Labour Party Momentum members in Sheffield held a meeting with some of the Labour councillors on Tuesday 5 January.
The purpose was to start, and hopefully continue, a dialogue about how to fight the next round of cuts that will be carried out by the council in March. The meeting was very well attended with about 60 people from different wards and constituencies.
It was clear from the councillors present that there was not an appetite for voting against a cuts budget. Their responses ranged from, “please help us to find a better way to say to people that we are on your side but we have no choice” to “I’m fed up of hearing people bleating about what the council are having to do”. To be fair, that was a lone voice and the response from everyone else in the room focussed on importance of siding with anti-cuts campaigns and campaigning actively against Tory austerity measures.
The idea of using reserves to avoid cuts while a campaign is being built was raised. There are £11m in reserves, according to one of the councillors, which would be wiped out with one flood. Even if he is not being entirely honest about how many reserves there are, such a tactic is just delaying the inevitable choice of cut or fight.
There have been £300 million worth of cuts so far in Sheffield and £50 million still to come this year. Councillors described how they are trying to ensure the safety of services for the most vulnerable, to which one man, new to Labour and to Momentum, gave the impassioned response that “we are all vulnerable”, citing the loss of jobs, of evictions and cuts in pay and pensions. 2,500 jobs have been lost from the council in recent years.
Although there were differences of opinion about how the council should handle the budget, it was a very important meeting for galvanising people who want to move out of meeting rooms and onto streets, workplaces and communities to start a fightback.
As a first step towards this, a motion was passed in support of the junior doctors’ strike. A model resolution is being circulated round wards and constituencies to this effect and a message of solidarity is being sent from Labour Momentum and from the council to the junior doctors. As a result of this, the “Meet the Doctors” event on Saturday in the town centre was well supported by Momentum members and by one of the councillors who turned up to assist in petitioning and talking to the public.
The budget will be voted on in March. And in May this year the whole council will be re-elected, giving Momentum an opportunity to question and pressure those candidates who want to make a difference to go onto the council with the purpose of defying the government and demanding sufficient funds to run the services we need.