Absolutely savage cuts in council spending announced by the Coalition yesterday will lead to tens of thousands of jobs losses and the devastation of essential local services. The question is: How can this be stopped?
The reduction in government grant will hit poorer inner-city areas hardest. Hackney, Tower Hamlets, Newham, Manchester, Rochdale, Knowsley, Liverpool, St Helens, Doncaster and South Tyneside face grant cuts of nearly 9% from next April.
With council tax frozen by Whitehall order, the only way these councils can balance their books is to sack workers and shut down services. And it will get worse, with similar sized cuts scheduled for the following three years.
A number of things are already clear. Many if not most city councils are Labour controlled – and they are without question going to make the cuts. This is already happening in places like Manchester, Doncaster, Lewisham and Lambeth.
The official leaders of council trade unions like the GMB, Unite and Unison, agree with Labour councillors. In fact, Unite is calling Labour councillors to meetings to tell them what they wanted to hear and were already planning – that they should not defy the government. Labour leader Ed Miliband is backing this message.
Unison yesterday came out with the obvious statement that “the scale of the cuts means that communities will be feeling the pain for years to come.” Its main campaign is get a million signatures for public services, as if that will make the slightest difference as far the Lib-Con government is concerned.
Unison is supporting the TUC’s call for a demonstration for public services on March 26 next year – by which time the cuts will have been made.
Britain’s record budget deficit – with interest payments on loans alone heading towards the £100 billion a year mark – is what lies behind the cuts. In turn, the deficit results from the global recession that followed the 2008 financial meltdown.
From a capitalist point of view, the Coalition has no choice but to slash and burn. And inevitably, the burden of the capitalist crisis falls on local communities, which will resemble wastelands if these cuts are allowed to stand.
As the students have discovered, the Coalition has no intention of yielding to protest. Nor will Labour councillors, who overwhelmingly are New Labour types without principle or backbone who would like to be allowed to get away with say "we are only carrying out government orders".
A broad strategy is required that goes beyond resistance.
Councillors that refuse to stand up for their communities have no right to continue to represent local voters. A campaign should begin immediately, organised by council trade unionists, to force them to step aside.
They could organise their own ballots on the cuts as a way of mobilising local communities against those planning to vote for job losses and shutting down services.
Trade unionists and communities have to be prepared to take over the town halls themselves and block all attempts to pass cuts budgets.
Local government democracy was wiped out a long time ago. Councils exist to carry out government orders and communities have to create their own local democratic process.
Council chambers should become a base for creating genuine People’s Assemblies in local areas. A network of People’s Assemblies emerging out of the fight against council cuts would be in a position to defy central government and challenge the authority of Whitehall.
Assemblies could begin to work on economic and financial alternatives to a capitalist system that has patently broken down.
A groundswell of resistance is building throughout Britain. Hundreds of council workers marched through Doncaster yesterday against the Labour council’s plans to slash £80 million off spending. They were joined by students from Sheffield University and applauded calls to strike and occupy council offices to fight the cuts. They are heading in the right direction.