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Hull city council continues to implement Tory cuts
It came as no surprise to campaigners and trade unionists in Hull that the Labour council has passed a budget which will mean cuts of £48 million to services over the next two years with a loss of up to 500 jobs. Once again, Hull's Labour councillors have chosen to pass on the Tory attacks rather than fight back on behalf of one of the poorest cities in the country.
Sitting alongside the cuts package in Hull is the likelihood of mass privatisation of council services. This might be through traditional privatisation to private companies or through social enterprises. Alternatively it could be to council owned 'arms-length' companies. Whichever way, the outsourced services will mean that it will be easier to cut. Privatisation will also make it easier to further attack workers' terms and conditions and pay.
Last year was a rollercoaster for the council workforce. The trade union members in the council were balloted three times over changes to terms and conditions, while throughout the year, the threat of job losses was ever-present. In the end, the threat of strike action by the local authority unions forced the council to reduce its plans to cut workers' terms and conditions. Nevertheless, some cuts to terms and conditions were conceded.
This process has worn at the nerves of many Hull council workers who understandably just want the whole horrible situation to go away. Despite this, up to 200 different trade unionists and community activists did take part throughout the day in the lobby or watched the council debate from the warmth of the council chamber. It is fair to say, however, that the protest was smaller and less vibrant than last year.
At the same time, nationally, there has been little from the trade unions to suggest that a battle could be won. Socialist Party members in the National Shop Stewards Network and other forums have consistently argued that local authority trade unions and anti-cuts campaigns need back-up in the form of national action, in particular a one-day general strike. This has not been forthcoming. Labour and trade union leaders have been deafening in their silence as jobs, services, pay and terms and conditions have been stripped away from local authorities up and down the country.
The Hull three become one
Last year three Labour councillors in Hull were prepared to stand up and vote against cuts. This year only Gill Kennett was prepared to vote against the cuts budget. Huge cheers came from the public gallery when she voted. Unfortunately Gill stands alone as a true champion of the 99% in Hull.
Dean Kirk abstained and Gary Wareing voted for the cuts. Gary's actions in particular are both disappointing and inexplicable. Gary had been seen as the leader of the Hull three. His decision to vote for the cuts now puts him in a political 'no man's land'. Those fighting the cuts on the ground will have no trust in him. How will he have any credibility in attacking the cuts when he has just voted for a devastating cuts package? At the same time, the Labour right will continue to hate him for quite correctly attacking them as being no different from the Tories.
Failure of 'reclaim Labour'
If the strategy of trying to reclaim the Labour Party put forward by those on the left like Len McCluskey and Owen Jones was ever going to be successful it would have been in Hull. With three Labour councillors acting as standard bearers for a fightback and a layer of left trade unionists active in the party it could have been argued that a favourable situation existed for this strategy to succeed. Yet as Gary Wareing despairingly claimed: "We haven't managed to budge a single sitting councillor or get anyone to join the party".
In fact at many public and trade union meetings held in Hull throughout last year, when Gary in particular called on the audience to join the Labour Party, he was met with a storm of indifference. In trade union meetings, the call to get active in the Labour Party was often the cue for trade union members to get up and leave!
Increasingly, in Hull wider layers of activists are recognising that the way forward is through a new worker's party. The media widely reported the fact that activists on the lobby felt let down by the Labour Party and needed something new that truly represents them. The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) will be standing in Hull this May and while the battle against compulsory redundancies and privatisation will continue by the trade unions, the focus of many will be on ensuring a good electoral challenge to Labour.