Corbyn’s Labour needs 100% anti-cuts strategy and fight for democracy

Corbyn’s Labour needs 100% anti-cuts strategy and fight for democracy

We are pleased to republish this week’s editorial from The Socialist newspaper.

How can we save our local leisure centre? What can be done to halt gentrification and meet housing need? How can the deepening crisis in social care be addressed? What must be done to protect local jobs and halt attacks on pay and conditions?

These are just a few of the questions which working class people are asking, especially as we approach council budget setting and May’s local elections.

They are questions which demand concrete answers in the here and now. Rhetoric, handwringing, and semi-pious exhortations to ‘hold on for a general election’ are all utterly insufficient.

Yet at present, it is this that is on offer, not just from Labour’s Blairite right (many who are actually brazen with their anti-working class policies and sentiments) but even from the leadership of Momentum.

Chris Williamson, the Labour MP for Derby North and former shadow fire minister, appears to have been pushed to resign from the front bench after making comments about an alternative to local government cuts.

Acknowledging that the austerity which has been dutifully doled out by councils over the last seven years is in fact intolerable, he argued that Labour-run local authorities could consider increasing council tax for those living in properties which fall within the highest tax bands.

This, he said, could be used to help raise the funds needed to stop cuts and protect services.

Fighting austerity

Socialists must always oppose any increases in taxation which have the potential to fall on people with low or middle incomes.

Council tax, which is calculated based on the estimated value of properties in which people live (whether as tenants or owners) and which does not properly take account of people’s ability to pay, could certainly not be described as progressive.

Chris Williamson’s proposals did acknowledge this, and included ideas for ways for those on lower incomes to ‘claw back’ increases in the tax on higher bands – to protect cash-poor pensioners, for example.

This complex schema, to be approved in each council area in a local referendum, would be open to ferocious attacks and distortions by the Tory media.

Nonetheless, he was grappling with vital questions: how can Labour councils act to protect working class people from the ravages of austerity? How can they play their part in fighting to ensure that the burden of paying for capitalist crisis does not fall on workers, pensioners and youth?

For Labour’s right, this is a crime which cannot be tolerated. Since the beginning of Corbyn’s leadership the Blairites have sought to use their base in local government – where they have the vast majority of Labour councillors – in order to undermine him.

In particular, they have ferociously opposed any suggestion that Labour councils might have options other than those of cuts, privatisation and redundancies.

In one indicator revealing the extent to which many Labour councillors have accepted the ‘logic’ of neoliberalism, it has been revealed that Leeds City council was on the verge of offering a £100 million contract to the parasitic company Carillion just before its collapse.

But councillors do have a choice. Around Britain, Labour councils currently hold over £9.2 billion in general fund reserves.

They administer combined budgets of almost £75 billion. They have substantial borrowing powers, as well as the ability to work together to ‘pool’ funds and collaborate with other local authorities.

In other words, far from being powerless ‘technocrats’, bound by the logic of austerity or the chaos of the market, Labour councils are in fact a potential alternative power in Britain.

Indeed, even if just one Labour council was to take a stand, using reserves and borrowing powers and refusing to lay more hardship on working class people, it could mobilise behind it a mass campaign and have a profound effect on the political situation.

It could hasten the demise of May’s weak, divided government and bring about an early general election.

Any hint that councillors could take such a road is anathema to the Blairites. That is why it was disappointing that Corbyn and McDonnell appear to have bowed to their pressure by encouraging Williamson’s resignation.

Unfortunately, this has not been their first retreat on the issue. As part of their mistaken strategy of attempting to ‘keep on board’ the Blairite rump that remains dominant in Labour’s parliamentary party, local government and machinery, they have made a number of concessions to the demands of the right on this issue.

NEC elections

But far from placating the right and buying their loyalty, concessions like these have only encouraged the Blairites to press Corbyn to back down on other issues.

In particular, these have included questions of party democracy and the selection and reselection of candidates.

Labour’s recent national executive committee (NEC) elections saw Momentum-backed candidates win all three of the available seats.

This means that for the first time since Corbyn’s election as leader, his supporters (all-be-it of varying shades of politics and loyalty) will have a narrow but clear majority. Momentum’s self-appointed leader Jon Lansman was among those elected.

