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From The Socialist newspaper, 16 February 2022

Birmingham Erdington by-election

Shaking up the establishment

Birmingham bin workers and home carers strike together,  photo Birmingham Socialist Party

Birmingham bin workers and home carers strike together, photo Birmingham Socialist Party   (Click to enlarge)

Kris O'Sullivan, Birmingham North Socialist Party

"You'll be sending someone who is the working-class enemy of the Westminster elite, to completely shake up the establishment top to bottom, a worker's MP on a worker's wage - someone who can't be bought by the system".

This is a snippet of what was said at the public launch meeting of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) candidate in the Erdington by-election in Birmingham, Dave Nellist.

The enthusiasm and energy in a packed-out room in a local Erdington community centre was palpable, the prospect of a truly anti-austerity pro-worker candidate had brought over 80 people across the constituency and city together.

There were representatives and members present from local saving green space campaigns, tenants unions, community watch groups, local media, trade unions etc.

It became very clear during the meeting, the one thing that tied all the local campaign groups and different working-class communities together - people want an alternative! They are sick and tired of the same old Tory sleaze and betrayals by Labour.

Erdington, like many parts of Birmingham, was seen as a Labour 'safe seat' for decades, and as such was taken for granted by the party. Many people in the meeting said how they only ever saw Labour around election time. This is in stark contrast to the Socialist Party, local constituent member of TUSC, which is out campaigning in Erdington every week, all year round, fighting to save jobs and services against the vicious austerity cuts passed on by the Labour council.

Tenants union and local housing group members asked what TUSC and Dave will do about the housing crisis in the constituency. It was clearly stated that TUSC will fight for the right of every person to have a roof over their heads. On a grassroots and national level TUSC will campaign for a public works programme of mass affordable social house building based on needs not private profits, and for a compulsory register of all landlords in the city. Many in the room were shocked to find out that several current Birmingham councillors are themselves landlords!

People came to the meeting to listen to Dave and the socialist ideas he was putting forward because of the lack of faith they have that either the Tory or Labour candidate will be prepared to fight on behalf of ordinary workers. As a member of the union Unison pointed out, it was only a couple of years ago that the Labour candidate for Erdington, Councillor Paulette Hamilton, was leading the attacks on the low-paid Birmingham homecare workers!

TUSC can be the major minor party in this election, building on the support of regular working-class people who are flooding in to back Dave's campaign, donating their money and their time, campaigning every day - morning, noon and night in all weathers - for a socialist alternative to big business and establishment sleaze.

Coventry striker and senior Unite rep Pete Randle sent a message to the launch of Dave's campaign:

"I'm a striking HGV driver from Coventry, under attack from the Labour council. Dave has stood on the picket line with us, showing he is for workers; he is for the people in a community. He is honest and if you have the opportunity to have Dave as your MP he is for you."

Corinthia Ward, Birmingham North Socialist Party, writes:

On my way back home from the high street I walk up a road so dimly lit I can barely see the broken pavement where, after years of neglect, the tree roots have eroded the surface. I turn the corner to my road and up against the side of my neighbour's house someone has left broken furniture and bags of rubbish. A few months ago, one of the vulnerable tenants placed in my road died from an overdose.

This could be any inner-city working-class suburb across the country, torn apart by years of austerity. But this is Erdington in Birmingham - a town currently under the spotlight because a parliamentary by-election is taking place here on 3 March. And Dave Nellist is standing as the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition candidate to 'shake up the establishment'.

Erdington is a marginal seat which voted for Brexit. Labour won by only 3,601 votes in the 2019 general election. There is a lot of frustration and anger here - at both central and local government.

And how could people not be angry? £730 million has so far been gutted from public services in Birmingham. Because Erdington is a poorer working-class area these cuts have hit the community especially hard.

When in 2010 the Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition leading the council made cuts, the Labour Party councillors criticised the sheer brutality of the austerity. But after the 2012 local elections, when the Labour Party won a majority on the council, Labour councillors went ahead with planned cuts anyway. Since then, the Labour-led council has set a further £85 million in cuts to be implemented by 2023.

