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26 January 2013
Labour meltdown in Stoke-on-Trent continues; and Unison withholds funding
As budget time approaches, tell councillors: There is an alternative to cuts!
by Andy Bentley, Stoke-on-Trent Socialist Party
On 23 January Stoke-on-Trent Labour councillor Andy Lilley resigned from the Labour Party saying, "I cannot, nor will not support an administration that seeks to target the very people they claim to represent".
The following day Stoke-on-Trent Unison local government branch decided to suspend funding of Labour locally because of their attempt to push through more cuts against workers' jobs, terms and conditions. Branch secretary Clive Rushton said:
"The Labour Party was born out of the trade union movement and is there to represent the working man. It is now attacking the working man".
How true this is! Rather than discuss with the unions and council workers how the cuts can be resisted, the Labour council has just forced them through. Why should the hard earned cash of workers fund a party that kicks them in the teeth?
To many people locally and nationally these developments might seem to have come out of the blue but they reflect the seething resentment which is now felt by millions in Stoke-on-Trent and across Britain at the failure of Labour to fight for the interests of ordinary working class people.
And in a predominantly working class area like Stoke-on-Trent, the feeling of betrayal has become widespread.
Recently this anger has reached fever pitch because of the city council plans to borrow up to £59 million to build another new council HQ after carrying out savage cuts of £56 million over the last two years, with a further £21 million planned this year.
There is massive anger against this plan. Nearly 3,000 people have signed Stoke Socialist Party's petition against the new HQ and calling on the city council to "save our jobs and services instead".
What started as a 'virtual march on Stoke' on Facebook has now become a real "March on Stoke" taking place on 23rd February.
In a local byelection last July Labour's vote plummeted by 17%. If there were local elections this year they would face a wipeout.
It's not surprising that rumours of other Labour defections are growing. But can Labour in Stoke recover from this meltdown?
Choose 'no cuts'
The choice is quite simple. The Labour council has to decide which side they are on. The Con-Dem government or their own workforce and the people of Stoke-on-Trent.
If they want to recover they need to fight back against the government's constant cuts in funding. If they don't, then meltdown is likely to continue.
Despite the denials of Labour council leader Mohammed Pervez, councils can legally borrow money and or use reserves to stave off cuts. Nationally councils are currently holding on to £13 billion in reserves!
If they refuse to implement cuts they would get massive support from across the city and beyond.
They could set a budget that meets the needs of the 250,000 people who live in Stoke-on-Trent, as part of a mass campaign involving unions, service users and the local population, to demand more money from the government.
Linking up with other local authorities, the government could be forced into granting more resources to the city.
If the city council launched a campaign of resistance to central government, the Socialist Party would give our 100% backing and would help mobilise support across the city, in trade unions and in the communities, through demonstrations , rallies and protests etc.
Wait for a Labour government?
The strategy of Labour and some trade union leaders seems to be: let's carry out so called 'kinder cuts' and wait for a Labour victory at the next general election.
But in Stoke-on-Trent in 2006 with a Labour controlled council AND a Labour government, cuts of £21 million were launched!
In 2007 Labour formed a coalition with the Tories, Lib Dems and Independents and continued to carry out cuts and massive hikes in council tax.
And this was in a period of prolonged economic growth, not the economic stagnation that will face Labour if it wins the next general election.
This poses a crucial question for Labour Party members and ordinary working class people locally and nationally.
If Labour is not prepared to launch a serious fight against cuts under a Con-Dem government or under a Labour government then under what circumstances will they ever again fight for the interests of ordinary working class people?
In fact Labour leader Ed Miliband has said he supports government austerity measures and that a future Labour government would not reverse one spending cut.
They condemn strikes and refuse to repeal the anti-trade union laws. Quite clearly the Labour Party no longer represents working class people.
We applaud the efforts of lefts and other hardworking Labour Party members locally and nationally who are trying to reclaim Labour from its right wing leadership.
But we also think that your efforts are in vain. Even if tens or hundreds of thousands of trade unionists, other activists and youth join Labour, the democratic structure no longer exists in the party to allow genuine socialist ideas to prosper.
Two Labour councillors have already been expelled from Labour in Southampton for having the temerity to vote against cuts.
Now in Stoke-on-Trent, councillor Andy Lilley has resigned to be able to speak out against cuts.
The lesson is becoming clearer by the day - if you want to fight against cuts you need to step outside of the Labour Party.
Fund an alternative
Trade union members should follow the example set by Unison in Stoke and demand that their money is no longer used to fund a party that continues to attack their jobs, pay and conditions.
We need to build from the bottom up a new party to fight for and represent the interests of ordinary working class people.
We believe that the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) is a step in this direction - an electoral alliance standing candidates against cuts and privatisation.
It already involves leading members of the PCS, NUT, RMT and POA unions, community campaigners and Socialist groups including the Socialist Party.
TUSC stood six candidates at the last local elections in Stoke-on-Trent and in 2015 we aim to stand more.
TUSC website: www.tusc.co.uk
This version of this article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 26 January 2013 and may vary slightly from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.
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