By Tom Baldwin, Trade Unionists & Socialists Coalition mayoral candidate 2012
The opposition to £35m of cuts in Bristol took on a vocal and vibrant expression last week as about 70 people turned out to lobby the council and George Ferguson, the city's 'independent' mayor. Banners and flags from all of the local authority trade unions, the Bristol and District Anti-Cuts Alliance and the Disability Equality Forum represented the broad spectrum of opposition to these attacks.
Unfortunately the mood of protesters outside the council chamber found no echo inside. Those who braved the public gallery were treated to a game of spot the difference as the mayor and Tory, LibDem, Labour and Green councillors all made indistinguishable speeches. One after another they got up to say how much they hated the cuts, only to claim there was choice but to pass them on. There's a word for people who say one thing and do another - hypocrites. Whether they’re made reluctantly or with enthusiasm, these cuts will hurt just the same.
Labour are the only party not to have joined the mayor’s cabinet, despite most of their Bristol councillors wanting to. When it was her turn speak the Labour leader rose like Spartacus and announced her group were so disgusted they were going to… abstain from the vote. They claimed this was in the spirit of a new, consensual age of politics in Bristol, ushered in by the election of an independent mayor. What’s new about the butchery of our public services and attacks on working-class people? Speaking to anti-cuts protesters one councillor tried to justify this collaboration with the hope it would win Labour 5 more seats in May’s elections. What good are 5 more abstentions when the Tories and their stooges are trying to obliterate our living standards? In the end only one Labour councillor voted against the cuts budget and it’s not even clear that was on purpose!
The mayor, Ferguson said he'd lost sleep thinking about the impact of these cuts but as a millionaire businessman he's unlikely to feel the impact. The 330 council workers due to lose their jobs will though, along with users of children’s centres and countless others. We won’t get very far on sympathy and abstentions. What we need is a mass campaign to stop the cutters in their tracks, whatever their political allegiance. Lobbies and demos will form a part of that but it’s strike action that will hit them the hardest. With the vast majority of people’s lives being made harder we’re strongest when we stand together. A one-day general strike would be a turning point in the fight against austerity. That struggle would also be stronger if it had a voice on the council benches, standing up against all cuts to our living standards no matter who makes them. That’s why Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition candidates will be standing across Bristol in May to give a real alternative to the cutters.