Sunday, March 6, 2011

Brighton:Reflections on the Council budget and the alternatives.

This is a recent contribution to the debate from the blog: The People's Republic of Hove.
So, in the end, the Greens voted against the budget, despite the fact that they got all their amendments into it, and Labour abstained.  This meant that the Tories' own proposals for £25m of cuts (or 2 bankers' bonuses) were in essence carried.

Although it was on the face of it positive that the Greens voted against the budget, they clearly had no real strategy for what they were then going to do, other than ultimately vote for a cuts budget, with maybe some further tinkerings, in a week or so's time.

Unlike many areas, the council unions in Brighton and Hove have for the moment staved off compulsory redundancies, but several services, mainly for children and young people, have been cut.  And the battle to save jobs is far from over.

What is lacking from the "left" parties represented on councils is a perspective of fighting back against the government by refusing to set cuts budgets, and linking up with council workers and local people to fight against attempts by unelected officers or commissioners to implement the cuts.

We have a weak, divided coalition government - on the day the BHCC budget was set the Lib Dems were being humiliated in Barnsley - and we need a fighting party ready to carry that fight to a government which lacks any democratic legitimacy. 

Clearly working people cannot rely on existing left parties to do that, but we are still a long way away from forming the kind of broad, anti-capitalist, pluralistic party that we need - TUSC is better than nothing but (apart from the anti-capitalist bit) it is not that party.

The other side of the coin is the continued inertia of most of the trade union leaderships in the face of unprecedented attacks on the public sector.  In local government, aside from the massive job losses up and down the country, there is a second year of pay freeze coupled with a massive hike in pension contributions and a likely reduction in pension benefits.  We also face the prospect of large-scale privatisation - they call it "intelligent commissioning" in Brighton and Hove. 

Similar can be expected in the civil service, and thousands of jobs are under threat in the supposedly "protected" NHS.  All the TUC has come up with have is a demonstration through London - the planning for which started around the time British Summer Time ended last year and will finally be happening in the weekend it comes back!  It will happening after most of the decisions we ought to be fighting have already been taken.   We must build that demonstration and ensure that it is massive but it must be a beginning not an end.

Also inadequate is the gesture politics of abstract calls for a general strike.  The trade unions do not even have the semblance of a strategy for any degree of co-ordinated action, let alone a general strike.  We need to start at the bottom and work up.

The most important thing to do in the localities is to continue to build the local anti-cuts campaigns on the broadest possible basis, involving the local trade union movement and as many local groups and individuals as possible.

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