Anti-cuts committees emerge

Submitted by martin on 14 July, 2010 - 8:46 Author: Martin Thomas
cuts

Anti-cuts committees are now being set up in areas across Britain.

The quicker, the better! Local Trades Councils, if they have any life at all, are the best bodies to initiate such committees. If committees are initiated outside trade-union structures, for example by community groups, they should move to base themselves in the labour movement, winning affiliations and delegates from trade unions.

The committee must, however, be broader than the Trades Council, drawing in delegates from community groups, ward and constituency Labour Parties, and workplaces, as well as trade unions.

The committee's aim should be simple: to fight every cut in jobs and services.

The first task of a committee should be to audit the effect of the threatened cuts in its area. Since it is now so easy to set up a website, the best format for this audit is a website where information about local cuts can be posted daily, as details become clear. That can then be used as a constantly-updated resource for leaflets.

The second is to get out to the working-class public. Street stalls are a good way to do this, and a good activity to draw new people into.

Demonstrations, lobbies of the council, workplace meetings, and support for industrial and community direct action against cuts, will also be part of the committee's work as it develops.

In some meetings to set up anti-cuts committees, there has been debate about the proper relation between them and council Labour groups.

If council Labour groups call for "unity against the Con-Dem government", that is fine. But the question has to be: unity to do what?

Committees should welcome council Labour groups sending delegates, if they will do that. But they should take their own decisions, based on the needs and wishes of the workers and community groups which they represent, and measure what the councillors do by the needs of the struggle against the government.

They should organise to make Labour councillors refuse to cooperate with the cuts. If council Labour groups carry out Lib-Tory cuts, then the committees must fight them. Dissident Labour councillors who fight the cuts should of course be welcome within the committees.

Comments

Submitted by martin on Wed, 14/07/2010 - 20:50

Camden Trades Council called an anti-cuts campaign meeting on 12 July, attended by about 100 people.

The meeting did not set up a continuing anti-cuts committee, but several speeches asked for one, and it looks as if it will eventually be set up.

I hear that anti-cuts committees have already been set up in Hackney and Islington, and the Hackney one is operating well. A meeting is coming soon to set one up in Tottenham. There has been a broad anti-cuts meeting in Tower Hamlets, though no committee yet.

All that is good. But there were some downsides to the Camden meeting.

Given the number of activists in Camden, the meeting could have been bigger. For example, nothing seemed to have been done to inform school NUT groups about the meeting.

The meeting had no fewer than nine opening speakers: one SP (under a PCS hat), two SWP (NUT and RTW hats), two People's Charter (one RMT and one straightforwardly in the name of the People's Charter), three Labour Party (MP, CLP secretary, deputy council leader), and a speaker from the Camden Federation of Tenants' and Residents' Associations.

A meeting mostly limited to left activists, and certainly with ample time for the SWP and SP to put their "line", could still have been valuable as a debate or exchange of ideas about both general perspectives and local activity.

There was no such debate. Most speakers offered a restatement of what the audience already knew about the cuts and the Government being bad, plus a plug for that speaker's particular "thing" (NSSN and PCS discussion on maybe some time standing election candidates from the SP; 3 October demonstration from the SWP; People's Charter; "unity" from the Labour people).

In every gap between speakers we had verbose "remarks from the chair". The Trades Council chair, a member of the Permanent Revolution group, also gave the meeting a long concluding speech, after telling us that there was not enough time to hear from most of us who wanted to speak from the floor.

A series of Unison departmental reps were called to speak about issues in their departments (the chair is also the Unison branch secretary), but only two rank-and-file activists from unions other than Unison could get in.

The nearest thing to a debate was the responses from the floor to the speech by Labour deputy council leader Angela Mason (a woman with an eventful past: "Angry Brigade" terrorist in the early 1970s, then Communist Party member for many years, then leader of the gay-rights lobbying group Stonewall...) Mason called for "a coalition" against the government, "unity", "dialogue", "discussion", but also said that the council would take "unpopular decisions" (that'd be "dialogue" as in "dialogue of the deaf" on those issues, then?)

Hugo Pierre, a Unison activist and SPer, responded well, saying that no-one should prejudge the Labour council as the enemy, but the council should join with unions and community groups to fight the cuts instead of carrying them out.

Pierre also called for the setting up of a proper anti-cuts committee. Becky Crocker, an activist from Camden no.3 RMT and an AWL member, made the same points.

Many speakers condemned the TUC's invitation to Cameron to address its congress, and Becky Crocker and RMT speaker Alex Gordon called for a TUC day of action. Alex Gordon explained, too, that to fight these cuts the trade union movement needs to readjust itself to think of "action" as strike action which continues until we win, rather than the scattering of odd one-day protests which have dominated the picture in recent years.

But these points were almost drowned in a sea of diffuse verbiage, and mostly got to be made only near the end when (understandably, in view of the arrangement with the opening speeches) the meeting had thinned out a lot.

The experience suggests to me a few guidelines for future meetings to start anti-cuts committees.

