The September meeting of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) all-Britain steering committee discussed what is going to be a busy autumn of opportunities to spread the case for a new working class political alternative to be built to the mainstream establishment parties.
The first subject debated was the funding crisis facing Birmingham city council and what this means for the next round of local elections that will take place in May 2024.
Birmingham is not the first local authority – and will certainly not be the last – to issue a ‘section 114 notice’ declaring itself unable to balance its books. Estimates vary as to how many other councils face a similar prospect in the next twelve months and what the overall funding gap for all councils might be. On this occasion the BBC has produced a useful dataset of councils’ predicted deficits and planned cuts – ‘savings’ as they call them – at Black hole in town hall budgets rises to £5bn – BBC News; although, it should be noted, produced as it was over the summer, the amount predicted for Birmingham underestimates the actual figure the council revealed in September.
But some things are beyond dispute. Local councils, responsible for over one fifth of all public spending, face a funding crisis – and the case for getting fighting, socialist anti-cuts councillors into our town halls has never been stronger.
The significance of the 2024 locals in a general election year
TUSC has always taken local elections seriously. We have never accepted the idea that there is nothing that councils can do in the face of the cuts to their funding made by central government. Local authorities, we have argued, in fact retain both significant powers and resources that can be used to make an immediate difference to peoples’ lives, as well as the ability to lead a campaign for central-government funding. The TUSC briefings, the reports on councils’ reserves, and the guidance material for setting no cuts People’s Budgets and organising local campaigns, are unparalleled in the movement in explaining how local councillors could be part of the fightback. (See https://www.tusc.org.uk/resources/).
But in the 2024 elections TUSC’s arguments will be even more powerful than previously. With the almost certain prospect of at least a Starmer-led government coming into office during the course of the 2024-2025 financial year, what possible excuse is there for Labour councillors not to use councils’ borrowing powers and reserves to spend what’s needed now? And demand from Keir Starmer and the shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves – and the newly appointed shadow Levelling-Up and Local Government secretary, Angela Raynor – that the incoming government will cover any shortfall there may be in meeting the bills?
No excuse unless, of course, they do not believe that Reeves, Starmer and co will fund the local public services that we need. In which case, the argument makes itself for a challenge at the ballot box – for both council seats and Westminster.
The steering committee concluded this item by agreeing to discuss a draft TUSC local elections core policy platform for the 2024 elections at its October meeting – under the theme of ‘Whoever ends up in No.10, we’ll need fighting councillors in our town hall’ – and to publish the TUSC Local Council Candidate 2024 Application Form in the autumn, to encourage the process for selecting council candidates for the widest-possible stand in May 2024 to begin.
The fight to save local public services, and the wages and conditions of the council workers who deliver them, is a key back drop to the Rutherglen and Hamilton West UK parliamentary by-election being held on October 5th.
More than three-quarters of Scotland’s schools will face closure just a week before the by-election as over 21,000 members of UNISON – non-teaching staff like janitors and canteen workers – plan strike action over three days from 26th-28th September. Both the Scottish local council employers (COSLA) and the Scottish government are to blame for the impasse.
The Scottish TUSC candidate in Rutherglen and Hamilton West is Chris Sermanni, a Unison shop stewards convener at Glasgow City Council (and a resident of Cambuslang, one of the biggest population centres in the Rutherglen and Hamilton West constituency). He is ideally placed to be the voice of workers’ protest in the by-election contest against the establishment parties; from the SNP and their allies in the Scottish government, the Scottish Greens, to the Tories, Lib Dems and Scottish Labour. Chris’s election communication leaflet can be seen at https://www.tusc.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2023/09/Election-Communication-RHW.pdf
The all-Britain steering committee affirmed its support for the Scottish TUSC campaign and appealed for donations to Chris Sermanni’s campaign, which can be made via a special link on the TUSC website at https://www.tusc.org.uk/donations/by-election/
The meeting also agreed candidates for two council by-elections, for Earlsdon ward in Coventry and Higham Hill in Waltham Forest, taking place on October 26th.
TUSC and Transform
The TUSC steering committee also discussed the announcement, made in July, that four organisations – the Breakthrough Party, Left Unity, the Liverpool Community Independents, and the People’s Alliance of the Left (PAL) – were planning to organise a new party of the left, under the name of Transform.
The meeting agreed the text of a letter applauding “all efforts to unite socialists on a principled basis” and congratulated the different groups involved “on the progress that is being made to bring together the members of your respective parties and others into one organisation”. (See https://www.tusc.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2023/09/TUSC-letter-to-Transform.pdf for the full text).
Recognising that “a discussion on the political basis and organisational mechanics of how to establish a party of the left that can genuinely be a new mass vehicle of political representation of the working class is undoubtedly an urgent one”, the letter went on to invite the Transform organisers to attend the October TUSC steering committee meeting to present their case.
There have been exchanges on this issue before between TUSC and the core groups involved in Transform, and the steering committee approved a report which brought the correspondence into one place. (Available at https://www.tusc.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2023/09/Correspondence-with-Transform-groups-2021-2023.pdf).
Since the meeting, however, the Transform organisers have stated that they feel it would not be appropriate to attend a discussion with the TUSC steering committee until Transform has had its founding conference, now set for November 25th. ■