Over 70 trade unionists, community campaigners and socialists gathered for a conference in Glasgow on December 10, to launch the Scottish Anti Cuts Coalition. The coalition will stand candidates across Scotland in the May 2012 council elections.
From the chair, PCS national executive member Cheryl Gedling - who along with other leading public sector trade unionists has played a central role in the formation of SACC - introduced the discussion explaining that the conference had taken on further importance after the mass public sector strike on November 30.
Cheryl highlighted the colossal impact of the strike that had cost the economy £500 million and had shaken the ConDem government. Tory Chancellor Osborne’s provocative autumn statement unleashing further austerity on the poorest in society and the continuing loss of thousands of jobs a week in the public sector show the need for an anti-cuts electoral challenge.
Brian Smith, Branch Secretary of Glasgow City Unison and a member of Socialist Party Scotland underlined the anger of workers in response to SNP government ministers crossing picket lines and Labour’s inconsistent attitude towards the strike. Labour leader Ed Miliband refused to back the strikes and while Scottish Labour supported it, their MSPs had crossed picket lines on the previous strike on June 30.
Brian stressed the need to expose and oppose SNP and Labour politicians implementing the ConDem’s cuts in council chambers not just through general anti cuts campaigning but also a political challenge to the cuts agenda. Anti-cuts activists have an opportunity with all of Scotland’s councillors up for election in May under a proportional representation system to raise principled opposition to all cuts to a wide audience.
5 key principles
Brian urged support for a resolution to create a coalition of anti-cuts candidates based around five key points: Opposition to all cuts, Candidates if elected would put forward needs budgets protecting services, jobs and communities and build a mass campaign to demand a return of the money stolen by the Con Dems from public services, Opposition to privatisation, Full support to workers taking industrial action and communities, young people fighting the cuts, Taxation of the rich and Public Ownership allowing investment in jobs and services.
Brian outlined the basis for a voluntary coalition. That all candidates would sign up to the five pledges and can add to them with further political and local demands. Socialist Party Scotland members who are candidates for example will also raise wider socialist demands alongside the 5 key pledges.
The coalition will aim to stand credible candidates in as many areas as is practically possible, bearing in mind the importance of standing candidates with a good record of fighting cuts, local campaigning etc. Where, therefore, other Left candidates are standing who have a principled record of defending the interests of local communities and opposition to cuts, the coalition will not stand against them. Provided they clearly come out against all cuts.
The name “Scottish Anti Cuts Coalition” would be registered. Candidates who are members of already registered political parties can use their party name if they wish. He also noted the calling of a political conference by the United Left (broad left in the Unite trade union) on 14 January and said he hoped this would be step towards trade union’s taking part in building political representation for workers and that the coalition set up at this conference would attend and participate.
Rab Patterson, chair of Midlothian Trades Council and a member of Midlothian Against the Cuts gave a flavour of the frustration of working class communities at Labour councils carrying out cuts. In his community, Labour councillors had carried out a large scale cuts program and failed to take up the privatisation scandal at a local Southern Cross hospital, instead they had spent millions on legal fees trying to stop the council’s workforce enforcing their rights under equal pay legislation.
Dundee Unison Chairperson and Socialist Party Scotland member Jim McFarlane gave a picture of the scale of the N30 strike pointing to the magnificent 10,000 strong demonstration in Dundee, a city of 140,000. Jim said the mood of workers reflected a political turning point which anti cuts activists had to respond too. He recounted that the loudest cheers at the Dundee rally, were for speakers who denounced the politicians for not supporting the strike but also for those who pointed to the cuts policies of the SNP and Labour in power. Jim argued that the SNP and Labour had had every chance and opportunity to defend communities against cuts but have shown which side they are on. These political representatives who have betrayed workers should stand aside or be forced out by a principled anti cuts challenge.
These points were echoed by young people at the meeting. Youth Fight for Jobs activists, Ryan Stuart and Wayne Scott explained the disenfranchisement of young people who are consigned to unemployment or low paid work and are being hammered by education cuts.
Unison activists and Socialist Party Scotland members Diane Harvey and Ian Leech highlighted the role of Glasgow’s Labour council in attacking workers conditions and attacking community services. Ian raised the need for the anti-cuts movement to have political leadership that challenged Labour’s argument for cuts at a slower pace.
Diane pointed to the government’s strategy of trying to divide public and private sector workers and argued that the disputes of the electricians and the Unilever workers were undermining this. She explained that workers who took part in N30 were asking who to vote for.
Gordon Morgan gave support for the motion on behalf of Solidarity Scotland’s Socialist Movement and said he hoped an anti-cuts electoral challenge would be a catalyst for strengthing and building community anti cuts campaigns.
Labour and SNP
The Socialist Workers Party supported the motion but raised differences about the approach of the coalition towards Labour and the SNP. In several contributions they raised some doubts about the impact of an anti-cuts electoral challenge and how widely it should be standing candidates.
SWP members for example argued that Labour councillors, activists and MSP’s had played a positive role in the campaign against the Edinburgh SNP/Liberal coalition’s privatisation program and that raising the question of standing against them may be divisive.
They urged unity with Labour representatives against the “common class enemy, the ConDem’s”. This was answered in the debate by Socialist Party Scotland members who explained that Labour, if they win control of Edinburgh council, will implement a cuts program.
The International Socialist Group, a recent split from the SWP, expressed a change of attitude towards the idea of the coalition from their position at the 22 October meeting. In October, the ISG had opposed the initiative, saying it did not go far enough and called for the immediate creation of a new united left. At the conference the ISG made a similar argument but supported the resolution to set up a broad coalition.
Kevin McVey, Scottish Socialist Party National Secretary reported on discussion in the SSP about the coalition and declared that the SSP members present would abstain on the vote for the resolution. The SSP had concerns that no new forces were involved in the setting up of the coalition and that its constituent parts did not represent anything significant. He also made it clear that the SSP had begun selecting candidates for the elections.
This was replied to by Alan Brown, a leading PCS member speaking in a personal capacity, who highlighted the social and political weight of the trade unionists attending the conference and the wider support for the idea of standing anti cuts candidates amongst trade union members and the wider working class.
Brian Smith concluded the discussion by raising the need to organise meetings in local areas in the New Year to bring together activists, discuss candidates and seats and raise the profile of the coalition. He reported that he had been involved in discussions with community campaigners and trade unionists and was encouraging them to stand.
Socialist Party Scotland members played a key role in driving forward the initiative for a coalition and will be standing candidates in the elections in May. The launch of the Scottish Anti-Cuts Coalition marks an important step forward. It will now be taken out among trade unionists, communities and the wider working class to build the challenge in May 2012 for a principled anti-cuts alternative.