One: Go into the meeting with a specific written proposal for how a committee should be set up and what initial activities it should do. A committee automatically including all Trades Council delegates, but expanded to draw in delegates from community groups, ward and constituency Labour Parties, and workplaces too. The committee should call for delegates, but make its meetings open to other interested activists who want to hear or contribute ideas.

Two: Make space for debate. Allow for amendments to the written proposal.

Three: Four opening speakers, maximum, and make most of them local trade-union and community activists with new information to bring. Keep the chair's remarks brief. Make time for other local trade-union and community activists to speak from the floor.

Four: Set up good communications. Start a website on which a running audit of the local impact of the cuts can be developed and the committee's activities can be advertised. Produce a series of informative leaflets, based on that audit. Set up an email list.

Five: Have your initial plans for activity include street stalls. Produce a petition to use on those stalls, maybe one calling on the local council to refuse to carry out cuts.

Submitted by martin on Thu, 15/07/2010 - 10:21

Tom Unterrainer reports:

More than 50 people (54 more-or-less-exactly) attended a meeting on the cuts called by Nottinghamshire Trades Council on 14 July.

The meeting was interesting and useful for a number of reasons:

(1) There were many 'new' - ie not just the Nottingham left - faces at the meeting,

(2) people came to directly report recent cuts and issues in thier workplaces, including victimisation cases as well as redundancies,

(3) the meeting voted in favour of a proposal from AWL comrades to set up an anti-cuts committee and call a local conference of shop stewards and activists to coordinate action and solidarity after the summer.

All in all a very positive evening - we need to ensure that the decisions of the meeting attain some concrete reality.

Submitted by vickim on Wed, 21/07/2010 - 17:44

Barnet is becoming notorious, first for Future Shape/easyCouncil, now for the great councillors' allowances hike, the charge being led by GLA member and Barnet councillor Brian Coleman, the second highest paid councillor in the country, we now learn.

Last night Barnet residents who tried to ask a question at a "Residents' Forum" about the council Leader and Cabinet voting themselves 55-99% allowances increases last week were told they weren't allowed.

Feelings are running rather high, but we're still stuck with this Tory council for the next four years...

The council is pushing local schools to apply for academy status, there were 18 lining up at the last count. Most of the council services are being "bundled up" for privatisation. And, of course, the sheltered housing wardens are likely to face the axe soon - the council had to put that cut off for one year due to a lively political and legal campaign led by elderly residents.

Oh, and, of course, we have Middlesex University half in our borough, half in Enfield, the one that recently closed its philosophy department, and sparked an inspiring student and staff occupation.

The trades council was revived in 2008 around the Fremantle dispute (care workers TUPE'd to the Fremantle charity having their pay and holidays cut by one third).

This summer we are putting in place plans for a big Barnet Public Services Alliance meeting on 23 September. We hope to repeat the success we had in 2008 when we organised a public and staff meeting about Future Shape that drew 300 people.

We are going to do street stalls - we now have three regular sites for stalls in Finchley Central, High Barnet and Burnt Oak, and hope to add to these as more people get active. We have a planning meeting for Barnet Public Services Alliance on Thursday 29 July in Committee Room 1 at Hendon Town Hall, at 7.30pm. Local organisations and campaigners have been invited to send representatives.

The local NUT branch organised a meeting a week ago with a speaker from the Anti Academies Alliance. We launched Barnet Anti Academies Alliance from that meeting. We are concentrating our efforts on informing staff, parents and governors at one of the local secondaries, Ravenscroft, first in the queue for academisation, about what academy status will mean. We are putting together a newspaper to distribute at schools at the start of term.

Barnet trades council: http://www.barnettuc.org.uk/.

Submitted by AWL on Wed, 21/07/2010 - 20:14

Lambeth 'Save Our Services' bulletin here.

From the Lambeth Activists blog

A hundred workers, council tenants, parents, service-users and pensioners protested outside Lambeth council's 'Children and Young People's Scrutiny Committee', at very short notice, on 19 July. (Children and Young People's Services are the sharp end of the Labour council's cuts program, set to lose £20 million over two years.) About seventy went in to the Town Hall and gave the committee - who are obviously not used to being scrutinised themselves! - a very hard time indeed.

The councillors' speeches were mostly meaningless blah designed to soften the stark outlines of the cuts they want to make. At the same time, as a good Blairite, CYPS cabinet member Peter Robbins could not resist a bit of anti-Tory rhetoric, attacking the government's cuts, its academies program and its use of anti-terror legislation to rush it through. As soon as questions from the floor began, Lambeth UNISON assistant branch secretaries Dan Jeffery and Ruth Cashman spoke, blasting the councillors out of the water and pointing out their hypocrisy.

- Academies and the anti-terror legislation being used to rush them through were, of course, pioneered by New Labour. Robbins' appeal to the Blairite line that New Labour's academies program benefited working-class children was met with hoots and derision from the audience.

