brutal cuts.

Attempting to justify their pitiful surrender, Labour councillors and their supporters in the unions, are adamant they have no choice. They are determined to silence and dispel any support for an alternative. In the run-up to budget meetings it is essential that these myths are challenged and a clear case is made for what councilors can and should do.

Firstly, council union branches and activists must redouble the demands for Labour councilors to refuse to vote for cuts. Is there any doubt that taking such a stand would get enormous support? Under pressure of boiling public anger, Labour has called for the scrapping of the bedroom tax and received support for doing so. The same with its minimal proposals on energy-price caps. Indeed, a campaign to resist local government cuts, to save jobs, libraries and Sure Start centres, and to build 500,000 council homes, would be the basis for driving this government into retirement ahead of schedule.

Shamefully, Labour’s cowardice hides the fact that such demands are inherently modest. Local authorities have reserves of £14.2 billion and actually increased their reserves by £1 billion last year. This is a scandal and such reserves should be used immediately to protect services. While council funding has been stripped to the bone, and wages and benefits are squeezed, the super-rich friends of the ConDem government have been rewarded with tax cuts and a tax regime that sees over £100 billion uncollected and evaded every year. Not only is that enough to avoid cuts but it could also begin to tackle the urgent needs of our communities in building affordable council housing, creating jobs and providing services for the young, elderly and vulnerable.

While Labour councilors today cower in fear of this weak and unpopular coalition past battles were fought and won in the teeth of previous tough times: for example, in Poplar council in the 1920s, Clay Cross in the 1970s, and the epic victory of the socialist Liverpool 47 councillors from 1983-87, where Socialist Party members, then supporters of the Militant newspaper, played a leading role. On the issues of rents, jobs and public housing these battles built the fight-back.

The Southampton rebel councillors Keith Morrell and Don Thomas have shown what every Labour councillor could do. They put forward a clear balanced budget to Southampton Labour council in February 2013, proposing to use the council’s legal powers to access borrowing, financed by reserves, to fund the budget deficit and protect all jobs and services. Such a defiant stand would be certain to get enormous support and, having bought time and not implemented cuts, lay the basis for a huge campaign to force another government U-turn and restore the money stolen from the council since 2010.

To date the union leaderships of Unison, Unite and the GMB have completely failed to harness the anger of members and the community into a national campaign over cuts and pay. This has left local branches isolated, fighting one by one but also in many cases hamstrung by full-time officials unwilling to sanction ballots for industrial action.

It would be a mistake, however, to believe that opposition will not develop, despite the role of the trade union national leadership. This latest round of cuts could propel local branches, under the pressure and anger of their members, into taking action, as the current strike of residential carers and Unison members in Glasgow shows (with Socialist Party Scotland members in the leadership of the local branch). Developing the possibility of linking such struggles together could be the basis for building a single national campaign. This could also develop around the mounting pressure on national pay, which could feed into a battle on cuts as well.

In the communities, battles on the bedroom tax and campaigns to save libraries, Sure Start and youth centres are mobilising opposition and blooding a new generation of activists. On top of the growing housing crisis, where rent rises and evictions are on the increase, up to 500,000 people have been summonsed to court for council tax arrears. How many of these are council workers themselves or trade union members? It is clear that the council unions, coordinating with the trade union movement as a whole, could build city-wide anti-cuts committees to mobilise mass resistance.

With huge anger mounting against the ConDem cuts, and the pitiful compliance of Labour councils, is it any wonder that voter turnout is so low at council elections, and is falling further? As it becomes clearer that Labour will not fight back, support will grow both within the unions and among the communities for a fighting alternative. It is this space that the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) is fighting to at least partially fill on 22 May.

This is especially important due to the probable growth of support for the right-wing, populist UKIP at the euro elections, which could spill over into the local council elections taking place the same day. TUSC aims to stand 625 candidates this year, building a national profile for the first time. It is around the experience of battles over the latest round of council cuts that candidates will come forward and support grow for TUSC. Based on a clear case for opposing all cuts and a confident explanation of the powers open to councils to refuse to implement them, the next few months will be an important period in the fight-back to save local council jobs and services.

