Socialist Worker

Labour councils should be fighting cuts—not implementing them

by Raymie Kiernan
Issue No. 2519

Bristol mayor Marvin Rees

Bristol mayor Marvin Rees (Pic: Bristol City Council)


Bristol City Council plans to axe one sixth of its workforce in a bid to plug gaps in its budget.

Labour mayor Marvin Rees was elected in May in a revolt against the previous cuts-imposing mayor. He now plans £43 million of cuts by April 2017.

Labour councils’ cuts are causing the party problems. Its supporters are sick of austerity.

Some 600 posts and £21 million were already axed in Bristol in 2014, according to Steve Crawshaw, branch secretary of Bristol Unison union.

He is “dismayed” at the announcement of another 1,000 job cuts.

About half of these are to go by the end of September through voluntary redundancy, according to Bristol Cable magazine.

Anne Lemon, NUT union national executive member covering the Bristol area, told Socialist Worker, “These cuts are very deep and will be devastating. The unions need to mobilise opposition on the streets and build support among Labour members in Bristol who oppose the cuts.”

For another £60 million cuts by 2020, Rees has run a “budget conversation” to ask where the axe should fall.

Crawshaw called on him to show “real political leadership” and demand the Tories “give us the funding we need”. Rees’ cabinet member for finance merely promised “more tough choices ahead.”

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has rightly denounced austerity. He could play a crucial role by leading the fight for more council funding and against cuts.

A rally in support of the teaching assistants in Durham in June. Another one is planned for later next month

A rally in support of the teaching assistants in Durham in June. Another one is planned for later next month (Pic: MadeinTyneandWear)


Impose

Unfortunately most Labour councils meekly impose the Tories’ cuts. Some even cloak them in “progressive values”.

Durham County Council says its plan to sack 2,700 teaching assistants (TAs) and rehire them on worse contracts is about equality.

The council claims that if it doesn’t attack the TAs—mostly low paid women—it could face equal pay claims.

TAs face pay cuts up to 23 percent. But the workers, mostly Unison members, are fighting back and building rank and file organisation across Durham’s 270 schools.

Agnessa stands to lose £3,500 a year. She told Socialist Worker, “The council say this is not about money but many TAs believe it’s about austerity. The whole thing is just outrageous.”

It has caused a rift in Labour locally—and in the union.

One rank and file TA told Socialist Worker, “We think they are too close to councillors—we seem to be fighting the union as well as the council.

“We always have to justify ourselves to them. We’ve even been told there is a ‘conflict of interest’ being a Unison steward and on the committee that fights for all TAs.

“We’re going to get sacked on 31 December—and we want a strike before then, not after we’re sacked like the union did in Derby.”

The council is holding an extraordinary meeting on 14 September. If it hasn’t backed down by then, the union should ballot the TAs to strike. As Agenssa said, “The union is not there to do us favours—we pay for them to represent us. We’re going to keep fighting.”

The question is how to resist the cuts, not which party gets to implement them.


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