A NEW crisis is gathering in Hackney council in east London. Stephen Byers, the Secretary of State for Local Government, has given the Labour-run council a deadline to ram through even harsher measures than it originally planned.
The initial proposals mean the end for dozens of key voluntary sector groups, and the sell-off of dozens of playgrounds, green spaces and community buildings. It is terrifying to think what will come next. Five government departments last week issued directions to change the way the council is run. The council was given 14 days to reply.
This is the first time ministers have used powers in the 1999 Local Government Act to issue such directions. It is a complete trampling on local democracy. Byers said, 'It will take tough decisions and it will be painful.' If the councillors had any principles they would resign and focus attention on what Byers is doing. They won't, but there are signs of a fightback.
Council workers have voted clearly for action over the sacking of shop steward Noah Tucker. Union leaders need to use this vote to rebuild workers' confidence. The best strategy would be to call a one-day strike, if possible on the day of Noah's appeal against his sacking, to campaign for united support and then to build for further action.
Regional and national union leaders have a responsibility to come to Hackney and build the campaign.
AROUND 300 people attended an anti-privatisation rally organised by the Hackney Fightback campaign on Tuesday of last week. Geoff Martin, the London regional convenor of the UNISON public services union, pledged the backing of the union for the fight in Hackney.
The highlight of the meeting was a speech from former MP Tony Benn, who called for an end to privatisation and spoke out against US plans to bomb Afghanistan. 'They cut the TUC conference short because of the destruction of the World Trade Centre,' said Benn.
'War was used as an excuse to see that privatisation was not opposed. There's always money for war, but not for things people need.' Camden nurse Liz Rees also got a great reception when she spoke about connecting the fight against privatisation with the fight against war.
Sacked union negotiator Noah Tucker said, 'We have to unite everyone in the borough against cuts, privatisation and so called efficiency.'