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Scottish Anti-Cuts Alliance conference
Scottish TUC supported anti-cuts demonstration in Edinburgh, photo Ray Smith
An historic step was taken on Saturday 29 January when the Scottish Anti Cuts Alliance (SACA) was established at a conference in Glasgow. The conference came after a successful Defend Glasgow Services rally that drew more than 400 people to George Square to hear local trade unionists, young people and students condemn the cuts of the Con-Dem government, the Scottish Parliament and Glasgow City Council, and offer a fighting alternative.
The launch of SACA and its founding principles was democratically discussed and debated. The conference of almost 100 trade unionists and anti-cuts campaigners was made up of 58 delegates elected from trade union organisations, campaigns such as Youth Fight for Jobs and Right to Work, student organisations, anti-cuts campaigns from across Scotland, and another 35 visitors.
Anti-cuts campaigns were represented from Dundee, Glasgow, Lanarkshire, Renfrewshire, Edinburgh and West Dunbartonshire. Trade union organisations including Unison branches from Dundee, Glasgow and North Ayrshire sent delegates.
Leading members of the PCS took part, as did branches of Unite and the UCU, and the Clydebank Trades Council. The Scottish Pensioners Forum, the disabled rights campaign, the Black Triangle, the National Union of Students and the Glasgow anti-cuts student network were also represented.
In all, 23 anti-cuts and trade union organisations took part in the conference making it the widest and most representative anti-cuts organisation in Scotland.
The fighting tone of the conference was set by Janice Godrich, President of the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), who outlined the vicious cuts planned by the Con-Dem government to the civil service that if implemented, will mean the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs and the decimation of vital services.
Janice highlighted the recent announcement by TUC leader Brendan Barber that unions should discuss coordinated industrial action against the cuts. She explained that unions with a fighting leadership such as the PCS would continue to push for this and stressed that the development of a powerful anti-cuts movement would pressure union leaders to organise action.
Raymond Watt of the Right to Work campaign also spoke and Brian Smith, branch secretary of Glasgow City Unison then moved the proposed founding statement of the SACA.
Brian argued that the key founding principles of the alliance should be opposition to all cuts, support for industrial action by workers and mass resistance by communities, support for the setting of no cuts 'needs budgets' by councils and the Scottish Parliament, and that elected politicians who want to participate in anti-cuts campaigning should vote against cuts.
Brian outlined an alternative to the cuts, including calling for increased taxation of the rich and big business. He explained that SACA would not be a substitute for the trade unions or local anti-cuts campaigns but would act as a national coordinating body to build a mass anti-cuts movement against the cuts.
Speakers from local areas reported on their activities. Harvey Duke from the Dundee Unemployed Support Centre gave a rousing account of the challenge made by the campaign to Tory minister Iain Duncan Smith to come to Dundee and publicly debate the planned attacks on welfare and benefits.
A representative from the National Union of Journalists reported on the huge cuts to the BBC and workers organising to fight back.
Dave Sherry from Unite Scottish Housing Association branch and a member of Right to Work (RtW) and the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) moved five amendments to the founding statement.
In particular amendment 4 caused debate as it sought to delete the proposal that all elected politicians who wish to participate in SACA must vote against the cuts.
Their amendment wanted to only "encourage" councillors, MSPs and MPs to vote against cuts. In the conference debate SWP members argued that this was needed in order to build the broadest possible campaign against the cuts.
They warned that unless this amendment was included, left Labour politicians would not join the campaign and Labour supporters would be alienated if excluded from SACA for not promising to vote against cuts.
Right to Work and SWP supporters urged that SACA should give the benefit of the doubt to Labour politicians who were wavering against the cuts and not exclude them from the campaign.
They claimed the alliance risked isolating itself from the millions of workers who are looking to Labour for opposition and who would vote for them in the forthcoming Scottish Parliament elections.
These arguments were opposed effectively by PCS NEC member Cheryl Gedling from Edinburgh who explained that PCS members remember the record of New Labour who began the cuts in public services.
Cheryl argued that Labour politicians who are trusted by workers are in a minority and that Labour and SNP politicians would align themselves with the anti-cuts movement to build their careers when they have no intention of defending jobs and services.
Cheryl pointed out that the amendment would let these politicians "off the hook". Jim McFarlane, delegate from Dundee City Unison, explained that elected politicians had already had enough time to decide whether to oppose the cuts and reminded the conference that councils would be voting on cuts budgets across Scotland in the next few weeks.
He and other speakers exposed the real implications of the amendment, that it would mean a weakening of the programme of the anti-cuts alliance. Delegates opposing the amendment raised the example of the debates in the campaign against the poll tax.
Some had then argued that non payment was impossible and that the campaigning should be left to politicians rather than working class communities, but were proved wrong.
False analogies were also drawn in the concluding argument by Dave Sherry between the role of Labour politicians and the trade union leaders.
The argument was put that: "We don't agree with everything the union leaders do but we don't exclude them do we?"
In summing up his opposition to amendment 4, Brian Smith explained the role that elected politicians should play and that if they are not prepared to make sacrifices over their careers to defend services and communities they should not be allowed to associate themselves with our movement.
He explained that the alliance should welcome Labour voters and supporters and have a broad and inclusive nature but a different attitude had to be taken to the Labour leader of Glasgow City Council, Gordon Matheson, who had clearly stated his opposition to the unions' call for a needs budget and planned to make £60 million of cuts.
He highlighted the recent decision by the Scottish Council of Unison after a motion from Glasgow City Unison, to call on politicians to vote against the cuts and set needs budgets.
Brian explained this argument was won despite the opposition of the right wing in the union and that the anti-cuts alliance should align itself with this decision of the leading Scottish body of the largest public sector union.
After an equal number of speakers for and against amendment 4, it was rejected by a clear majority of delegates with 33 against and 18 for. Significantly, not one person outside of the supporters of RtW supported the amendment.
The conference agreed to set up a steering committee for the alliance with two delegates from each local anti-cuts campaign, trade union organisation and national campaign such as Youth Fight for Jobs and Right to Work.
It was agreed to link up on an all-Britain level with anti-cuts campaigns such as the one recently set up by the National Shop Stewards Network. The establishment of the Scottish Anti-Cuts Alliance on a clear platform of opposition to all cuts, and demands on elected politicians to refuse to make cuts, marks an important milestone in the struggle to build a mass anti-cuts movement in Scotland.