On Saturday morning, here in Leicester, we are lucky enough to have the opportunity to listen to a speaker from the Derby teaching assistants campaign who has kindly given up their time to update us on their ongoing dispute with their own Labour City Council.
After Derby’s Labour-led Council proposed to cut the pay of all teaching assistants by 25%, around 1,200 Unison members stood firm, and over the past year have successfully fought back. Most recently their dispute led them to calling an all-out strike, which succeeded in forcing their backstabbing Labour Council back to the negotiating table. This means that presently their strike has been suspended, so that the workers can be balloted as to whether they want to accept the Council’s latest offer (a deal which has yet to be revealed to the public).
Here it would remiss of me not to mention that Leicester has its own related problems with our own local Labour Council – problems which came to a head on February 9, when the Unison Leicester City branch submitted a proposal to our Labour Council that called upon them to thoroughly investigate how they might forestall carrying through further Tory attacks on local services for the next three years. This call for a fightback has been supported by all the city’s major trade unions, but unfortunately, to date, this modest proposal has not received any support from the Labour Party or any of its 52 local councillors.
But thankfully this Saturday’s meeting has been organised by the local branch of Momentum, precisely because they aim to raise awareness about what happens when Labour Council’s fail to oppose Tory austerity. As the web site advertising the event makes all too clear: “Although these cuts are in Derbyshire if they go through and are deemed acceptable then expect other Council’s to carry out the same…” Therefore, I would hope that in the formal meeting that follows the Unison speaker from Derby, that Leicestershire Momentum might consider backing efforts by the local branch of Unison to encourage our own Labour Council to fight back against the Tories vicious cuts agenda.
After all we should remember that the decision to attack workers’ pay and conditions and services — as the Leicester City Labour Council is presently doing — is a political choice, and the Council can choose to set legal no-cuts budgets if they wanted to. Labour Council’s have a duty to their members and to the electorate to refuse to carry out Tory cuts; and if necessary Labour Councillors can, as a last resort, follow the lead shown by three Labour Councillors in Leeds, who have taken the choice to part company with Labour by standing as independent socialist Councillors opposed to cuts.