Leicester City Council are not alone in doing the Tories dirty work, and regretfully Labour-run cities across the country continue to carry through Tory funding cuts with no effective resistance: unless you count their plentiful tears of regret.
This year, trade unions (including Unison, GMB and Unite) managed to pass a variety of resolutions calling upon Labour Councils to utilise their usable reserves (and all other available funding streams) to buy time to organise “a national campaign, linking Councils, trade unions and communities in a fight against the Tories austerity programme.”
So it is good news that now, in Newham (East London), Unite the union is initiating such a fightback — an action which has great potential to spread.
Like in Leicester, where Labour Party councillors hold pretty much all the seats, Newham Council is completely controlled by 60 Labour councillors (with no opposition). Newham similarly suffers under the problematic Mayoral system that so plagues Leicester, with their very own equivalent of Sir Peter Soulsby being another privileged man named Sir Robin Wales.
Importantly, like Leicester, Newham has plenty of “usable reserves” that could be drawn upon to enable Labour to resist making cuts to services. Newham has £400 million available in usable reserves compared to Leicester’s still very substantial £103 million.
So earlier this week, in response to Newham Council’s proposal to axe £1.8 million from the pay and conditions of council workers, Unite fought back by launching an inspiring campaign — with plans afoot for lobbies of council meetings and events, Saturday stalls and demonstrations.
As Unite regional officer Michelle Cook emphasized: “We will give every worker the chance to make a stand for decent pay and conditions – and more generally, the preservation of services that the growing population of the borough requires on a daily basis.”
Industrial action is looking very likely, and Michelle says Unite hopes to draw Labour “councillors’ attention to the large level of reserves, compared with the scale of cuts now being directed at our members.” One would now hope that other unions will join Unite in their principled choice to struggle publicly against cuts.
As many people already know, Jeremy Corbyn says that austerity is a choice. And yes, austerity is clearly a choice that should be rejected by Labour Councils. But unfortunately most Labour councillors seem more interesting in rejecting Corbyn, than in fighting Tory cuts.
For instance, only four Newham councillors chose to openly back Corbyn in opposition to the coup that was launched against his leadership of the Labour Party earlier in the year, which is only marginally better than Leicester, where just one councillor chose to openly back Corbyn.
Perhaps it might be useful for those involved in the Labour movement to now call upon their councillors to do the right thing for once, that being to resign if they don’t feel inclined to both support Corbyn and actively build a fightback against Tory austerity.