A conference in Leeds on 13 May will launch a new approach to the fight against public service cuts.
Trade union delegates, and observers from community groups and Labour Parties, have been invited to the conference by Newcastle and Strathclyde branches of the public-services union UNISON and by Tyne and Wear Fire Brigades Union.
Their proposal is that instead of waiting until central government Budget decisions filter through into local cuts, and then fighting those local cuts piecemeal, we should first fight to change the Budget decisions. We should go for a one-day strike and demonstration shortly before Budget Day (probably 28 November). Called by the TUC if possible, and individual unions if not, this action should demand that the government reverses the cuts in spending on health, education, and other public services.
The leadership of Newcastle UNISON, the prime movers in this initiative, stand outside the main left blocs in that union, the Socialist Workers’ Party and the Militant/Socialist Outlook alliance in the CDFU. Yet they showed, through an impressive local one-day strike and demonstration against cuts in 1 February, that they have organised a solid branch. While almost all the high-profile left in UNISON is ex-NALGO, Newcastle UNISON is a merged ex-NALGO/ex-NUPE branch. They have good links with the local Labour Party.
The call for public services to be restored, by taxing the rich, is very popular. The latest poll shows it supported by a 60%-26% majority, even when the choice was put as a general increase in taxes for everyone. But an across-the-board working-class mobilisation for the demand has a powerful socialist logic: it means social control over wealth, and social need coming before private profit.
And the mobilisation for Budget Day can be across-the-board. It can unite trade unionists across different sectors. It can bring together the worst-off sections of the working class and the better-off. It can draw in groups like the parents currently active in large numbers over education cuts. It can rally sections of the Labour Party.
The potential impact in the Labour Party is especially important. General political debate over cuts in the Labour Party has been pretty dead for years. Supporters of Workers’ Liberty and others have continued to put the case for Labour councils to refuse to administer the cuts, and instead to mobilise, with “unbalanced” budgets, for central government to restore the cash. We have got little support, even from those who are willing to campaign hard over individual schools, libraries, nurseries and so on. To push the timid and broken-spirited Labour councils into battle over central government Budget decisions which have already been ratified with no uproar simply seems far-fetched.
If the question is posed differently - for or against a serious fight to change the Budget decisions — the answer can be very different.
A one-day strike in November will be only a gesture — though a useful one —unless it is tied into ongoing action. It can be. Once Labour Parties and trade unions have been won to fighting the Budget decision, it will be easier to win them to fighting the implications of the Budget decision. And the ground will be laid for forcing the next Labour government to restore public services.