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Labour Council to pass on more Tory austerity to the people of Coventry

Labour Council to pass on more Tory austerity to the people of Coventry

Punish them in the May local elections

Oppose austerity

Oppose austerity

The following article was written by a trade union activist and is taken from Issue 18 of the Cov Council Socialist – a workplace bulletin produced by members and supporters of the Socialist Party in the council trade unions.

On Tuesday 25th February, Coventry City Council will vote through a budget that will see more jobs lost, more services cut and will be a further blow to the people of our city.

The Labour council has put up no resistance to this vicious Tory government since 2010. Unfortunately Ed Miliband and Ed Balls have committed any future Labour government to austerity and Tory spending plans, meaning whichever the establishment parties gets in to power nationally, the cuts will continue.

No doubt at the meeting of the full council, councillors will say how sorry they are to make these cuts. However this is of little use to those workers being asked to do more for less money, for those made redundant, or those members of the public who can’t access vital services any more.

They will say they have no choice. This is not true! They could choose to resist the government. The council has tens of millions in reserves. These should be used to hold off the cuts, to buy time for a mass campaign to be built linking up with other councils to demand more money from the government. It has been done before, for example in Liverpool in the 1980s where the council won more money from Thatcher.

However Labour do not want to do this, as they see no alternative to austerity.

In the May elections, there will be the chance for Coventry people to vote for an anti cuts, socialist alternative. The Socialist Party will again be standing in all 18 seats, as part of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC). This will include Dave Nellist standing in St Michaels. TUSC will be standing in over 400 seats across the country which will be the biggest left of Labour challenge for generations.

In the last local elections in 2012, Socialist Alternative came third behind Labour and Tories in the total city wide vote with 3401, beating the Greens, UKIP, BNP and the Liberal Democrats. Help us build on that

Consider supporting the Socialists with your vote. But we also need much more help – can you do any of the following?

–          Sign our nomination papers

–          Display a poster

–          Donate

–          Help leaflet your street / area

–          Support the campaign on social media

–          Consider joining the Socialist Party

For more information on the above and to volunteer for our campaign, please email coventrysocialists@googlemail.com

You can also visit our main Coventry website by clicking here

‘We can’t afford not to strike!’ Jane Nellist speaks out on the strike of the teaching unions

“We can’t afford not to strike”

The article below was originally printed in the current issue of ‘The Socialist’ newspaper

Jane Nellist of the NUT (personal capacity) and Socialist Party. Photo from Coventry Telegraph

Jane Nellist of the NUT (personal capacity) and Socialist Party. Photo from Coventry Telegraph

Jane Nellist, National Union of Teachers (NUT), Coventry joint secretary, personal capacity

Last term’s strike in the North West showed how determined teachers are to defend their pay, pension and working conditions. On 1 October NUT and NASUWT members across the East and West Midlands, Eastern, Yorkshire and Humberside regions will join together to take one day of strike action.

When I explained in a school meeting about the changes to the pay policies as well as the likelihood of more attacks from Tory education minister Gove on our working conditions, including longer working hours, fewer holidays and less preparation (PPA) time, teachers were even more determined to take strike action. What’s more, they wanted the day to be named for national strike action in November.

“We cannot afford not to strike”, that was the view of one young teacher in her second year of teaching. She went on to describe how she often ends up in tears because of the pressure. She feels she can’t possibly achieve the workload without working every evening and all weekend. “How can I do this until I’m 68?” she asked. “How could I do this if I had a family?”

Teachers are realising that if they move schools, there is no guarantee that their new school will pay them the same rate. It’s going to be harder to move up the pay scales, with more links to ‘performance’ and the goal posts changing regularly.

Already we have lost over 15% of our take-home pay with frozen cost of living increases and pension increases. With mortgages harder to get, it’s going to make it more difficult for teachers to get housing.

If it had not been for our two days of national strike action in 2011, the cuts could have been much worse. We know that taking action can make a difference!

Although an inconvenience to parents, they understand why we are forced to take this action.

