Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The death agony of local government?

It is just conceivable that those of us in some Inner London boroughs, like our comrades in some Northern cities, are overly pessimistic as a result as the devastating uneven impact of Coalition Government cuts to local authority funding, which fall most heavily, by some unimaginable coincidence, upon Labour authorities with poor populations.

That said, as I work for an organisation which has shed a sixth of its workforce since the General Election, I think I'm entitled to a downbeat assessment of where the local government workforce is heading. Pay freeze, job cuts, increasing retirement age, reduced pensions, increasing workload, reducing staff. It's not good.

Those of us trying to mitigate the worst effects of Vince Cable's "savage" cuts in public spending ("required" to reduce the deficit increased by bailing out his banker friends) are generally stuck in a cleft stick because, whilst Labour Councillors will not (with noble exceptions) even consider options other than passing on the pain of Tory cuts to communities who elected them precisely to protect against this, we have no option but to encourage our members to vote Labour.

The attempts to build a socialist electoral alternative to the left of Labour have (with particular exceptions dictated by local circumstances) been a disaster - and the standing of the Green Party as a "left alternative" to Labour has been irreparably damaged in my own home town. Any good trade unionist would wish we had something better than the Labour Party as is. I do. We don't.

To a considerable extent it has been the caution and misdirection of our trade union interventions in the Labour Party over the past twenty years which have helped to ensure that the Party has been such a worthless asset for our members (for all that was achieved in three terms it was pathetically little from the point of view of workers' rights).

However, whilst our co-thinkers in a number of large trade unions are doing their best in leadership positions, the socialist left in the largest unions has nothing to crow about.

Since it is the "big three" who can exercise decisive influence at Labour Party Conference, their perennial timidity, which lay activists have been unable decisively to shift, hobbles all attempts to force "Her Majesty's Opposition" into real opposition to austerity.

We must continue to press, in every way we can, for a real trade union intervention in the Labour Party, based not upon misguided faith in this or that member of the Shadow Cabinet, but on a principled alliance with what remains of the constituency left around socialist policies. The unions have to find the courage and confidence to be consistently in opposition to the leadership.

In the mean time, many of us will have to fight against Labour employers as they continue to implement Tory cuts. Given the "community right to challenge" and the Tory obsession with privatisation our fight is no more nor less than a fight to defend the direct provision of public services.

The Government seeks a massively reduced role for the local state, with such services as are still provided contracted out to firms which are (by and large) generous donors to the Conservative Party. If they get their way they will demolish democratic local government as it developed over the last century.

Labour Councillors should oppose the Government on this point. This is one of those times when you either oppose or support. There is no middle ground. No "third way".

Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

No comments: