Coventry Tory Brands Food Bank Users “Selfish”

Coventry Tory Brands Food Bank Users “Selfish”

A Coventry food bank

A Coventry food bank

In 2013-14 almost a million people in the UK were supported by food banks, over 17,000 of them in Coventry. The majority of people using food banks had been affected by benefit cuts or sanctions imposed due to Government austerity measures. Despite the numbers of people forced to rely on food banks, at a recent Coventry Council meeting, Tory councillor Julia Lepoidevin claimed that some food bank users in Coventry are “selfish” and choose to spend money on drugs or alcohol rather than food.

However, when 50 Coventry people a day are being referred to food banks, there are clearly issues other than addiction causing people to go hungry. Labour cllrs angrily heckled Cllr Lepoidevin’s remarks – however, the welfare policies advocated by Labour leader Ed Miliband, such as cutting benefits for under-21s and an overall commitment to stick with Tory spending plans, would lead to far more people relying on charities for food. Coventry used to be a city renowned for its car factories – now we’re renowned for our food banks. People across the country are being left to starve as a result of austerity policies – we need to organise to fight for decent jobs and homes for all.

Advertisements

Council cuts in Coventry – the worst is yet to come!

Council cuts in Coventry – the worst is yet to come!

Labour leader Ann Lucas

Labour leader Ann Lucas

We are pleased to carry the following exchange regarding the cuts at Coventry City Council. We believe this will be of interest both to trade union members and activists at Coventry City Council, as well as the people of Coventry.

On Friday 6th June Labour leader of the Council wrote an email to all employees concerning the cuts that they will be implementing. The first piece is a letter from Dave Nellist which appeared in the local press explaining that the Council should be fighting the cuts from central government, not carrying out their dirty work.

Below that follows a further piece where Lucas makes excuses for not fighting the cuts, and lastly Dave responds with a short article that has appeared in the Coventry Observer newspaper.

Is Ann right, or do you agree with Dave? If you agree with Dave that Labour should be fighting the cuts and that we need a new political alternative, then fill in the form at the bottom to get in touch to see how you can help!


 

Letter from Dave Nellist to the local press

Dear Editor,

You were kind enough to give me space recently to predict that, after the local elections, many people who had put their faith in larger parties would be disappointed as cuts in local services continue.

It hasn’t taken many days for the Labour leader of Coventry Council, Cllr Ann Lucas, to confirm that warning.

In a major email to all council employees on Friday, June 6th Cllr Lucas said that, despite all the cuts so far, “the worst is yet to come”, and the Council would be “ending some services and needing fewer employees”. Whereas the Council had been the last resort for people who need it, she said “I think we may be beyond that now”.

The scale of this crisis has not just happened, it’s been obvious for some time. So why wait till 2 weeks after the election to be “absolutely honest” – surely the honest position would have been to explain these things to staff and the wider electorate before May 22nd so they knew what voting Labour would lead to?

Secondly, if the cut in Tory Government funding to Coventry has been so severe, in fact reduced by half, why has Labour gone along with it? Not only has there been no resistance from Labour locally, there would no change if Labour won the General Election. The party’s shadow Treasury minister. Chris Leslie MP, has said Labour “won’t be able to undo the cuts that have been felt in recent years”.

So just what is the point of Labour?

Working people in Coventry deserve better than this. If “standing up for and protecting our most vulnerable” is really important to Labour the conversation they need to have with the people of Coventry is how to campaign together to stop the cuts, not how to implement them.

Dave Nellist,

Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition


 

Article in the Coventry Observer

Warning of more council job cuts and services to be axed

By Matthew Bates Wednesday 11 June 2014 Updated: 12/06 10:37

COUNCIL workers should be braced for more job losses and services axed.

In a letter to all staff council leader Ann Lucas warned money was so tight the council might not even be able to remain a last resort for vulnerable people – a goal it has aimed for throughout austerity.

Hundreds of jobs have been cut and millions axed from public spending over the past four years.

One former city MP attacked the admission and its post-local elections timing, and said bosses should be campaigning against cuts rather than implementing them.

