Step back in time seven years and imagine the following nightmarish scenario taking place not long after the Lib Dem/Tory coalition was first elected.
You have spent the weekend trying to relax after a hard week at work, spending much of your weekend worrying about how you are going to manage to even pay your bills in the coming years.
On Monday morning you get to work, and are immediately confronted by a request to join your boss in their austere office. Your boss says they are pleased with your hard work, but the problem is, there is just not enough money to pay you properly. “Sorry”, they say. Over the next ten years they will be expecting all their employees to accept a pay-cut of between sixty and seventy per cent.
You are not too sure what to say, so at the end of day you meet up with your trade union rep. Your dyed-in-the-wool Blairite rep however shakes their head in despair, and says there is not much that can be done.
They say the only way to prevent this disaster will be to elect a Labour government at the next general election. But thinking back about Labour’s previous electoral campaign, you distinctly remember that Labour agreed with the Tories that austerity was necessary.
But why you ask your rep, why must we face austerity and cuts of any sort? Why don’t we make the super-rich pay for the financial crisis, not the poor?
At this stage, any right-thinking worker would group together with the other members of their trade union and demand that their rep help them right now by fighting against the threatened attack on their pay! If they couldn’t get their rep to change their mind, the workers might then elect an alternative rep, a principled socialist perhaps — someone like Jeremy Corbyn — who would link-up with other anti-austerity socialists to reject austerity and fight tooth-and-nail against any talk of 70% pay cuts.
No doubt the displaced (distinctly un-socialist) union rep would then haunt the staffroom with their tired message of quietude, moaning that the workers were being unrealistic and must accept some pay cuts. The old rep would say that principled representatives of workers like Corbyn and his ilk were unrealistic. They would argue that the political attitude of the new rep was in fact deeply unpopular and that the union would whither under such a socialist leadership.
Yet what is clear, is that any union rep worth their salt would relentlessly agitate and organise against cuts of any kind, especially cuts of 70%.
Useless reps on the other hand, would continue to moan about pay cuts while simultaneously rubbishing the ideas of any workers prepared to oppose cuts as simply too unrealistic.
Of course this tragic story is not entirely fictional.
Like the tired old Blairite rep, Leicester City’s Labour Council has spent the last seven years doing the bosses bidding by carrying through massive cuts in our city and offering no sign of resistance.
After five years of cuts, in 2015, the vast majority of the membership of the Labour Party elected Jeremy Corbyn, because unlike most of the rest of the councillors and MPs in Leicester, he was opposed to cuts and austerity. The unsurprising Blairite response of local City Mayor Sir Peter Soulsby and local MP Liz Kendall to Corbyn’s election has been to do everything in their power to undermine him.
Now, earlier this month, seven years into making Tory cuts in Leicester, Sir Peter Soulsby and Liz Kendall have put their names to a leaflet produced by the Westcotes branch of the Labour Party that states: “The Government has cut the income of Leicester City & other Councils by 70%”. They then ask:
“How would you cope if your income was cut by over 60%?”
The obvious answer is that is my income was threatened with a 60% cut then I would organise alongside all my co-workers in a mass campaign of resistance. The Labour Party leaflet cannot however boast of trying to do any of the sort, instead the leaflet states that they have written a polite letter to the Conservative minister “responsible for these cuts” saying:
“The City’s Labour led Council cannot be expected to maintain services, nor held responsible for their deterioration and loss, when it is systematically denied the money to pay for them”.
By any reasonable stretch of the imagination this is not an appropriate response to a proposed 70% cut in funding. This statement on the leaflet is all the more unacceptable when one considers that in February this year the major trade union representing council workers in Leicester, UNISON, put forward a fully documented “no-cuts” proposal for how our Labour Council could build a fightback against Tory cuts. And tragically, this union-led call for a fight-back against devastating Tory funding cuts is being totally ignored by all our Labour Councillors, apparently because it is unrealistic to fight back.