This is potentially a step forward. The question is: how will this position be used? To fight for mandatory reselection that will allow Labour members and trade unions the chance to democratically decide candidates and kick out the Blairites? To help take on cuts-making Labour councillors and support any and all who are prepared to resist austerity and refuse to implement cuts?

In recent weeks, Momentum’s leadership has begun to push an alternative strategy for ‘fighting’ local government cuts, which is based on a model put forward by Bristol’s Labour mayor, Marvin Rees.

The essence of it is to support and call for protests against cuts, and to use these as a platform to ask the government to provide more funding – hoping that the pressure of large demonstrations will bear down on May’s government.

Borrowing from the strategy put forward by the Socialist Party, they even suggest drawing up ‘needs-based’ budgets.

But unlike us, they see this as merely an exercise in propaganda, not as something to be acted upon and implemented. It is here that the strategy ends.

Should the Tories refuse to provide funding, councils should, according to Momentum’s leaders, make the cuts as required.

Those who have joined protests to demand an alternative should be asked to simply accept that the council ‘has no other option’.

They should be asked to continue to cast their votes for Labour councillors, even while they make themselves busy destroying local jobs and services.

Demonstrations are not a bad place to start. But they must be linked to a strategy which includes councils refusing to implement cuts.

So far, the ‘Rees model’ has singularly failed to extract further funds from the Tories. Indeed, when the Bristol mayor came to London to meet the communities’ secretary he was snubbed – not even offered a meeting!

Socialist and left-wing politics means little if it is unable to provide a way forward in the real struggles faced by working class people in the here and now.

In the June election, Corbyn’s anti-austerity manifesto generated a surge of enthusiasm because it began to offer answers to the needs and aspirations of ordinary people.

But this manifesto provides a sharp contrast with the programme on which the majority of Labour’s right-wing councillors will be standing at this year’s local elections.

As Unite assistant general secretary Howard Beckett put it at this year’s TUC congress “if Labour councillors act like Tories we should treat them like Tories”.

In the view of the Socialist Party, this should include being prepared to provide an electoral challenge to cuts-making councillors – whatever colour rosette they wear.

Campaigners lobby Coventry council against cuts to disability transport

Campaigners lobby Coventry council against cuts to disability transport

Members of Coventry Socialist Party were supporting parents on Tuesday, 16th January, who lobbied Coventry Council for three hours against charges of up to £600 for school transport for children with special educational needs.

John Boadle and Isla Windsor explain: “The Council has previously provided free transport to school or college for severely disabled children. Now they are charging parents for each child 16 or over. The amount is £600 a year, or £300 if the family is on means-tested benefits. Almost 1000 children use the school transport, with those aged 16 and over facing the charges immediately, though as each child gets older their families will face the same problem.“

“The impact on families is severe – they are being asked for money they haven’t got.  Parents of children with severe disabilities have their whole lives dominated by that situation. Day and night, for the rest of their lives. And then they worry what will happen to their children when they are gone. If Coventry Labour council can’t provide help for people like that then what are they playing at?“

“There was a lot of public sympathy for the parents. And a lot of determination on the parents’ part. You can see that through the sharp irony of the slogan on their banner: Coventry, City of Cruelty!”

The Tories and UKIP may join protests such as these, but they should remember that they support the austerity that is behind these cuts.

Former Socialist Party councillor, Dave Nellist, who also attended the lobby, said: “If Labour’s national anti-austerity stance is to mean anything, then local councils such as Coventry should refuse to make these cuts.  Instead, they should be using money from reserves whilst building a fight against the Tory government for the restoration of the necessary funds for essential services.”

Support protest against cuts to disabled children’s transport

Support protest against cuts to disabled children’s transport

Parents and campaigners will be lobbying Coventry Council on Tuesday 16th January against council plans to charge up to £600 for disabled children’s travel to school. The lobby is from 11am-2pm.

It is not right that ordinary people in Coventry are still paying the price for the financial crisis. Coventry Socialist Party supports this protest and urges the maximum possible attendance.