- More importantly, Lambeth council is pushing through cuts, privatisation and anti-working class measures independently of the Tory cuts, and was doing so long before the election. The council's chief executive is on £250,000, at the head of a huge network of overpaid senior officers; many millions are being spent on consultants whose basic job is to bash the unions and push through cuts, some of whom (eg the interim Director for Housing, Regeneration and the Environment) are on as much as £1,000 a day. The ALMO they set up to run housing, Lambeth Living, is privatising vital services including emergency repairs, concierges and estate cleaning - with the blessing of the council and against the wishes of tenants, including the Tenants' Council. They are also about to agree a ten year, £1 billion contract with private companies to do housing repairs.

Some of these measures do not even pretend to save money. All the workers (but none of the senior managers) in the borough's One O' Clock Clubs are being sacked and forced to reapply if they want new jobs. This will save no money whatsoever: what it will do is disrupt a much valued service for young children, but also remove an inconvenient nest of trade union strength, where density is almost 100 percent, paving the way for cuts later.

The councillors claimed that they could not comment on the One O'Clock Clubs, since consultation is under way. A number of the many One O'Clock Club workers present pointed out that, in addition to the general stupidity of such a stance, the consultation is a sham, since measures to fundamentally restructure the service are already underway, whatever the results of the "consultation". The councillors received so much hostility on this issue that they eventually refused to accept any more questions!

Interestingly, Peter Robbins insisted three times: "I cannot set an unbalanced budget". Interestingly, because this is exactly what he and the other Labour councillors can and should do. It is the only alternative to implementing Tory cuts. They do not want to because they are cowards and because most of them probably have their eyes on future careers in the Labour Party.

In the period ahead, every Labour councillor will have to choose between 'respectable' collaboration with the Tories and the interests of the working-class communities they claim to represent. In the case of Lambeth, the council's record suggests they will not choose the latter unless subjected to unbearable pressure from below. Let's build that pressure!

Lobby Lambeth Council Cabinet! Monday 26 July, 6.30pm, Lambeth Town Hall, Brixton
More info: Ruth Cashman 07930 845 4950

Submitted by AWL on Fri, 23/07/2010 - 15:13

Elaine Jones reports:

On Wed night Merseyside TUC launched a Merseyside Public sector alliance. There were over 100 trade unionists present - speakers where Pete Middleman (regional sec PCS), Avis Gilmore (regional sec NUT), Roger bannister (UNISON and SP) and me.

It wasn't just about public sector and RMT region and Unite branches involved. The meeting adopted an action plan attached which included establishing delegate based committees across Merseyside to be co-ordinated through trades councils, organising demo outside Lib Dem conf, booking train to TUC demo and planning some action to co-ordinate with European day of action. It was very lively - prepare for class war speech got people discussing what sort of organisation and action we need.

The SP people didn't do their usual dull suffocating stuff, and the SWP came - first meeting of TUC they've sent people to since I've been back. I'd already said we don't need undemocratic front that postures but need to show that we are serious with strategies to win. However their people just did flat Right to Work speeches in marked contrast to the genuine anger expressed by other speakers. Apparently the SWP are now saying that they will be organising a demo at Lib Dem conf even though this meeting agreed to organise it.

The meeting agreed to the action plan (drawn up by Alec MacFadden and amended by meeting which is quite adventurous, but I think tries to set the tone of we need to move decisively and do things differently). I also spoke to women present about the Women Against the Cuts meeting which Merseyside TUC has agreed to call. There were 23 speeches from floor it was lively and interesting - not many women spoke from floor but a lot of women present.

It was a good start to trying organise a fight against the cuts - what we are arguing for - democratic working class organisations, the trade union movement needing to shake itself out of the compromising of the last 13 years, the need for going on offensive ideologically and convincing the class that the cuts aren't inevitable, and give direction to the general anti-cuts feeling.

Submitted by martin on Thu, 09/09/2010 - 16:35

On 8 September branches of PCS and UNISON in Norwich held a meeting open to all to launch an anti-cuts campaign. Encouragingly, the meeting attracted over sixty people, comprising local and some regional union officials from a range of unions along with rank-and-file members, members of community-groups, Left groups and others.

Perhaps predictably at the outset of what is likely to be a long campaign, the meeting was dominated by invited speakers. As well as officials from PCS and UNISON we heard from CWU regionally and locally, NUT and UCU, UNITE, and the FBU who are struggling in Norwich to prevent the closure of one of the city's two fire-stations. The GMB have also signed up to the aims of the campaign. Ian Gibson, former Labour MP in the city, argued that the campaign needed to look beyond the unions for support. He also argued that instead of cutting services money could be saved by ending the war in Afghanistan and bringing troops home. Adrian Ramsey, the Green Party's Deputy Leader and a Norwich councillor said his party wanted to protect services.

When the meeting was opened to the floor various calls for specific action were made or reiterated. UNISON has committed itself to a demonstration in Norwich on 29 September, the European Day of Action. A lunch-time protest is also planned on that day in King's Lynn, organised through the Trades Council. Material will be produced, street-stalls and estate-leafleting undertaken, and media-stunts held, though specific dates for these activities have yet to be set.

A steering-group meets again on 15 September (at 7:00pm in City College Trades Union Learning Centre, Unit 9, Norwich Business Park, Whiting Road, Norwich). Representatives of all the bodies who have signed up to the aims of the campaign may attend.

PY

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