Saturday, 19 February 2011

Labour councillors' arguments refuted at People's Convention

Report by Jane James
At the People's Convention on 12 February, organised by the Right to Work campaign and the Labour Representation Committee, there was a debate on how councillors could fight the cuts.
Labour councillors tried to explain why they could not vote against the cuts. Charlynne Pullen from Islington said central government was responsible for 85% of their funding while the council could only raise 14-15% from the council tax.
So the council could not provide services alone - cuts would have to be made, she said, but they would be kinder cuts than Tories would make.
Barry Buitekant, a Hackney Labour councillor, called on council workers to 'put pressure' on councillors to vote against the cuts. But Socialist Party deputy general secretary Hannah Sell pointed out from the floor that Hackney council workers in Unison had already voted at a mass meeting to call on all Labour councils to pass needs-based budgets instead of voting for cuts. What more pressure did he need?
Dave Nellist, a Coventry Socialist Party councillor spoke from the platform and explained that councillors do have a choice. They could return privatised services to council control, they could fund EMA, and refuse to implement housing benefit changes for example.
He called on Labour councils to follow the example of Clay Cross councillors in Derbyshire in the 1970s who refused to implement the Housing Finance Act. They even melted down the mayor's chain to pay for services. If one council today made a stand, the cuts could be unworkable.
The struggles fought and won by past action were often illegal. Poplar council introduced equal pay and a minimum wage. They were eventually jailed but carried on running the council from their prison cells.
Clay Cross councillors were surcharged and banned from holding office but hundreds were willing to take their place.
20 councils stood up to the Tories in the 1980s with Lambeth and Liverpool refusing to implement cuts, building houses instead.
Dave explained that councillors can't be surcharged anymore. And if a mass movement is built, if the government attempts to send in commissioners, they would be stopped from carrying out their duties by the huge opposition.
Dave called for a one-day public sector strike after the 26 March TUC demo. And for anti-cuts candidates to stand in the May elections under the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition banner.
He finished by declaring: "We should take up the slogan of the Poplar struggle: 'Better to break the law than break the poor'".
The conference agreed to back the demonstrations taking place in Wales and London on 5 March.

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