Following further regional strike action on 17 October, the NUT and NASUWT are planning national strike action if the government fails to listen to their demands.

Given that so many sectors and workplaces have grievances with their employer and with the government, it would be so much more powerful if we joined together and took coordinated strike action on the same day.

What is clear is that we have to stand firm and, if necessary, be prepared to take more strike action. The government attacks are aimed at getting education into a fit state to be privatised – it’s not good for teachers and it certainly isn’t good for our pupils. Just like the young teacher said – we cannot afford not to strike!

Council workers in Glasgow take unofficial action over workload

Council workers in Glasgow take unofficial action over workload

Glasgow Unison members taking strike action

Glasgow Unison members taking strike action

Unison members in Glasgow today took unofficial strike action today in protest at the suspension of a Unison member and an increase in caseload. Please send messages of support to enquiries@glasgowcityunison.co.uk

The report below is from Socialist Party Scotland, the sister organisation of the Socialist Party. SP members play a leading role in Glasgow Unison. Check out their website here. It was posted on their website yesterday and provides useful background to the dispute.

——–

By Philip Stott. Posted 16th September 2013

Around 60 Glasgow City Council staff, Unison members employed as part of the Social Work Homeless Team, have agreed to walk out on unofficial action tomorrow in protest at the suspension of a Unison member on Friday and anger over caseloads. A member of the East Glasgow Homeless Team was suspended on Friday after refusing to undertake work that related to an existing Unison grievance over workloads and staffing levels.

Following the suspension, in a great example of solidarity, fellow union members in the East office walked out on Friday afternoon.

The action in the East office continued today (Monday) and following discussions with management and meetings with workers from the five Homeless teams in Glasgow it was agreed that workers from all the Glasgow Homeless teams would refuse to go into work tomorrow (Tuesday).

Although this is unofficial action, Glasgow City Unison is calling for the immediate lifting of the suspension of their member. The union has gone further and are demanding a resolution to the impossible levels of workload being placed on already stretched union members. Unison have called for increased staffing to handle the growing numbers of people requiring a service and also a cap on the numbers of cases that each member of staff has to deal with.

There is huge anger relating to the intolerable pressure on staff in the Homeless service, across the Social Work department and many other departments in the Labour run Glasgow City Council. This is a direct result of the thousands of jobs losses in the last few years resulting in increasing work pressures on fewer and fewer members of staff.

This action by Unison members is to be applauded and underlines the need to build widespread strike action over workload, pay and working conditions which is becoming a huge issue across local government in Scotland. 37,000 jobs have gone in Scotland from public services since 2010 a result of the Con-Dem austerity and the refusal of the SNP-led Scottish government and local councils to fight the cuts is leading to a crisis.

Socialist Party Scotland members are doing all we can to support these workers in Glasgow and link this battle to the need to build mass coordinated strike action against the cuts that are destroying decent public services.

 

Coventry City Council plan more cuts – vital services and 140 jobs under threat!

Coventry City Council plan more cuts – vital services and 140 jobs under threat!

No to cuts!

No to cuts!

It has been announced today that Coventry City Council are planning more huge cuts, this time to adult social care. The £6 million of cuts will affect some of the most vulnerable in our city – and see care workers, many of them female, lose their jobs.

According to the Coventry Telegraph (published on their website) the proposals include the following

* Closing the council’s Aylesford residential care home, Primrose Hill Street, Hillfields, used for 26 people needing post-hospital care.

* Privatising the council’s “home support short-term service” for 850 people a year, where carers visit the elderly and disabled in their homes.

* Closing either Jack Ball House in Potters Green, or George Rowley House, Canley. They are “housing with care” bedsit-style schemes for 23 long-term residents each with “critical” or “substantial” care needs.

* Ending elderly day care services at Frank Walsh House, Hillfields, and Risen Christ, Wyken Croft, and moving users to Gilbert Richards Centre in Earlsdon, described as a “better facility”.

* Ending two day services for adults with learning difficulties – at Curriers Close, Canley; and Whatcombe Close, Henley Green – with services moved to Frank Walsh House.

* Reducing dementia day services at Maymorn Centre, Holbrooks, from seven to five days a week.

* Cutting council on-site housing wardens, grants for community alarms, and other “housing-related support” to external providers of sheltered or private accommodation, where elderly or disabled people are deemed to have lower-level social care needs.

* Cutting grants to charities – such as Coventry Carers Centre, Age UK, Alzheimer’s Society – which provide information and support.

* Cutting subsidised transport to day centres.

* Selling the previously planned new Broad Lane site for the council-run Eric Williams House for dementia patients, which would remain at Brookside Avenue, Whoberley

Labour leader of the Council Ann Lucas has stated that they are carrying out the Tory government’s cuts with ‘a heavy heart’ and this theme was repeated by Cllr Alison Gingell in a radio interview. However this is unlikely to be of any consolation to those bearing the brunt of these cuts and who face a very uncertain future.

Labour could fight the cuts – but have chosen not to

The Labour Council are in position, with a big majority, to rally support across the city for a fightback against both these cuts to adult social care and the cuts in general. As a Unison representative correctly pointed out on local radio this evening, they should be demanding more money from central government. Of course the government is not just going to say ‘Ok then, here is more money.’ It will take a battle and a fight. We might not win. However it is surely better than passing on this Tory brutality to the people of Coventry.

A consultation will be starting shortly. The people of Coventry must make their views known. However, the likelihood is that the Council will plough ahead with these attacks – so the three council trade unions, Unison, Unite and GMB need to start discussing with members about the sort of course that we will need to take. This should include putting on the agenda the very real possibility and neccessity of industrial action.

Political response

There also needs to be a political response. Again and again Labour are attacking our union members and the most vulnerable. There needs to be debate in all of the three unions about why we continue to fund a Labour Party that is so willing to carry out the bidding of the Tories and whether they deserve the support of unions in the local elections next year.

We will carry further comment and reports as we receive them.

 

 

Thousands march through city to ‘Keep Cov in Cov’

Thousands march through city to ‘Keep Cov in Cov’

The crowd leaves Gosford Green

The crowd leaves Gosford Green

Up to 7,000 people marched through Coventry on Saturday 20th July in protest against the recent decision to move Coventry City F.C’s home games over 30 miles away to Northampton. Though predominantly Coventry fans, there were also supporters from AFC Wimbledon, Middlesbrough, Ipswich Town, Chelsea and Liverpool who attended to show support.

The march nears the University

The march nears the University

The march started on Gosford Green, close to the Sky Blue’s former home at Highfield Road and following 2 modern day Lady Godivas on horseback, proceeded to make its way to the City Centre along Sky Blue Way. The size of the protest could be seen by the fact that the front of the march reached the end point whilst the back was still near the beginning!

Anger at the Football League

Anger at the Football League

Fans old and young attended the protest – there was anger and dismay, evidenced in the massive turnout but also in the chants and homemade posters and banners that had been made such as ‘SISU OUT’ (SISU is the hedge fund that many blame for the current situation)  ’49 years a season ticket holder – kicked out of CCFC by SISU’ and ‘Real football for real fans except in Coventry thanks to the weak Judas Football League’. 

Another banner from Coventry International / Diverse supporters invited the Football League to grow some (specific body part!) in 9 different languages which summed up the feeling of many.

Fans telling it how it is

Dave Nellist was invited to address the final rally in Broadgate Square.  Dave pointed out that back in 2003 it was the 3 Socialist Party Cllrs who had the casting vote over whether the new Ricoh Arena would be built. He went on to explain how the Socialists moved an amendment which was passed to guarantee jobs for people in the city, and any profit made from sales of land should go back in to services to care for the old and young of Coventry.

Dave Nellist

However, Dave pointed out that looking back a mistake had been made. We should have moved an amendment that ensured that the fans had a representative on the Board, as they do in many other countries. Dave went on to point out to rapturous applause that whilst in other countries there are clubs owned by the fans, we have here a situation where a hedge fund that lives offshore is only interested in raking as much profit as possible from the people of Coventry.