In her letter, seen by the Observer, Coun Lucas thanked staff for their hard work over a tough year during which the council had dealt with both the tragic death of Daniel Pelka and the Ricoh stadium saga with dignity.

But she admitted: “I have talked in the past about us becoming a place of last resort for people who need it, I think we may be beyond even that now.

“Our biggest single bill is our payroll bill. If we are delivering fewer services we need fewer employees.

“By introducing more efficient and flexible ways of working we can deliver better value for our residents with less bureaucracy and red tape, and fewer employees.”

But Dave Nellist, a former Labour MP and Socialist city councillor, said the scale of the crisis had been obvious for some time.

“Why wait till two weeks after the election to be ‘absolutely honest’ – surely the honest position would have been to explain these things to staff and the wider electorate before May 22 so they knew what voting Labour would lead to?

“If standing up for and protecting our most vulnerable is really important to Labour the conversation they need to have with the people of Coventry is how to campaign together to stop the cuts, not how to implement them.”

But Coun Lucas told us she had been honest in warnings around the council’s budget, which will have been cut in half by 2016.

She said: “Indeed, some opponents would have probably set an illegal budget, refusing to accept the alternative. The alternative is national government ensuring a legal budget by indiscriminately cutting services without any understanding of local need.

“Opposition is easy, just say no to everything. Being in control is having the courage to protect as best as possible the people of Coventry from an uncaring Tory-led government hell bent on destroying local government.”

 


Reply from Dave Nellist printed in the Observer 25-06-14

Councillor Ann Lucas, the city’s Labour leader (Observer, June 11), says, “Some opponents would have probably set an illegal budget …. (which would have led to) national government ensuring a legal budget by indiscriminately cutting services without any understanding of local need”.

There is a long way between doing nothing to challenge the coalition cuts and setting “an illegal budget” (which by the way, when part of a determined campaign, resulted in Liverpool in the 1980s getting tens of millions of pounds of additional funding from Mrs Thatcher).

In the first instance the City Council could use its reserves and prudential borrowing powers to avoid making cuts.  After all it borrowed money last year to buy the Coombe Abbey hotel’s £6.5 million bank loan and to lend to Coventry-based student accommodation company Study Inn.

It could use some of its reserves to make sure that all bedroom tax-related arrears are written off, and publicly call on Housing Associations to withdraw any court proceedings or eviction orders where the bedroom tax has been a factor.

It could use its legal powers to refer local NHS decisions, initiate referenda and organise public commissions and consultations as part of campaigns to defend public services.

But, in the end, the best way to mobilise the mass, national campaign that is necessary to defeat the wholesale dismantling of council services is to set a budget that meets the needs of our city and then campaign both directly, and with other councils, for the government to make up the shortfall.

Ann says “Being in control is having the courage to protect as best as possible the people of Coventry from an uncaring Tory-led government hell bent on destroying local government.”

I would argue that doing nothing to campaign against the Tory-led government cutting our Council budget by half, is not preventing the destruction of local government at all.

Dave Nellist

Trades Unionist and Socialist Coalition

Agree with Dave? Then fill out the form below!

PCS members at HMRC in Coventry take strike action

PCS members at HMRC in Coventry take strike action

PCS picket line at Sherbourne House in Coventry

PCS picket line at Sherbourne House in Coventry

Members of the PCS trade union working at the Sherbourne House tax office in Coventry took strike action today along with members across the Midlands and Northern Ireland. The action was part of a week of industrial action organised by the union with different regions taking action on each day of the week.

More background information can be found on the website of the PCS by clicking here

The next strike action involving PCS members looks to be on 10th July, when it is hoped over 1 million public sector workers will take action against poverty pay, for decent public services and an end to austerity. Trade unionists need to make this action as big and successful as possible, as part of the effort to rebuild the co-ordinated industrial action that will be needed to beat back the tide of cuts.

Union activists are already getting organised for the 10th, with a rally due to begin around 10.15am in Broadgate Square on the day. Watch this space for more details!

