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Unison strategy to fight council cuts
'No cuts' budgets or 'parallel' budgets?
By a Socialist Party member in Unison
Half-million strong TUC demo, central London, 26 March 2011, against the government's cuts , photo Paul Mattsson (Click to enlarge)
At the recent Unison national delegate conference in Manchester, Unison's Standing Order Committee declared that the union could not discuss 'no cuts' or 'needs' budgets because it could place the union "in legal jeopardy".
For years we have struggled to have any democratic debate at conference around key issues like the staggering amounts Unison gives to the Labour Party or the election of full-time officers. Now, in a time of unprecedented cuts, we are prevented from discussing one of the key ways we can fight them.
Unison's pro-Labour leadership is doing everything it can to discredit the idea of needs budgets because it does not wish to embarrass its friends in Labour councils who are complicit in passing on government cuts.
Last month Unison's head of local government, Heather Wakefield, circulated advice to Unison local government branches advising them not to pursue needs budgets. She raised the spectre of the government interfering to set 'balanced' budgets where councils refuse to do so. But even if only one council refused to implement cuts, the support that council would receive, from people angry about attacks on the jobs and services they depend upon, could force the government to think twice about intervening.
But what about if three councils were to do it? What if ten were to do it? What if all Labour-controlled local authorities, 78 in England alone, were to refuse to pass on cuts?
And what is Wakefield's answer? For branches to campaign for "parallel budgets", whereby councils can highlight how much they would like to spend. We see this as an exercise in pure tokenism, unless those councils are then prepared to demand that money from the government.
The real problem is not one of legality. It is the refusal of Unison's pro-Labour leadership to put the needs of its members and their communities before the needs of the Labour Party, the leader of which on 30 June was photographed laughing and joking with Cameron and Clegg after condemning workers striking against public sector pension attacks.
Contrast Labour councils voting through cuts with the heroic role played by the Militant-led 1983-87 Liverpool city council, which struggled against the Tories for the money needed by the people of that city. That struggle brought workers and their communities together and forced prime minister Thatcher back. And that was against a government far stronger than this one!
Whenever they do care to speak of the Liverpool struggle, Unison's leaders like to pour scorn and ridicule. They talk of defeat. Well, we talk of homes, leisure centres and nurseries that still stand today!
If it were not for cowardice of other Labour councils and the treachery of the Labour leadership, a united struggle to meet needs budgets could have been won nationally.
Rather than a refutation of needs budgets, the real conclusion to be drawn from Wakefield's advice is that Unison should stop funding a Labour Party that will not support its members. Instead it should use its political funds to help build a new workers' party that will.
In The Socialist 20 July 2011:
News International scandal
Socialist Party news and analysis
Anti-cuts news and campaigning
Socialist Party workplace news
Socialist Party reports and campaigns
International socialist news and analysis
Selling the Socialist
Socialist Party review