Messages of support came from fans groups across the country, including from Bristol City supporters, who stated they are planning to boycott their away game against Coventry (in Northampton) on the first day of the new season.

Crowds almost at Broadgate

Socialist Party members were on the protest, selling a number of Reclaim the Game pamphlets, and advertising a forthcoming meeting in Coventry on the issue of football and big business. See details below.

The tragedy that has hit Coventry City FC is a perfect example of how these unaccountable profit hungry parasites such as SISU directly impact on working class communities and attack the traditions and culture of ordinary people. They must be stopped and discussions need to take place about how we can get fan and community ownership of football and sport in general.

 

Meeting – Football and Big Business

John Reid author of Reclaim the Game

Monday, 19th August, 7.30pm SQ Club, Whitefriars Lane, Coventry, CV1 2DT

 

Former Labour MP Dave Nellist – a workers’ MP on a worker’s wage

Former Labour MP Dave Nellist – a workers’ MP on a worker’s wage

Dave Nellist speaking in support of working class peopple

Dave Nellist speaking in support of working class people

There has been much publicity over the past few days regarding the prospect of MPs taking a massive pay rise at a time of massive cuts and when most workers have seen falling living standards. Council workers were offered just 1 per cent! However this episode underlines again the principled stand taken by Dave Nellist whilst he was an MP – he only took the average wage of a skilled worker, donating the rest to local campaigns, strike funds, charities etc. What a contrast to the MPs of today who have claimed enormous expenses whilst supporting never ending cuts for ordinary people. He was an embarrassment to the Labour Party because he showed  most other MPs up for what they are – career seeking place men and women with barely a principle to share between them

Whilst an MP and then later a Councillor, Dave was a firm supporter of council workers and trade unionists in the city.  As the article below states which is taken from the BBC website, he is still an active member of the Socialist Party and continues to support the trade unions and the fight for socialism. We urge you to consider joining the Socialist Party to help rebuild working class political representation and organisation in Coventry and beyond. If you would like to join, click here 

The link to the article is here

Dave Nellist: The Coventry MP who gave away half his pay

Dave Nellist
Dave Nellist is still an active member of the Socialist Party
As many MPs rush to condemn proposals to give them an 11% pay rise, few have taken the lead of the former member for Coventry South.

From his election in 1983 to his deselection by Labour in 1992, Dave Nellist kept less than half his salary.

Along with two other Labour politicians – Terry Fields, MP for Liverpool Broadgreen, and Pat Wall, MP for Bradford North – Mr Nellist chose to “get by” on a wage closer to that of the people he represented.

Mr Nellist, now 60 and still an active member of the Socialist Party, was unemployed for the six months before he was elected, but had worked in a factory for many years.

He would only accept the average wage of a skilled factory worker in Coventry, which amounted to 46% of his salary as an MP.

Each year the remaining 54% was donated to charitable and political causes.

‘Want for nothing’

Mr Nellist said he saw his political career as being akin to that of a union rep in a factory.

“At the time time, we were going into the [MP] job like a convenor in a factory, we had the time to do the job but not three times the wage or holidays,” he said.

“The engineering union used to work out the returns of all the factories in Coventry and averaged their wages – equivalent to £28,000 or £29,000 nowadays – so that was what I took home.

“I accepted every penny of the full salary, but as the Labour Party we gave away roughly £35,000 [per year in today’s money] to help the families of miners in the 80s, community groups, pensioners.”

He said receiving less money did not damage “the responsibility” he had to his family and he was very proud of the way his children grew up.

“They didn’t want for anything. We went camping as a family for two weeks every year – and still do – like many people.

“I came off factory wages and into that job on the same. I’ve never had anything different so you don’t miss what you’ve not had.”

Mr Nellist added that as a Coventry City Councillor for 12 years until 2012, he continued to take home the same wage by reducing the hours of his full time job at an advice agency.

He dismissed the idea that the more someone is paid, the more they will achieve.

“Why should MPs be any better? How many millions have we been paying the bankers, how many millions do we pay footballers?

