Fighting the next round of council cuts
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.
Labour Council to pass on more Tory austerity to the people of Coventry
Punish them in the May local elections
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
– 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 email@example.com
You can also visit our main Coventry website by clicking here
Coventry City Council plan more cuts – vital services and 140 jobs under threat!
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.
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.
Picket line on Day 13 of strike at John Gulson Primary School
Teachers belonging to the NUT and NASUWT took their thirteenth day of industrial action today against unfair appraisals and excessive observations. The Socialist Party was there to show support and solidarity for the teachers.
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.
Photos from Day 9 of strike at John Gulson Primary School
Here we publish some photos from Day 9 of the strike. The Socialist Party fully supports the action of the NUT and NASUWT.
Day 7 of strike at John Gulson
The strike at John Gulson Primary School entered the 7th day today. The Socialist Party will continue to support the action of the NUT and NASUWT.
Main article from our latest bulletin – reject the 1% pay offer
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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
Teachers at John Gulson take fourth and fifth day of strike action this week – support needed
Members of the NUT and NASUWT at John Gulson Primary School today took their fourth day of strike action against excessive observations and an unfair appraisal policy. Tomorrow, Wednesday 12th June, they will take their fifth day of action. Teachers organised a lobby of Labour Cabinet Member for Education, Cllr David Kershaw and Coventry City Council. They were supported by members of the Socialist Party, Unite, and Coventry TUC.
Please continue to send messages of support in to the teachers using the email addresses below.
email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org