Wednesday, October 24, 2012

What do we do at the end of the world as we know it?

Birmingham Council Leader Albert Bore describes the cuts anticipated in England's largest local authority as "the end of local government as we know it" (http://www.birminghampost.net/news/west-midlands-news/2012/10/24/1-000-birmingham-city-council-staff-face-axe-in-bid-to-cut-600m-from-budget-65233-32089542/).

It's not good enough of course for leading figures in the labour movement simply to prophecy doom and explain that, much as they don't want to, they will move from "salami-slicing" cuts to "decommissioning" whole areas of service provision. The question to local politicians is "what are you going to do?"

This is a question which is posed particularly starkly to Labour Councils for two reasons. First, because the Tory Coalition are targeting the worst of the cuts at Labour Councils and, secondly, because Labour voters voted for Labour Councils to protect them from Tory cuts - and expect to see a political difference.

With Cornwall's ambitious joint venture privatisation plans kicked into the long grass - and Birmingham's own Chief Executive saying that outsourcing can't deliver the savings (http://m.guardian.co.uk/society/patrick-butler-cuts-blog/2012/oct/23/council-cuts-chief-warns-outsourcing-no-longer-cuts-mustard?cat=society&type=article) it seems that handing us over wholesale to Capita is off the agenda for sensible people (although it ought never to have been on any sensible agenda).

The Blairite "Progress" wing of the Labour Party recently enlisted their failed cheerleader, David Miliband, to whistle to keep their spirits up with implausible tales of doing "better with less" (http://m.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/oct/17/the-treasury-doesnt-know-best?cat=commentisfree&type=article).

Some Councillors seek to make a virtue out of a perceived necessity by dressing up the abandonment of services as the empowerment of citizens. This is, of course, precisely the nonsense it appears to be (as you'll read here one day when the trade union workload generated by a "cooperative Councl" flagship permits.

So what should Councils do? What should trade unions be demanding of them?

First, we must remember it's not all and only about cuts. We shouldn't abandon other positive and progressive demands - such as paying a living wage to all local government employees, including those who have been outsourced (as Lambeth agreed this week - http://t.co/n2xPJQ7G). We also need to keep the pressure on for compliance with the public sector equality duty.

Secondly (and this is not a view universally held I know) we mustn't abandon the political task of trying to shift the Labour Party, locally and nationally, in a positive direction. Miliband Major and his well-funded chums are hard at work trying to ensure that a future Labour Government would be Coalition lite. They need to be fought.

Thirdly, though, the trade unions need to oppose. At a national level we need to continue to show the Parliamentary Labour Party what it should be doing - which is to oppose the Government.

At a local level we also have to oppose the implementation of Government cuts, whether they are being implemented by members of the Coalition parties or of the Party to which our unions are affiliated.

As part of that opposition we need to find a way to have a debate about what the role of Labour Councils and Councillors (many of whom are trade union members) ought to be in these testing times.

Those who cut their political milk teeth in the battles of the 1980s need to grow beyond antipathy to the historic left and be prepared to consider every option to fight back against austerity.

Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

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