“I don’t accept the idea that those prepared to live the same life as their constituents are going to be any less representative.”

Pay rise ‘bung’

On Thursday the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) said salaries should increase to £74,000 by 2015, but perks should be cut and pensions made less generous, something Mr Nellist described as “scandalous”.

“The suggestion by [Ipsa chairman] Sir Ian Kennedy that the pay rise would be a way of keeping MPs from claiming more expenses is frankly amazing – I was almost lost for words,” he said.

“It’s basically saying they’ll get a bung on their salary as a way of keeping them in line.”

 Mr Nellist believes public representatives like councillors and MPs should be able to empathise with the people affected by political decisions.

“With a 9% average fall in people’s earnings, MPs should not be getting a rise – it insulates them from those day to day problems like food and fuel which have rocketed.

“Millions have to get by on much less [than MPs] so that is why we should pay them so they share the pain and the gain.”

Mr Nellist fears the impact of the proposed pay increase for MPs will add to a perceived disconnect between the public and politicians.

“I think it will contribute to a growing disillusion in politics and politicians in general – at a time when millions are having it very tough, those people who may lose their jobs could become very angry if this happens.

“The best people go into politics to do a proper job and to represent the people, not for the money.”

 

Coventry, the council that would not fight

Coventry, the council that would not fight

We thought we would post this video made by a Socialist Party member in the city, which was put together after Labour approved more cuts back in February of this year. At the end of the video there is a link to show how the council could fight back. This comes after Labour are proposing to make cuts to street wardens.

After Falkirk – Unite and the Labour Party

After Falkirk – Unite and the Labour Party

We are publishing this article by Unite activist Kevin Parslow in the wake of the controversy in Falkirk. We think it will be of interest to Unite members in Coventry and elsewhere. Comments and opinions welcome.

Unite contingent on 20 October 2012 demo against austerity, photo by C Job

Unite contingent on 20 October 2012 demo against austerity, photo by C Job

Unite meets roadblock in New Labour

Time to discuss bold step of disaffiliation

Kevin Parslow

The attack on Unite, the biggest trade union in the country, following New Labour’s suspension of the election candidate selection process in Falkirk West, is a decisive moment in the relationship between the unions and the Labour Party.

Unite’s preferred candidate, Karie Murphy, and constituency chairperson Stephen Deans, have been suspended from party positions.

Tom Watson, New Labour‘s general election strategist, has resigned his position following these moves.

New Labour has scrapped the scheme, originally backed by party leader Ed Miliband, which allowed unions to pay the first year of membership subscriptions from their political funds and which Unite used in Falkirk West to sign up over 100 of its members to the party.

Outrageously, Miliband is handing over Labour’s secret report, not shown to Unite, to the police! Unite members will be indignant at these scandalous moves.

They have echoes of Labour alleging ‘corruption’ against the Liverpool city councillors and Militant who fought against cuts in the 1980s. If Unite does not fight now, the union will be seriously damaged.

Any pretence that Ed Miliband was independent of the right has been blown away by this confrontation as he has become a prisoner of the Blairite faithful. Unite general secretary Len McCluskey was prophetic when interviewed in the journal New Statesman on 24 April this year:

Len McCluskey, Shrewsbury 24 press conference, 23.1.13, photo Bob Severn

Len McCluskey, Shrewsbury 24 press conference, 23.1.13, photo Bob Severn

“He fears, though, that Miliband could still fall under the sway of those he pejoratively refers to as ‘Blairites’. He singles out the shadow foreign secretary, Douglas Alexander and the shadow defence secretary, Jim Murphy, for criticism.

.“Ed Miliband must spend most of his waking hours grappling with what lies before him. If he is brave enough to go for something radical, he’ll be the next prime minister.

If he gets seduced by the Jim Murphys and the Douglas Alexanders, then the truth is that he’ll be defeated and he’ll be cast into the dustbin of history” [our emphasis].

Murphy has been prominent in this crisis with scathing attacks on Unite and Len. One unnamed Blairite has called Unite an ‘organised conspiracy’! Furthermore, these attacks have been egged on by Cameron, the Tories and the capitalist press.