 

Fire-fighters rally in Birmingham

Fire-fighters rally in Birmingham

Dave Nellist addresses the FBU rally

Dave Nellist addresses the FBU rally

With just 5 days work, about 150 fire-fighters and their families attended a lunchtime rally on Saturday, June 21 in Victoria Square, Birmingham as part of their campaign against government imposed changes to pensions. Firefighters from Coventry travelled to Birmingham to join their colleagues.

The Tory led coalition is seeking to take the best part of £4000 a year from the wages of fire-fighters in compulsory increases to pension contributions, whilst at the same time raising their retirement age from 55 to 60. If you were at the top of a burning building who would you prefer coming up the ladder to rescue you – a 30-year-old or a 60-year-old?

Many fire-fighters in the audience supported the need for escalation of their action, and in particular welcomed the idea of the FBU joining the action on July 10th currently being balloted for by NUT, Unison, Unite, GMB and PCS.

Pictured is Dave Nellist, national chair of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition who was invited by the regional FBU to be one of the main speakers at the rally.  The solidarity leaflet that Socialist Party members delivered to fire station picket lines around the country on Saturday can be viewed by visiting this link

 

Miliband Joins Tory Onslaught on Young People

Miliband and Labour have once again joined the Tory onslaught on young people

david-cameron-ed-miliband

Not content with seeing hundreds of thousands of young people on the dole or drifting in and out of low paid, insecure zero hour contacts. Miliband has today announced plans to ‘out Tory the Tories’, by setting out plans to cut benefits 18-to-21-year-olds who do not have qualifications equivalent to one A-Level. Replacing them with a means-tested payment dependent on training if Labour is elected in 2015.

The overwhelming majority of young people out of work and on the dole today, aren’t there out of choice. They have been forced through the dire lack of jobs across Britain today as more jobs are cut and more people thrown on the dole as a consequence.

Instead of fighting for the millions of young people thrown on the scrap heap of austerity in 21st century Britain. The Labour Party have once again shown their blatant support for more Austerity and the idea that ordinary working class people should pay for the crisis of the banks and free market system.

The solution to youth unemployment is not ever harsher and more punitive treatment of those who are out of work; it’s the creation of millions of secure, well-paid socially useful jobs – jobs that can provide the foundation for stable and happy lives for the next generation, as well as homes and services for those who need them.

Coventry Socialist Party members on youth demo

Coventry Socialist Party members on youth demo

Not one of the mainstream political parties currently offers us that. For young people facing unemployment – anger, frustration, stress and even despair can be normal responses to the bleak prospects austerity offers. But a concerted fightback, by young people working alongside trade unionists, socialists and other campaigners, can challenge the cuts consensus and help secure a decent future for the ‘99%’.

We say:
• A living wage that’s enough to live on – fight for a £10 an hour minimum wage and no youth exemptions
• Scrap workfare and all unpaid work schemes
• For secure jobs with guaranteed hours – scrap zero-hour contracts
• For government investment in well-paid socially useful jobs with full trade union rights for workers
• Prevent job losses. Stop public sector cuts
• Share out the work. For a 35-hour working week with no loss of pay. No increase in retirement age

Hundreds rally at Warwick University against racism and fascism

Hundreds rally at Warwick University against racism and fascism

UCU banner on the protest

UCU banner on the protest

Over 200 students rallied today at Warwick University against racism and fascism in a fantastic show of unity and solidarity. The protest was prompted by the presence on campus of a student member of the openly fascist National Action group which featured in a recent article in the Mirror newspaper (see link here)

Students from a wide variety of backgrounds were mobilised by the Warwick Anti-Racism Society, with support coming from members of trade unions based in Coventry such as Unison, PCS and NUT, as well as the UCU branch at the university.

Members of Socialist Students from Coventry University were present with Socialist Students at Warwick. Kristian Sucilla O’Sullivan, recently elected student councillor and President of Coventry Socialist Students spoke to the rally and brought the solidarity of Coventry students. He also called for the building of a movement against austerity armed with a socialist programme to beat the fascists and the capitalist system.

Kristian from Coventry Socialist Students addresses the crowd

Kristian from Coventry Socialist Students addresses the crowd

Dan Crowter, a member of the National Union of Teachers (in a personal capacity) and the Socialist Party brought greetings from his union, and called for a united fight for decent jobs, homes and education, which was met with applause.

