TUSC councillors lay down fight-back challenge to Labour - who wave white flag in reply
After Southampton's council services have suffered ¬£57 million cuts since 2010 the new Labour council (elected in 2012) has announced a further ¬£60 million cuts to come over the next three years.
Southampton Councillors Against Cuts, Keith Morrell and Don Thomas, photo Southampton TUSC
Last week's council meeting was the last before councillors vote for the council budget in February next year. Southampton Councillors Against Cuts, Keith Morrell and Don Thomas, members of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) national steering committee, went to the meeting to urge Labour councillors to reject the cuts agenda and launch a mass campaign to fight central government for the funding the city needs. Through using reserves and borrowing powers to fund the budget gap, as Keith and Don put forward at this year's budget-setting meeting, it would be entirely possible to protect jobs and services. By refusing to implement the cuts the council would give a lead and build the mass support needed that could force a weak and unpopular government into retreat.
Moving their resolution (printed below) Keith said:
"This motion gives the Labour councillors in this chamber today the opportunity to chart a different course.
"You can say to this government of the rich and powerful: 'We were elected by the working people of this city to defend their interests, not collaborate in attacking them'.
"You can say to this government of the rich and powerful: 'We demand you give us back the money you have stolen from us!'
"You can say to this government of the rich and powerful: 'We will convene a conference here in this city to which we will invite the people of Southampton, to debate the way forward and organise a challenge to the unacceptable demands you are making on us'.
"You can say to this government of the rich and powerful: 'We are Labour councillors who refuse to bend the knee. We are Labour councillors who will fight for our class. We are Labour councillors who say: the fight-back starts here, today!"
Seconding the motion, Don said:
"It has been shown in practice that if you are willing to fight anything is possible.
"Look at how the trade unions in Southampton last year put up a fight and came out with decent terms and conditions.
"Look at how it's not that long ago we were told that Oaklands swimming pool was to close and that we were to 'get used to it' by the then leader of the council [who has since resigned from the council]. But residents and others were not willing 'to get used to it' and put up a fight, forcing the administration to find an alternative and giving the pool a future. So it can be done".
Labour council leader, Simon Letts, gave a reply that unfortunately confirmed the deepest cynicism and betrayal in the face of the impact these cuts will have. Completely unwilling to provide any leadership, he hid behind false arguments of 'illegality', of 'commissioners taking over' and an alleged 'absence of any support' for such a stand.
In fact Labour is happy to promote a 'consultation' process, but only one that encourages the public to choose which services they want to cut. Some councillors understand that this will mean the wholesale destruction of Southampton's youth services, libraries, Sure Start services and non-statutory provision. Even the council workers, whose strike in 2011 paved the way for the defeat of the Tory council in 2012, will see an attack on their terms and conditions. Badged in the new budget plans as the implementation of a Living Wage, the council leadership's proposal is in fact 'unfunded' and demands changes to current terms and conditions to pay for it. The Labour administration has even warned that if an agreement isn't reached, workers will be dismissed and re-employed on new contracts - exactly the same threats as used by the previous Tory council!
One outcome of the council debate was to unite Labour, the Lib Dems and the Tories in attacking Keith's and Don's fight-back proposal! In reply Keith hammered the Labour Group: "The Labour Party was formed to fight for working people against the rich and powerful. All we hear from you are excuses! You have become managers - what difference to the Tories?"
The council debate was covered on the regional BBC TV evening news - Keith and Don and supporters were shown on the steps of the Civic Centre - and BBC local radio interviewed supporters.
The message is clear: Labour may have no fight in them, no alternative and no confidence in winning support to stop the cuts, but TUSC and the 'rebel councillors' do and are prepared to take the campaign to communities across the city in the months running up to next February's budget-setting meeting.
The resolution moved at the Southampton council meeting on Wednesday 20 November:
Item 6. (d) Councillor Morrell to move:
This Council deplores the dire financial straits into which it has been driven by the government's cuts in local authority funding. Before even last year's budget the Leader of the Council, Councillor Simon Letts, described the axing of services and jobs as equivalent to "removing limbs", and now the council is confronted with making even more cuts amounting to ¬£60 million over the next three years on top of the ¬£57 million cut over the last three years.
This Council rejects the government's argument for cutting local authority spending. It is the bankers and the super-rich, who created the world financial crisis, who should be made to pay, not ordinary people and council workers in Southampton.
This Council demands from the government the funding needed to maintain services. As a first step to mobilising support for the Council's stand, public and private-sector trades unions, community groups, tenants, youth and pensioners groups from across the city will be invited to a pre-budget conference to discuss the real budget needs of the city.
Hilary Benn, Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government will be invited to Southampton to explain to the conference how a future Labour government will resolve the local authority budget crisis.
This Council will invite other Labour authorities in the region - Oxford, Reading and Slough - and beyond, to join it in a campaign to defend jobs and services.
Southampton Councillors Against Cuts, Keith Morrell and Don Thomas, photo by Southampton TUSC (Click to enlarge)