By Katy Dollar
A Zoom meeting on 23 February, “Fighting Local Government Cuts”, hosted by Lambeth branch of the public services union Unison, brought together activists across local government unions, community campaigns and the Labour Party.
Labour MP Bell Ribeiro-Addy and Labour councillor James McAsh spoke on the national context for cuts. There was a speaker from each of the major unions in local government and schools, Unison, Unite, GMB, and the NEU. Shona Jemphrey, a member of Momentum’s National Coordinating Group and chair of Momentum’s Local Government Working Group, announced a relaunch of the Momentum Councillors’ Network.
Lots of trade unionists joined the debate, with a lively discussion on how councillors should respond to cuts. Socialist Party activists proposed support for candidates of their Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition in the upcoming elections.
Undeniably Labour councils administering Tory cuts have set back the anti-cuts fight. But we can’t assume that TUSC-type anti-cuts candidates provide a viable short cut. The Labour Party is a mass organisation. Even under an increasingly right-wing leadership, Labour can’t simply be dismissed.
And we must be honest with ourselves. To have one or two individual councillors here and there taking a stand against cuts would be a token, a good token but a token.
Without a live anti-cuts movement in communities and workplaces, there will not be a fightback in council chambers. Our task is to support struggles where they happen and link public sector workers to build rank-and-file coordination.
Duncan Morrison and Kirstie Paton from the NEU (National Education Union) alerted the meeting to several recent victimisation of school union reps, including Tracy McGuire and Kirstie herself.
Local government workers, including Unite’s Susan Matthews from the platform, pointed to pay as an important struggle ahead of us. Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced in November that pay would be frozen for the 2021-2 round for 1.3 million public sector workers. The unions have demanded a 10% pay rise across local government. Forcing employers and government back at a national level will require a coordinated campaign.
The meeting was planned as the first in a series bringing local government activists together. Contact us here