Dan Crowter of the NUT

Dan Crowter of the NUT (personal capacity)

All of those involved in the organisation of this protest and everyone who attended should take massive credit for an excellent event. Many speakers rightly said that this can’t be a one off and discussions will take place about how we can build a movement against the far right. Socialist Students will continue to put forward the idea of unity between students and workers, and for a socialist programme that can lead the way out of this barbarous capitalism system that blights the lives of the 99 per cent.

Report from Socialists in USA: How Seattle won a $15 minimum wage

The below report and article is from the Socialist Alternative organisation in the USA (co-thinkers of the Socialist Party in the US) where a major victory has been won for a $15 an hour minimum wage in Seattle. The campaign and struggle developed on the back  of the historic election victory of Socialist Alternative member Kshama Sawant to the Seattle City Council last November. The struggle provides important lessons and inspiration for the fight for a £10 an hour minimum wage here in the UK.

Workers can win – Victory for $15 campaign in Seattle

$15

“We did this. Workers did this. Today’s first victory for $15 will inspire people all over the nation,” said socialist Seattle city councillor Kshama Sawant.

She was speaking after the 2 June meeting of the city council which voted to adopt a minimum wage of more than double the federal US rate. $15 an hour (about £9) will raise 100,000 low-paid workers in the city out of poverty.

What’s the difference between Seattle and the other cities in the US where workers have also been fighting heroic battles demanding $15? Mass campaigning built support for $15 and elected Kshama, a member of Socialist Alternative (co-thinkers of the Socialist Party in the US) last November. This was a turning point.

Kshama Sawant

Kshama Sawant

A Guardian website article reports: “Kshama Sawant, the only socialist city councillor in the US, whose election campaign last year became a driving force behind the minimum wage legislation in Seattle, hailed the vote at a boisterous meeting before a packed council chamber as a ‘historic victory’ for working people.”

Kshama exposed and opposed how big business weakened the legislation but she voted for $15. She said: “We’ll come back to the questions of tip penalty, the long-phase in, the training wage. What was lost through corporate loopholes is a reminder to us that outcomes are determined by the balance of forces… we need to continue to build an even more powerful movement strong enough to overcome the counterattacks from business.”

And Kshama explains: “My organisation, Socialist Alternative, was the backbone to this struggle. We have provided analysis and strategy, first to win this important seat in City Hall for a socialist and then immediately to turn it into a tool for organising.”

The 15 Now campaign set up by Kshama and Socialist Alternative established neighbourhood committees across the city which organised rallies and meetings. Fast food workers had protests and strikes demanding $15. Kshama pointed out: “This was not won at the negotiating table, it’s not a result of the generosity of the Democratic Party – it is a reflection of what workers won on the streets.”

The historic victory in Seattle shows what can be achieved when workers fight back. It shows the strength given to a movement when representatives of that movement are elected to political office and use their position to drive home its aims. This should be an inspiration, not just to workers in Seattle and the US, but to working class and poor people, socialists and trade unionists internationally.

As Kshama said after the vote: “$15 in Seattle is just a beginning. We have an entire world to win.”

 

US: How Seattle won a $15 minimum wage

Seattle is the first major US city to pass a $15 an hour minimum wage. 100,000 workers will be lifted out of poverty, and millions will be inspired all over the country and around the world.

On 29 May the city council’s committee dealing with the minimum wage voted to raise Seattle’s minimum wage to the highest in the country.

The proposed law will mean that starting on 1 April 2015 all workers in big businesses like McDonalds and Starbucks will see an immediate increase to $11 an hour and by 2025 all workers will be making a minimum of $18 an hour.

Altogether it is estimated that Seattle businesses will have to pay their workers an additional $3 billion in wages over the next ten years! This demonstrates that struggle pays – ordinary people can take on the biggest corporations in the world and win, when we organise and fight back.