They are all in favour of a tame, pro-capitalist Labour Party. Unite must come out fighting to rebut this onslaught at every opportunity.

Transformation of Labour

But this is not just an organisational attack on the trade unions and the left that remain in New Labour.

As the Socialist Party has consistently explained, this is part of the political transformation of Labour from a party based on workers, that had socialist aspirations, albeit with a pro-capitalist leadership, into a pro-big business party with similarities to the Democrats in the US.

Even from the first attacks on our predecessor, Militant, we predicted there would be attacks on the left and left unions.

With reference to the process against the Militant Editorial Board, which led to five expulsions, we wrote:

The purge will not stop at Militant. It will grow to other left groups within the party” (Militant 628, 26 November 1982, quoted in ‘Rise of Militant’).

Unite is now considered part of the ‘left’ within New Labour and has been compared to Militant by the press! To this end, the Blairites have decided the union must be humiliated. They want to rid the party of union influence and expel unions whose predecessors helped to form the Labour Representation Committee in 1900!

New Labour has consistently refused to listen to the unions on policy. There have been no real commitments on scrapping anti-trade union laws.

Cuts and privatisations are carried out by Labour councils and councillors who oppose them are suspended or expelled.

Now, Miliband and Ed Balls have affirmed their commitment to the Tories’ spending plans. In other words, cuts planned by the Tories will be implemented by a New Labour government, if the party wins the next election.

This will mean confrontation with the working class and the unions. The idea of a general strike against austerity cannot be postponed in the hope of ‘better times’ under Miliband. If not fought for and called now, the demand will still be urgent under New Labour.

Unite members in action: Strike at 'One Housing', June 2013, Woodgreen site, London

Unite members in action: Strike at ‘One Housing’, June 2013, Woodgreen site, London

Unite’s strategy

The political strategy of Unite, to recruit its members to Labour in order to get more working-class election candidates selected, has come across another roadblock.

The Socialist Party has explained on many occasions that the Labour Party is unreformable. New Labour has closed all the democratic avenues for real change that once existed.

But given Unite’s agreed strategy, we said the only chance it had of being successful would be for Unite to go in with its full programme against all cuts, the scrapping of the anti-trade union laws, and nationalisation, win over the ranks of Labour and get rid of the Blairites.

Even then, we said it would be unlikely to succeed given the obstacles in Unite’s path.

But the union’s strategy was first challenged when a handful of Labour councillors who voted against cuts, some of them Unite members, were suspended or expelled from Labour groups and the party.

The two brave Southampton councillors who opposed austerity have drawn the correct conclusions and become part of TUSC (Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition).

Warrington councillor Kevin Bennett has recently had his suspension from the Labour group extended for a further six months.

Unite members and others supporting Kevin Bennett outside his Labour group appeal hearing on 1st July 2013

Unite members and others supporting Kevin Bennett outside his Labour group appeal hearing on 1st July 2013

Now the focus has switched onto the parliamentary selection stage. New Labour does not want representatives who would fight for the working class.

Unite now has three possible ways forward. The first would be to capitulate to New Labour. This would be disastrous, not just for its political strategy but for its industrial one too. There would be growing anger and indignation in the rank and file, and doubts would be raised over the union’s commitment to fight for its policy. This would cause serious problems for Len and the left leadership of the union and jeopardise their position.

The second would be to continue with the current strategy. This would mean the likelihood of further collisions with the Labour bureaucracy, in which Len has already admitted he ‘can place no trust’. This would not prevent Unite having to make a decision later on the continued scandal of providing funds to New Labour, to the tune of £9 million since Miliband was elected Labour leader in 2010, with the support of the unions! Immediately, Unite would also face the decision of supporting anti-cuts councillors.

The third path is to take the bold step of the union disaffiliating from New Labour. The Socialist Party believes this is the correct road to take. The working class has waited too long for its own party since New Labour accepted the free market and dropped its famous Clause 4, Part IV, which envisaged nationalisation and socialism.

