Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Continuing to resist the cuts

Numerous London Borough Councils meet tonight to set budgets for 2012/13 which will give effect to Government policy to remove millions of pounds of annual public spending from the city. Across just the inner South London boroughs of Lambeth, Lewisham and Southwark, this year's cuts total some £66 Million.

These cuts come on top of the devastating cuts made in the current financial year, and are the second year of a four year programme. However, given that austerity policies are predictably failing to deal with the public sector deficit (in fact making it worse) there must be every possibility that Central Government will look for even more savings from local Councils.

When they do, it is virtually certain that they will once again take the most from those geographical areas which can least afford to lose their social infrastructure - deprived (and predominantly Labour voting) areas, primarily in the North and Inner London. The audacity - and political spite - with which this Government smashes up public services is remarkable.

The impact of spending cuts on people's lives is cumulative and will be felt increasingly with the passage of time. For each individual, the loss of a service which is eliminated (or has its opening hours reduced) is noticed at a different point. Some cuts - like the total loss of independent careers advice to this year's school leavers - are large and dramatic. Others - such as the near total closure of a particular Adventure Playground - have a smaller, more localised and more gradual impact.

What we are witnessing, courtesy of the Coalition Government, is a general withdrawal of services from those who need them most, particularly our young people. It will certainly be the height of hypocrisy if Liberal and Conservative opposition Councillors in Labour Councils pose as opponents of spending cuts dictated by their own Government.

However, neither the political nor the industrial wings of our labour movement emerge from the last year of cuts with much credit, and there are, at present, too few signs of hope for the coming year.

Labour Councils are doing too little to distinguish themselves from "an executive arm of the Government", as they were tellingly described in a contribution from the Tenants' Council at Lambeth's last Cabinet meeting. That this shortcoming exists under a Party leadership seemingly more concerned with not appearing to be "deficit-deniers" than with the social consequences of the cuts is, perhaps, not surprising. It does however signify the weakness of the left within the Party that the debate about what else might be done has hardly started.

Equally disappointing though, it has to be said, has been the response of the trade unions. With some creditable local exceptions, the union movement, mired in the defeatism that says "damage limitation" is the peak of our aspirations, has more often than not been as much about implementing, as about resisting cuts. Again, a large part of the explanation must lie with a national leadership apparently unwilling to go beyond a one-off demonstration and a one-day strike.

The outlook is bleak - but that's no excuse for giving in to the comfortable option of despair. Local trade union activists who will, I hope, be lobbying tonight's Council meetings to express opposition to the savage spending cuts of the Tory Coalition (whoever implements them) must - tomorrow and each day thereafter - get on with building and renewing the organisation and determination of our trade union branches, and the links with local anti-cuts campaigns.

We have a fight on our hands.

Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

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