“Labour councillors ought to grow a backbone and stand up to the Tories” – Dave Nellist

“Labour councillors ought to grow a backbone and stand up to the Tories” – Dave Nellist

10689501_10155191461760142_9191767907067580519_n

Dave Nellist presents petition calling on Council to fight the cuts

We are pleased to share the below letter published by the Coventry Telegraph this week by Dave Nellist, former Militant Labour MP and Socialist Party councillor in Coventry. This week a petition organised by young service users will be presented to the council against youth club closures as part of an ongoing campaign against the “Connecting Communities” scheme.
“Cuts that Coventry Council are planning will radically worsen public services in our city, but in fact are entirely unnecessary.
Saying that governments of both hues over the last 10 years have originated the cuts is not enough.  Local councils do have alternatives to reducing proper library provision, to cutting youth clubs and funding for children’s centres, to reducing bin collections.
Coventry Council has increased its reserves from £41m six years ago to £95m today.  That’s five times the planned cuts for the next financial year!  The Council has lent millions of pounds to private businesses (for example to a hotel and for student accomodation) – that money should be being used to defend the city’s public services that everyone in the city relies on.
Labour council leaders held a national meeting on 17th February at Warwick University.  They could have drawn up a coordinated plan of resistance to pressurise the government to  restore money stolen from our towns and cities.
Unfortunately, it seems that if council leaders have a strategy it’s limited to waiting for the next general election in 2020 for a change of direction.  By then, 70% of council services will be gone, and thousands of local jobs will no longer be available for school leavers.
And anyway, on present form, with Labour councillors cutting service after service, there’s little incentive for people to vote Labour locally, and no guarantee of a general election victory in three years time.
Bluntly, Labour councillors ought to grow a backbone and stand up to the Tories, whilst there are still public services left to defend.”

Thousands sign petitions against library and youth service closures

Thousands sign petitions against library and youth service closures

Campaigners ourside the Council house hand in petitions of over 2800 signatures

On Monday anti-cuts campaigners handed in petitions with over 2800 signatures against library and youth service closures.

Sarah Smith from Save Coventry Libraries said “This is a further sign of the massive opposition throughout Coventry to the council’s cuts agenda.”

Almost 800 people signed the “Stop Youth Club Closures” petition initiated by Bailey Evatt, one of the service users.

Bailey Evatt with Dave Nellist

Coventry Council say they have to make cuts, but they don’t – they could use the £95million+ that they have in reserves to fund services to hold the line and buy time to build a campaign to get back the money that the Government has stolen from the people of Coventry.

Campaigners holding a poster created by youth club users

Coventry Socialists campaign against library closures

Coventry Socialists campaign against library closures

13900716_10157316023085457_800417158_n.jpg

Campaigning in the City Centre

Members of Coventry Socialist Party were campaigning against library closures over the weekend, with a campaign stall in the City Centre and supporting the Save Coventry Libraries campaign at Arena Park Library.

Over 800 people signed the petition over the day, showing how strongly people object to the councils plan to close libraries across Coventry. Some libraries are threatened with closure altogether while some will be closed unless volunteers come forward to run them. Many staff will lose their jobs.

Arena Park is a well used library, but is scheduled to close on August 27th. While campaigning there on Saturday we found that many service users were not aware that it was closing and that there is no alternative provision.

More than 1000 people have signed the petition in total – Coventry Council should listen and not close libraries!

Save Coventry Libraries campaigner Sarah Smith (left) collecting signatures

70 people join lobby of Coventry Council against library closures

70 people join lobby of Coventry Council against library closures

13669775_1713393298921909_1850438651840658326_n.jpg

Lobbying the council – save our libraries!

Around 70 people braved the rain yesterday and joined a lobby of Coventry Labour Council organised by Save Coventry Libraries.

A number of councillors passed the demo and spoke to protesters saying that while they appreciate that libraries are a crucial service, they have no choice but to make cuts and close libraries. Let’s be clear, they do have a choice – the council could use the £84million+ that they have in reserves to fund services for a year, while building a campaign to demand the money back from central Government.

It is unfortunate but not surprising that most of the Labour councillors who voted to close these libraries are opposed to Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party. It is a sad state of affairs when they spend more time attacking socialists on Twitter than they do defending the jobs and services of people in Coventry!