The scale of these cuts means that the council, once one of Birmingham's biggest employers with over 21,000 staff, has almost halved that number to just over 12,000. These fresh attacks will see an additional 1,500 staff gone by next year. This skeleton crew of staff is expected to look after the largest council in Europe with a city population of over 1.1 million.

Some of these new savings will come from dimming street lighting and shortening the time it is switched on. Fees for bulky and green waste collections will be increased while fly-tipping enforcement resources will be reduced. It was only in 2017 that bin workers won a victory defending health and safety roles on the trucks via strike action. Now the council has found new attacks on the waste management service.

Arts and cultural organisations will lose £1 million in funding; since 2010 spending on cultural and related services has already been slashed by 44.4%. Paulette Hamilton, Labour council cabinet member and the Labour candidate for the Erdington by-election, must have forgotten about this last figure. In a recent social media post she praised the Erdington Arts community group while doing a promotional visit!

Adult social care

Councillor Hamilton has been cabinet member for health and social care since May 2015. Under her watch, by April 2025 cuts to adult social care funding will amount to £7.8 million a year. She has also proposed plans to increase some existing charges while also introducing new charges on other services.

In 2018, a bitter campaign broke out over saving Fairway Day Centre in another Birmingham constituency. This is a place for disabled service users to go and engage in activities while also giving their family members some respite. There are a few of these day centres scattered across the city.

In February 2020 Councillor Hamilton and the Labour Party were holding meetings announcing they were planning to close a number of these centres in order to promote 'independent living'. The Covid pandemic happened a month later and the council closed all the centres.

Since then, the local news has reported how service users have deteriorated without the service, suffering failing mental health, violent outbursts and increased self-harm. The council has not yet announced if it intends to keep the service running.

Ex-Birmingham council chief Mark Rogers acknowledged that eligibility for adult social care has been restricted so that only people with "substantial and critical" needs now receive help: "We are having to be much more stringent about that eligibility. We get the legitimate criticism that people providing home care support are only there for 15 minutes."

It was the hollowing out of services which led to home care workers in 2018 taking nearly 50 days of strike action over a period of 20 months. New rotas were being imposed which meant they would have three-hour gaps between service-user visits as well as pay cuts equalling some £11,000 per year.

Councillor Hamilton condemned the service that her party had helped diminish! The home carers even collectively created new rotas which met all the council's demands but with minimal pay cuts. The council accepted these new rotas only to reject them a few months later. The home carers were eventually victorious in 2019 but it wasn't without a long and vicious battle, with some of the workers being locked out of the council house during a protest.

Housing crisis & domestic abuse

Cuts to homelessness prevention services is one of the reasons why rough sleeping in the city has quadrupled since 2010. In 2019, 20% of homelessness cases in Birmingham were domestic abuse related.

There are no council-led women's refuge services in Birmingham, they are all charity-based. Birmingham City Council has donated a pitiful one-off £350,000 to support just 60 spaces for women. And yet from April to October last year, Birmingham and Solihull Women's Aid had over 19,200 calls and 1,150 webchats.

These 60 spaces are not enough. Women fleeing domestic abuse are being placed in the burgeoning market of 'support living' - unregulated, hostel-style accommodation. In some cases women are having to share houses with perpetrators of domestic abuse.

Between 2010 and 2017, spending on housing was slashed by 53.8% in real terms. Any new houses built haven't been affordable council homes but luxury flats, or they have been built via property developers who were sold the dwindling green spaces around the city.

The local community wants to work with the council to tackle the housing crisis, but it should not be at the expense of the limited greenery which working-class areas have.

Short Heath playing fields is one of these green spaces which had been under attack in Erdington, but a community group so far has been able to keep the developers at bay.

Youth services slashed

Birmingham is the youngest city in Europe. Under-25s make up nearly 40% of the population. Yet the services for young people are near non-existent. Since 2011, 43 youth centres have been closed, including the one in Erdington. The 16 still open are under threat.

