Campaigners in Portsmouth last week showed how to stand up to the councils that are driving through cuts that will devastate working class people’s lives.
There needs to be a national fightback against the attacks—but local campaigns as well. In many areas these are having an effect.
A coalition of children, young people, parents, play workers and trade unionists in Portsmouth last week saved their playgroups and three play workers’ jobs.
They organised a vibrant and noisy protest of over 300 people on Friday of last week.
Marches started at each of the six playgrounds hit by the plans before converging on the city centre. A petition was handed in to the head of the council.
There was also a march three weeks ago to demand Portsmouth MPs back the fight against cuts to the school buildings programme.
When councillors found out that people were planning to march again for the playgroups, they withdrew the plans.
They released a statement assuring the city that no playgrounds will close and that jobs are safe until April 2011, even for workers on fixed term contracts.
Campaigners are celebrating their victory. But they are aware that other cuts will follow and are prepared to march again to stop them too.
Similar demonstrations have taken place across the Scottish Highlands. More than 100 protesters fighting the closure of the Highland Folk Museum in Newtonmore marched behind a horse and cart on Friday of last week.
They wore T-shirts with the slogan, “Don’t let our museum become history.”
This followed a march by more than 800 people in Fort William in June against council plans to scrap the building of five new care homes.
A petition has been launched to save community centres under threat and to protect funding for tuition in schools.
The Unison union in Scotland has rejected a joint three-year pay offer by 32 authorities, of 1 percent, 0 percent and 0.5 percent (see page 15). With inflation this would be a pay cut of effectively 15 percent.
But there is debate inside the anti-cuts movement about the best way to challenge the government.
In Dumfries & Galloway, Labour and SNP councillors combined to defeat a £3 billion cuts pledge.
But in Islington, north London, every Labour councillor voted for a cuts package on Tuesday of last week—in a borough the party runs.
Activists from Islington Hands Off Our Public Services (IHOOPS) protested at the meeting and called on Labour councillors to be part of the movement organising against the attacks.
But the councillors still decided to vote to slash nearly £3 million from children’s services, among other things.
Alasdair Smith, a member of the NUT teachers’ union, was one of those who called on the councillors to vote against the plans.
Speaking to Socialist Worker after the council meeting, he said, “These cuts are going to hit the most vulnerable. Some Labour councillors made brilliant, angry speeches.
“But they need to do more. They need to take the fight to the government and mobilise the people who support them.”
Richard Watts, an Islington Labour councillor, is angry about the cuts. But in a post on the LabourList blog he also argues that it is unrealistic to expect councillors to refuse to implement cuts.
He says it is illegal for a council to propose a negative budget, and he criticises the Socialist Workers Party and others who argue that authorities should do this.
But, as campaigners in Islington put forward, there are alternatives.
“They could start by cutting their own expenses, or the wages of the chief executive and top management,” Alasdair said. “But they have chosen to target services which will leave some pupils without any support.
Despite the vote, IHOOPS campaigners, including Labour Party members, are determined to stop all cuts.
“We will continue campaigning and work with anyone who wants to fight,” Gary Heather, secretary of Islington North Labour Party, told Socialist Worker.
“We are a coalition of trade unionists, residents, community campaigners and activists who want to reach out as wide as possible to work with people and groups affected.
“The campaign has backed the Right to Work protest outside the Tory Party conference on 3 October, and we have been organising stalls and distributing information across the borough.”
We need a movement across the country to pressure union leaders and councillors to fight. It must also be strong enough to defeat them if they refuse to be part of this resistance.
Thanks to Lee Sprake for the report from the Portsmouth protest