Save Coventry Libraries is encouraging people to write to their local councillors and MPs and tell them what your libraries mean to you, and that libraries are a necessity and a basic human right, not a luxury.

The campaign has three upcoming events – “Love Willenhall Library day” on Monday July 25th at 1pm, “Love Arena Park Library day” on Saturday July 30th at 12 noon, and a further lobby of Coventry Council on September 6th at 1pm.

Coventry teachers join national NUT strike

Coventry teachers join national NUT strike

13599758_10154463041840757_5684904439905312_n.jpg

Protesting outside the Department for Education building in Coventry

Today saw members of the National Union of Teachers (NUT) take industrial action against funding cuts to schools, an increasing workload, and schools using unqualified teachers in order in classrooms in order to save money. Members of the NUT say they will continue to take industrial action demanding no more cuts to funding, so they can continue to provide an outstanding education and support for every child to develop and thrive.

Around 80 teachers and other trade unionists protested outside the Department for Education building in Coventry and at Godiva Statue, as well as holding picket lines at schools across the city.

“The 12% reduction in funding to Coventry schools will devastate education in this city. We will see a possible increase of class sizes to 35 and classes taught by unqualified teachers. Teachers will see their workload further increase and it is intolerable now. More and more teachers will leave teaching either by choice or by being made redundant as schools tighten their belts. Parents should be angry that this will impact on their children’s education.” said Nicky Downes, Coventry NUT equalities officer and Socialist Party member.

Since the Tories came into power we have seen attacks on our education, NHS and other public services across the country. Today it was announced that junior doctors have rejected the imposition of a new contract – the next step should be for them to take strike action alongside teachers, as part of the fight against austerity.

Thursday’s elections showed anger and fragmentation

Thursday’s elections showed anger and fragmentation

12991821_10156888782545457_788382064_o

While the media has attempted to spin last week’s elections as a disaster for Jeremy Corbyn, the reality of the situation is far more complex. The 25% increase in the Socialist vote in Coventry reflects a growing radicalisation and dissatisfaction with the right-wing policies of Labour in Coventry. The below article by Hannah Sell reflects on the situation nationally. Hannah is the deputy general secretary of the Socialist Party and will be speaking at our post-election rally on Thursday 12th May.

Running up to the May elections the Labour Party right wing – with the full backing of the capitalist class – set out to damage their own party’s chances in order to achieve what is, for them, a greater goal: undermining Jeremy Corbyn. The anti-Semitism uproar – initially relating to comments made by Naz Shah when Ed Miliband was leader – was a cynical attempt to try to prepare the ground for a coup against Corbyn, hoping that the local election results would then provide further ammunition.

Widespread predictions were made by Blairite MPs and in the right-wing media – now included in which is the Guardian – that Labour was on course to lose 100 or more council seats because of the supposed unpopularity of opposing austerity. That didn’t happen.

In Scotland Labour suffered a resounding defeat. That was partly inevitable given the hatred of Scottish workers for the role Labour played in the Scottish independence referendum, acting as the voice of big business’s Project Fear campaign. However good Jeremy Corbyn’s approach to Scotland, he would not have been able to quickly overcome workers’ view of Labour as ‘red Tories’.

Unfortunately, however, Jeremy Corbyn has not taken a clear position of supporting the right of self-determination for Scotland which would have begun to win some credit back for Labour among the Scottish working class. Of course, had he adopted the pro-austerity ‘red Tory’ approach demanded by the Blairites – who are now blaming Corbyn for the result – Labour would have fared even worse in Scotland than it did.

But in England Labour maintained the same number of councils and only had a net loss of 18 seats, while slightly increasing its share of the vote from the general election. Far from a mass exodus from Labour in the south of England, Labour retained control of key councils including Southampton and Exeter. Significantly, it won the mayors of Bristol and London – the sixth biggest city and the capital – with clear majorities.

The racist campaign by the Tories in London backfired and London is now the first city in Europe with a Muslim mayor, while Bristol – a city built on slavery – now has the first mayor in Europe of African-Caribbean descent.

