Industrial Spotlight – *2
Reprinted from Monday 24th Jan edition of Morning Star
“Traitor” “Scab!” and “Shame on you” are all insults that any union member will be familiar with.
Traditionally they were reserved for those miners who crossed picket lines in ’84 and for the police who assaulted striking NUM members with wooden batons.
Today the terms have been directed at the officers policing the G20 and student fees protests.
How odd then to find these words being hurled with extra venom at the unfortunate Islington Labour Councillor Charlynne Pullen during the recent Labour Representation Committee AGM.
Her crime? She had the audacity to stand up and declare that due to budgetary restrictions from central government, the Labour-run council on which she sits will have to implement cuts.
Despite assurances that the Labour group would do everything it could to minimise the impact, the cries of sell-out continued.
However, her timely intervention posed one of the most serious tactical questions for the labour movement at this time – how do trades union councils engage effectively with local Labour councils in resisting the cuts implemented by central government at the behest of the EU big-business club?
Some people at the conference were calling on Labour councils to openly defy the Con-Dem government by refusing to abide by central government budgetary constraints, set an illegal budget and ultimately risk prison.
As heroic as this may sound in the abstract, there are a number of problems with this approach.
Despite the best efforts of lay reps and union national executive committees, we have not yet built a mass movement capable of defending our communities from the coalition beast.
It is not realistic to expect Labour councillors who in many cases only see trade unions as a “special interest group” to suddenly behave like revolutionaries who are prepared to go to prison for their stand.
What many councillors are correctly pointing out is that if they set an illegal budget, central government would simply suspend the local authority and implement the harshest possible interpretation of budgetary restrictions on local people.
Some on the ultra-left assume that local people will spontaneously rise up in indignation at this and “do something about it.”
As it stands it doesn’t take a genius to work out the likely reaction of ordinary people in this and it certainly wouldn’t be the above.
However, the situation is not hopeless and simply directing focus nationally at the Con-Dem assault, although important, is not solely what is required.
A positive step already being tried by several trades councils is to call on Labour councils to set a “needs” budget – showing what the local community needs from services and the actual “best” budget that they could actually implement.
This would expose the cuts and help to draw together councillors, trade unionists and local people into a campaigning coalition to take the message out to the wider public.
Dependent on the success of this strategy, local campaigners would be in a better position to assess the next steps. But it needs a sustained effort.
Many individual Labour councillors have already been influenced by this strategy, such as Cllr Pullen who ended her contribution saying she would be helping to mobilise local people for the critical March 26 TUC demonstration.
Senior people in the trade union movement have quietly suggested that as the anti-cuts movement gathers momentum and broadens appeal among the general public beyond the TUC demo, councillors could end up in prison for resisting the cuts.
A thorough discussion between trades councils up and down the country in the letters pages of the Morning Star would be a welcome development.
But one thing is for certain – the working-class movement doesn’t need martyrs. It needs dogged, principled, long-term fighters whose sole interest is that of the working people they represent.
Engagement with all potential allies in creating effective opposition to the cuts should be our priority.