The movement of fast food workers, inspired by 2011’s Occupy, put $15 on the agenda across the country. This received a boost in Seattle when the labour movement successfully won a $15 ballot initiative last November in SeaTac, a small town outside Seattle. But it was the election of Socialist Alternative candidate Kshama Sawant to Seattle City Council in November that was decisive in creating an unstoppable political momentum for $15 in Seattle. Kshama ran on a bold platform of $15, creating a major debate throughout Seattle, and won with almost 100,000 votes.

Shortly after the election Kshama and Socialist Alternative launched the campaign ’15 Now’ to keep the pressure high. 15 Now set up eleven action groups in neighbourhoods across the city mobilising in the streets and at public forums.

Exposing the Democrats

Through her public position Kshama was able to counter the propaganda in the corporate media and expose big business’s attempts to water down $15 and hide behind the concerns of small business. Against the claims of some that electoral politics only serves to co-opt movements, we showed how elected office can be used to build and strengthen them.

Initially all the Democratic Party politicians in Seattle opposed the demand for $15. But given the huge public support that was developing, the two main Democrats running for Mayor both came out in favour of $15 last September. After winning the November election, Mayor Ed Murray said he supported $15 but wanted to do it in a way “that would work for business, too.”

Murray set up an Advisory Committee of business and labour leaders (but mainly business) to negotiate a compromise. The business and political establishments recognised that there was no stopping $15, but they used the process to insert a number of corporate loopholes such as a phase-in over many years. Business fought until the final days of the city council process to water the bill down further.

At the vote, a majority of Democratic Party councilmembers moved to change the implementation date until April next year and include sub-minimum teenage and training wages. 15 Now and Socialist Alternative mobilised supporters to come to the City Council meeting on 2 June to fight for the removal of all loopholes.

A Mass Demo of the $15 campaign

A Mass Demo of the $15 campaign

This process has demonstrated the reality that, even though the Democratic Party uses more progressive rhetoric than the Republicans, fundamentally both parties work to serve the interests of big business. On a national level, the Democrats have failed to seriously organise and fight for a $10.10 an hour minimum wage which President Barak Obama floated in his 2014 ‘state of the nation’ speech. Instead they are using it as an electoral gimmick for the 2014 elections.

That is why Socialist Alternative argues, as we did in Kshama’s election campaign, that working people need our own political alternative to the Democratic and Republican parties. Given the huge alienation with Congress, the mistrust in politicians and the need to defend working class families, there is a unique opportunity opening up to build a new party for working people.

While Seattle has won the highest minimum wage in the country, big business was able to weaken it in a number of ways. There are unreasonable delays of three to ten years for the $15 to be fully implemented (depending on the size of the business you work for), and a tip penalty and healthcare deduction were added for the first ten years. This was not inevitable.

Defending our victory

In our view the strategy of those leading the main labour unions was not focused on building the movement from below but instead oriented towards the Mayor’s process of negotiating with business. They believed this was necessary because labour could not win a direct and open clash with big business.

After decades of setbacks and historically low levels of class struggle, it is understandable that the self-confidence of the working class is low. However, Socialist Alternative argued that this was an enormous opportunity to try to mobilise new layers of workers into a movement. This would bring more pressure to bear and is a critical way for a new generation to gain experience of organising, and to learn political lessons. This is the way to begin to rebuild the workers’ movement.

It was in that context that we argued for putting forward a ballot initiative for a strong $15, without exemptions to benefit big business. If the big unions had backed the threat of a ballot initiative for a stronger $15, business could have been forced to concede much more.

Labour unions in the US have tremendous resources and political weight. They have millions of dollars and millions of members that could be mobilised behind a bold campaign to raise the minimum wage. The fast food strikes have played an important role in drawing attention to the issue of poverty wages, but the movement could be much stronger if the unions ended their reliance on the Democratic Party and looked to mobilise the full power of working people through building democratic mass movements.

Over the last three decades, labour’s strategy of trying to appease big business to get some concessions only increased the demands of Corporate America. It’s time to drop this futile effort.

And we must remember that no reform is guaranteed under capitalism. Big business could challenge what’s won in Seattle with a referendum or other means so our movement must be prepared to mobilise and defend what we’ve won.

See www.socialistalternative.org for more analysis