Labour won the two parliamentary byelections in Sheffield Brightside and Ogmore, with an increased majority in the former. That inconvenient fact may have temporarily stayed the hands of Corbyn’s enemies. Tom Watson, deputy leader of the Labour Party, openly appealed on Radio 4 to Labour MPs to “have patience” – suggesting not that they should support Jeremy Corbyn, but that they couldn’t move against him yet given the election results and the size of his mandate.

Labour’s right and left

That has not prevented, however, an escalation in the civil war in the Labour Party. Endless successions of Labour MPs are touring the TV studios to explain why – even though their dire predictions did not materialise – this was still a truly terrible election result for Labour. Leading the charge has been the newly elected London mayor Sadiq Khan who, as we predicted, is setting out his new position as a platform against Jeremy Corbyn. Unfortunately, the leadership of Momentum, which purports to organise Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters, has spent recent weeks uncritically mobilising in support of Sadiq Khan, without even warning its membership about the role that he – a man who has said he wants more billionaires in London – was clearly set to play.

The pro-Corbyn wing of the party has not as yet fought back like it should against the blows being rained down on it, but has vainly attempted to paper over the gaping chasm. Left MP Clive Lewis has appealed to Corbyn to “compromise, reach out”, including on policy questions. As if events of the last weeks don’t prove conclusively that there is no compromise that could successfully pacify the Blairites.

For the right of the Labour Party – and behind them the 1%, the capitalist class – are desperate to once again make their party safe for big business. That means routing the nascent anti-austerity movement that thrust Jeremy Corbyn into power. The only way to defeat the right is not to retreat but to continue to build that movement around a clear pro-working class programme.

Expressions of the anger

And last Thursday’s elections in no way demonstrated that anti-austerity ideas are unpopular. On the contrary, anger at the misery this government is inflicting on the majority is growing. It was not by any means, however, channelled exclusively in the direction of Labour. Instead it was fragmented.

While many voted Labour, others’ view of that party – which has implemented pro-big business policies in power and at local level for decades – had not changed. Some refused to vote Labour because – while Jeremy Corbyn has correctly opposed austerity, saying it is a political choice – local Labour councillors and the Labour-led Welsh Assembly have passed on savage government cuts to local public services.

Right-wing Labour councillors and Assembly Members that lost their seats are trying to lay the blame at Corbyn’s door. But they did not stand on Corbyn’s policies, they stood on a pro-austerity programme. That is why some voters showed their opposition by voting for what they saw as anti-cuts parties, whether that was Plaid Cymru in Wales, the Scottish National Party (SNP) in Scotland, the Greens, the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC), or even in a distorted way for Ukip.

Plaid Cymru’s leader Leanne Wood succeeded in defeating Labour in the Rhondda, a traditional Labour stronghold. Her party also increased its share of the vote, making it the second party in the Welsh Assembly. Charlotte Church will not have been alone in voting for Plaid Cymru while continuing to support Jeremy Corbyn, because she recognised that the leadership of Labour in Wales is not anti-austerity.

In Scotland the SNP won 46.5% of the vote for the Scottish parliament, an increase of 1% from four years ago. It had a small fall in its number of seats only because of the vagaries of the electoral system.

The Greens had a net loss of four councillors in England but increased their vote in many areas, overtaking the Liberal Democrats to become the fourth party in terms of vote share. In Scotland they increased their MSPs from two to six and in the London Mayoral contest they scored their highest ever share of the vote.

Similarly they doubled their vote for the Liverpool Mayor to 10,609. Combined with the creditable 4,950 votes for TUSC’s candidate Roger Bannister, this meant that 15% of voters in Liverpool consciously chose to vote for candidates that they perceived as being to the left of Labour and more anti-austerity. Even the votes for Ukip, who won 10% of the votes across council elections in England and came second in both parliamentary byelections, primarily reflect anger and disillusionment with establishment politicians.

Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition

Unfortunately, all of those parties, with the exception of TUSC, have implemented cuts when in power at local or national level. TUSC, in which the Socialist Party participates, was alone in standing 100% opposed to austerity and cuts in public services, which are destroying local government. That is why the Birmingham Post called TUSC “arguably the fiercest defenders of local government itself”.