What Unite should do:

Unite members, in their branches, stewards committees and constitutional committees of the union, should pass resolutions defending the union against these attacks and calling for a full, democratic discussion of the alternative. In particular, they should call on the leadership to implement the following plan of action:

  • An emergency executive council should be called to discuss the crisis.
  • The EC should pass a resolution for a recall rules conference which would have the end of removing the references to Labour Party affiliation from the rulebook, thereby facilitating disaffiliation. This conference should also discuss political representation for the working class.
  • Should this be carried, Unite should call meetings and conferences of trade unionists, from affiliated and non-affiliated unions, including those linked to TUSC, with the aim of forming a new workers’ party which would have the programme of fighting the cuts, scrapping the anti-trade union laws and opposing privatisation of public services. Such a party would truly reflect the needs of the working class and fight in workplaces, communities and in elections for socialist ideas

Main article from our latest bulletin – reject the 1% pay offer

Main article from our latest bulletin – reject the 1% pay offer

pay

The article below is taken from issue 17 of our bulletin for council workers in Coventry. The ballot in Unison has closed and the vote nationally was to accept. We will be posting an article on this next week. The results for GMB and Unite are expected soon. We think this article outlines why the offer should have been rejected, but just as importantly, the sort of approach that the unions should have taken with regard to pay. Socialists in the council unions will continue the struggle for fighting, democratic trade unions and for a combative socialist response to the cuts. If you want to help us in this important work, get in touch. Email covcouncilsocialists@gmail.com

Issue 17

Reject the pay offer! 1 per cent is an insult!

The three council unions, Unite, Unison and GMB are currently consulting their memberships in local government over the 1 per cent pay offer from the employers.

Council workers have not had a pay rise since 2009, and even in that year the award was just 1 per cent. As living costs have risen, we have got worse and worse off as we fall further and further behind. Coupled with the lack of a pay award that keeps up with rising day to day expenses has been the almost constant threat of redundancy, pension attacks, increased monitoring of performance, an over the top sickness policy, and much more. According to a Unison circular prior to a 2013 award, real headline pay is 14% below its 1996 levels.

Coventry City Council still owes us our £250

We were promised by the Chancellor that all public sector workers earning under £21,000 would receive £250 (a sort of sop for not giving us a proper pay increase) but we are yet to even receive this. By the way, let us not forgot that Coventry City Council budgeted for this increase but said they would not pay it, the money that was ear marked for us is somewhere in their coffers!

Fight needed for pay, jobs, public services

In the context of no pay award since 2009, there may be some union members who feel we should just take anything we can, and if we for go a pay award or take a minimal one, then our jobs are more likely to be saved. In reality this is not the case. For one, showing that we are not up for a battle over pay means they are more likely to come for our jobs and terms and conditions. A serious campaign over pay would be a serious declaration of intent. Perhaps more importantly, the bottom line is we need a pay award that makes a difference. Many council workers are struggling to pay rent, bills, mortgages. This needs to change.

What do we need to do?

The offer needs to be rejected. It is not acceptable. 1 per cent does not come anywhere near close to what we need. Unfortunately the national leaderships of the three unions are not recommending rejection and for the building of a serious campaign. They are not saying it is a good offer but ‘the best that is achievable by negotiation’ and that if we reject ‘ only sustained, all-out strike action could bring the employers back to the negotiating table.’ This is a complete and utter abdication of leadership. They are saying if we, the members, vote to reject then the apocalypse will come crashing down around us! Why aren’t our union leaders calling for a rejection, and then trying to link up with other trade unions who are in dispute with the government and looking to take action, such as PCS the civil service union?

If given a lead by our national unions then the members will respond. But in the meantime, all members should vote to reject the offer. And yes it may mean industrial action. But if the years since the Coalition came to power have taught us anything, it is that rational discussion and putting logical arguments to the employers alone will not get us anywhere. We need to start to use our collective power, to fight for decent pay, jobs and our public services. Council unions should build links with the PCS, NUT and any other unions willing to fight to take action.

Vote to reject the offer

Fight for decent pay, jobs and services