The Need to Fight For Publicly Funded Local Services

In the old days — I am thinking of more than hundred years ago — there was no such thing as a tax-payer funded welfare system that could help mitigate the glaring inequalities that result from capitalist exploitation; exploitation that plays a vital part in undergirding our current economic system. However as British workers began organising to create political organisations to represent their class interests (like the Labour Party, which was founded in 1900) the super-rich started to get worried about their ability to stop the working-class from overthrowing their corrupt and eminently aristocratic establishment. Thus with this threat at the front of their minds, one thing the super-rich felt they needed to do was to pre-empt such change by making some sort of vague commitment to helping the poor; in a vain attempt to persuade workers from creating a new form of democratic socialist government of the people, and for the people.

One such elite endeavor to pacify what they like to refer to as “the masses” was to support something known as the settlement movement. This movement simply being a more sophisticated form of charity, whereby the rich would fund organisations to help the poor. Ultimately however this effort proved unsuccessful in quelling the political ambitions of the masses, and so as the working-class became increasingly well organised they managed to succeed in obtaining universal suffrage, and even forced rich elites to lend their support to the creation of a welfare state.

Decades on, the working-class are not so well organised as they once were — partly as a result of highly organised attacks by the elites on working class institutions like trade unions (as shown in the excellent documentary Still the Enemy Within). Thus we have a dire situation where all the political Party’s of the establishment are doing their utmost to undermine the provision of any form of public welfare. Writing in 2007, Hannah Sell, the Deputy General Secretary of the Socialist Party observed:

“It was the 1945 Labour government, under mass pressure from the working class, which established the modern welfare state. It aimed to combat what were described as the five ‘giant evils’: want, disease, ignorance, squalor and idleness. All three establishment parties would [now] argue that the 1945 model is now antiquated, and that a ‘new approach’ must be found. In fact, the ‘new approaches’ proposed amount to a regression in the direction of the days before the welfare state — with private business, charities and the church providing a highly inadequate replacement for public services in the areas and in the manner that they see fit to do so.”

Such regression is of course not inevitable; and with increasing numbers of people and Councillors joining up with the goals of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) — like Barbara Potter and Wayne Naylor here in Leicester — political strategies for reversing the establishments policies of austerity are gaining credibility both nationally and internationally. Either way, what is to be sure, is that a hard battle must be fought to promote the idea of resisting all cuts, and to oppose the ludicrous idea that public services must now rely wholly upon a combination of volunteers and the beneficence of the super-rich (ie., those that prefer not to pay tax to support public services in the same way that the rest of us do). This is not to say that volunteers have not always played a vital role in the provision of public services, it is just that we should not rely upon such good-will alone, and that we should recognize the importance of paying hard-working members of the public for their enduring commitment to the public good.

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Demonstrating the urgent need to campaign against all cuts public sector cuts, just last Thursday the Leicester Mercury published an article titled “Uncertain future for Leicester community centres as volunteers are sought to run them.” In this depressing but all too common article Sir Peter Soulsby’s Labour Council is reported as saying they believe there is no political alternative to the Government’s brutal agenda of cuts, thus they propose that they will “need” to cut funding of community centres by a further 30 per cent. In essence this means they are seeking to sack trained and dedicated community support workers and “offload Braunstone Grove and Braunstone Oak Centre, Cort Crescent Community Centre, Winstanley Community Centre and Newfoundpool Community Centre” onto an army of volunteers.

The Leicester Mercury goes on to point out that the Labour Council has (in their kindness) now organised a meeting to be held at the Brite Centre in Braunstone on Monday November 24 (from 6.30pm to 7.30pm) to discuss how the public can support Labour’s lack of political ambition for Leicester. The meeting is being “run by an organisation called Locality” which has a long history of working in the aforementioned settlement movement. The types of problems associated with the settlement movement are well illustrated by looking at one of Locality’s most prominent special advisers, Lord Victor Adebowale, who is the long-serving head of a leading health and social care organisation known as Turning Point. This is because despite of Lord Adebowale’s well-known and well-promoted commitment to helping the poor, just last year he chose to needlessly internalise the Government’s propaganda and set about attacking the pay and conditions of his own employees (see “Turning Point to sack 2,600 staff and then impose lower pay” and “Email flood over Turning Point’s hardline stand on staff pay and conditions”).

Yet Lord Adebowale’s attacks on his own workers should not be too surprising, as the settlement movement itself was premised on the disconnect that lies between the super-rich profiteering by exploiting their workforce (and then doing their best to minimize the tax they pay to the state), and, on the other hand, their giving over a small proportion of their profits to help the very people they and their elites friends work so industriously to impoverish. Therefore, it is fitting that another group represented on Locality’s board is the Birmingham Settlement (which was formed in 1899): a settlement which can boast of having Sir Adrian Cadbury (of Cadbury Schweppes fame) acting as their President – a man whose elite credentials are second to none with his having acted as a director of the Bank of England between 1970 and 1994.

Another notable individual who serves as the chair of Locality’s board of directors is Joanna Holmes who runs the Bristol-based Barton Hill Settlement (which was formed in 1911). Mrs Holmes is quite a mover and shaker in settlement circles, and is the only British representative on the board of directors of the International Federation of Settlements and Neighborhood Centers – a group which aims to “facilitate the advancement and preservation of the ideals of the Settlement House Movement throughout the world.” In line with the elitist history of the settlement movement, the International Federation is headed by Michael Zisser, who also runs the New York based University Settlement. This latter settlement group actually turns out to be America’s first such organisation, and counted among its early benefactors one of the worlds most infamous and repressive robber barons, Mr John D. Rockefeller himself.

Carrying on this regressive tradition, that is of rich elites who profit from exploiting the rest of us contributing towards the welfare of the poor through charitable enterprises, nearly all the board members of the University Settlement appear to be leading lights of the corrupt banking system that created the ongoing catastrophe, that was, and continues to be, the global financial crisis. To take just one example, the chairman of University Settlements board is Sharon Egilinsky, the former Head of Strategy for Credit Suisse Asset Management, and former Global Head of Transition Management for Citigroup Global Markets. (To read more about the multitude of “generous” bankers helping the poor see their web site here.)

Thankfully the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition are fighting to create a future where we collect tax from the super-rich so we won’t have to rely on their haphazard charity. Indeed making sure we stop them evading tax to the tune of some £120 billion every year is a top priority for all TUSC candidates. But unfortunately the mainstream media don’t like to promote the ideas of TUSC, although they do seem to love boosting the ideas of more reactionary so-called anti-establishment political groups like UKIP. So with such obstacles in mind why not consider joining us in campaigning for a democratic socialist future for all by standing in next years elections. This is all the more important because if we manage to stand 1,000 candidates — which we will only be able to do with your help — then the media will be forced to take us seriously, by being forced to allow us to promote TUSC on television with our own party political broadcast. Now that would be really something to look forward to!

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