Despite limited resources and a boycott by the national media, it was vital that TUSC stood candidates, in order to offer a socialist and working class alternative to austerity (see www.tusc.org.uk for more detail on TUSC results).

TUSC is a coalition of socialists, trade unionists and anti-cuts campaigners – including the transport workers’ union, the RMT – which stands in elections in order to oppose cuts and give workers a voice at the ballot box. We wrote to Labour candidates before the elections urging them to take a clear anti-cuts stand and pledge not to stand against those that did so. However, where Labour candidates voted for cuts – from library closures to bedroom tax evictions – we were prepared to stand against them.

The 58 Labour-led councils that had elections on Thursday hold over £4.5 billion in general reserves. Pooling these would mean that no Labour council would have to make a single cut this year. They could use the resulting breathing space to build a mass anti-austerity movement capable of defeating a weak and increasingly divided Tory government.

Tory divisions and retreats

In the coming weeks the EU referendum campaign will dominate the political agenda. Historically Jeremy Corbyn has correctly opposed the EU as an undemocratic club acting in the interests of the bankers and big business. If he had stood by that position it would have transformed the EU referendum campaign – which is currently dominated by right-wing big business politicians on both sides. Unfortunately, under huge pressure from the Labour right and the capitalist class, Jeremy Corbyn retreated on this issue.

Nonetheless, the Tories remain split down the middle over Europe. Already they have been forced to retreat on a whole number of issues, including now on the forced academisation of schools. In the aftermath of the referendum Cameron, and potentially the Tory Party, could be ejected from power. A powerful, united movement could bring a halt to austerity and force the Tories to call a general election. Building such a movement requires united strike action – building towards a 24-hour general strike – but it also requires creating a clear anti-austerity political alternative.

Jeremy Corbyn’s landslide election as Labour leader showed the potential for creating a mass anti-capitalist party. Unfortunately, however, the majority of Labour MPs and councillors remain pro-capitalist and pro-austerity. Labour is two parties in one: a pro-capitalist party and a potential workers’ party.

To defeat the right means starting to mobilise the currently fragmented anti-austerity mood into a mass, democratic movement. This will not succeed if it remains trapped within the current undemocratic structure of the Labour Party, vainly trying to compromise with ‘the 4.5%’ – the Blairite representatives of big business in the Labour Party. Instead it means building an open, democratic movement – organised on federal lines – that brings together all of those who have been inspired by Jeremy Corbyn and want to see a determined anti-capitalist party.

Coventry Socialists hit the streets campaigning against the cuts and in support of junior doctors

Coventry Socialists hit the streets campaigning against the cuts and in support of junior doctors

13148022_10154030333641421_946181076_o (1)

Sarah Smith campaigning at Jardine Crescent, Tile Hill

Coventry Socialist Party, part of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC), were out campaigning across Coventry today, two days after the local elections.

We are continuing to build the opposition to austerity, including cuts to local services such as our libraries and play centres. At the same time, it is important to build support for workers taking action like the junior doctors. The thousands of leaflets that we distributed during the election all called for support for the junior doctors in their dispute as part of the battle to defend our NHS

Our candidate in Woodlands ward, Sarah Smith, met residents who had voted for her as the TUSC candidate, thanking them for their support.

Sarah said

I would like to say ‘thank you’ to the to the 160 voters who voted for me this year; on election day we were out on a campaign stall in Woodlands ward for 4 hours, but my campaigning is not just during election time; it is day in and day out, week in and week out, year in and year out to build the campaigns  to save our services and fight to stop the cuts.

For example this was shown in my 2,208 signature petition to Save Tile Hill library, a combined petition to save Jardine Youth Centre and Sure Start centre, and being part of the Coventry Against the Bedroom Tax team who stopped two bedroom tax evictions last year.

This year I joined the protest to save Woodlands school; the Labour candidate claimed in her election leaflet she was campaigning to save it however many Labour councillors have supported schools becoming academies. This shows that we need real opposition to the Tories and as part of TUSC I will be working to increase this opposition.

Want to get involved with our campaigns or join the Socialists? Fill in the form below and we will be in touch!