In 2019, just £1.9 million was spent on youth services, with just 39 full-time youth workers; that's one worker per 3,800 10-19 year olds. During this same period there's been an 85% increase in knife crime alone, with young people being most likely to be both victims and perpetrators.

Education and children's services

Birmingham schools are having to close early in the week due to cuts in funding, and thousands of jobs are currently at risk as the council plans to scrap school nurses. And since 2010, 12 council-run nurseries have closed and 14 handed over to the private and charity sectors.

This is alongside the closure of 21 children's centres, with only seven kept open through alternative ownership. The council's own findings last year show that 42% of Birmingham children are growing up in poverty. The absence of these nurseries and centres have hit the poorest areas hardest.

The council's five children's homes were privatised to the Priory Group (a celebrity rehab firm) in 2016 for a £40 million contract. These homes looked after some of the most vulnerable and overlooked children in the city, including children who had suffered sexual abuse.

By 2020 the Priory had run the homes into the ground and closed all five of them with a loss of around 80 jobs. All children had to be found alternative housing in the private sector.

In 2018, Birmingham City Council transferred all its remaining children's services except schools into a trust, and in January this year the trust came under fire for placing children in unregistered care homes.

Political alternative needed

These listed cuts may seem bleak, and sadly this is only a few of them. But we can conclude that when a fightback is made, a victory is possible. The bin workers, home-care workers and Short Heath community campaigners are just some examples of those who stood up and won.

Let's use the Erdington by-election as the starting ground for building a new fightback and pushing the socialist struggle forward!

The need for a political alternative for Birmingham has never been greater than it is today. The Labour council has proven it will not stand up for working-class people. So it's up to socialists, trade unionists and community campaigners to fight for working-class political representation.

That is why Birmingham Socialist Party, as well as standing Dave Nellist as a TUSC candidate in Erdington, will be contesting the local elections on 5 May. And we are also encouraging local trade unionists, community and social campaigners to stand too.

We are campaigning for the setting of no-cuts budgets which reflect the real needs of the local community: using council reserves - of which Birmingham has £976 million - and prudential borrowing in the short term to keep services funded, while building a mass campaign for more funding from central government.

Birmingham City Council isn't scared to use prudential borrowing powers for its vanity projects such the Commonwealth Games and Grand Central Station - just when it comes to social care, youth and the other services working-class people need!

Let's build the fightback now.

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In The Socialist 16 February 2022:

What we think

Britain's economic growth figures mask fragile false recovery


'Labour by name - Tory by policy'

Covid: Fight for full sick pay

Met police boss ousted

Tory stealth taxes burden 'packhorse generation'

Left Labour MPs under pressure over Erdington

'Stand together and fight'

Neither Washington, London nor Moscow

Australian nurses strike against understaffing and low pay

Erdington by-election

Birmingham Erdington by-election

Campaigning in Birmingham Erdington by-election

Saltley Gate

From our history: 1972 miners' strike

PCS elections

PCS Elections 2022: Time for new union leadership

Workplace news

Barts NHS strike

NEU strike at girls' school chain over pensions

University workers striking back

"If we don't fight, we won't win!"

Just Eat strike spreads and forces concessions

Join the scaffs mass picket at Scunthorpe steelworks

Worksop Wincanton workers win pay rise after strike


West Sussex care campaigners' victory

Why I'm going to Socialist Students conference

Campaigning to make 2 March student walkout happen

Stop eviction of Camden homeless collective

East Sussex: Poverty and cuts bring people to Socialist Party

Save St Mary's Leisure Centre

Fund us to fight for socialism

Readers' opinion

TV: 'Death of Two Black Men: Police in the Spotlight'

TV: 'A Killing in Tiger Bay'

How Cardiff Bay's redevelopment led to 'social cleansing'


Home   |   The Socialist 16 February 2022   |   Join the Socialist Party

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