Manchester: Labour hypocrites unleash savage cuts

Nowhere is the hypocrisy of the Labour Party more striking than in the ‘Labour stronghold’ of Manchester, a city already rife with unemployment and extreme inequalities of wealth. In the next three years the Council will implement cuts of £280 million. We can expect none of this to come from the pay packets of its rich friends.

On 9 March a packed public gallery shouted ‘Liars!’, ‘Cowards!’ and chanted ‘No votes for cuts!’ as all 62 Labour councillors voted through Manchester City Council’s budget cuts. The meeting had to be suspended twice due to loud heckling. Council leader Sir Richard Leese shed crocodile tears while voting the cuts through, saying, ‘There is something very wrong in the morality of this government. These are ideological cuts; they are too fast, too deep and fundamentally wrong’, complaining of ‘the unfairness of the government’s financial grant settlement for Manchester.’ The Con-Dem government has given Manchester a 15% cut in its Council grant for the coming year, yet the Labour Council will cut services by 25%, claiming that a 17% cut in its workforce of 2,000 people, is needed to make savings of £110 million over the next year and £170 million in 2012/13. Thirty six Sure Start children’s centres will be closed or privatised; five libraries will close along with all public toilets except one. There will be redundancies in refuse services and no free car parking on Sundays.

A tale of two cities

Manchester was the poster city of the previous Labour government, put forward as a glimmering example of ‘urban regeneration’ and ‘a critically important part of the UK financial and professional services sector’ according to John Ashcroft, chief executive of ‘corporate membership’ organisation pro.manchester. But the luxurious apartment blocks and trendy wine bars that sprung up around the city centre during these years were not built for the ordinary Mancunian; many remain empty. In Greater Manchester 110,000 people remain on council housing waiting lists, with one property for every 19 applications. People on an estate in Collyhurst have been waiting since 2006 for planned improvements but this has been one of the first developments to be cancelled. Ray Fisher from the local tenants association said: ‘The houses in the area are absolutely disgusting. You can put your fingers through window frames and see holes at the bottom of doors. There is no double glazing and many houses do not have central heating. This place has been abandoned.’

Gentrification has gone hand in hand with rising poverty. The city is already the fourth poorest local authority in Britain. Estimates are that 46,000 jobs have already been lost in Greater Manchester due to the recession. According to Save the Children, Manchester is the local authority area with the highest level of severe child poverty in England – 27% of Manchester’s children. Despite this the council plans to cut children’s services by £45.1m (or 26%). Life expectancy in Manchester is currently the second lowest in England for men, and fourth lowest for women.

The fightback

As in other parts of Britain, Manchester has begun to see signs of resistance. Local campaigns have won battles to keep certain public services open, such as Levenshulme Baths, which the council originally planned to close. But Labour is already playing a sly, opportunistic role, aiming to set itself at the head of the movement even as Labour councils implement cuts. Local MP Gerald Kaufman bizarrely held up the Levenshulme campaign as a victory for Labour councillors. Labour councillor Julie Reed supported the campaign – but then voted through the cuts!

FRFI supporters attended a meeting on 27 February called by Manchester Coalition against the Cuts (MCAC, set up by the SWP), to build a demonstration against the cuts in Manchester on 5 March. President of Manchester Trade Council Geoff Brown (SWP) said he would be glad to see Councillor Leese on the anti-cuts demo, regardless of his being the figurehead of Labour’s attacks on the working class in Manchester. Despite opposition from FRFI supporters and others, MCAC then pushed through a vote calling for all Manchester MPs and councillors to be invited to speak at the demo, irrespective of whether they were against the cuts or not!

On 26 February around a hundred mothers, most of them working class, demonstrated outside the town hall against the Sure Start cuts. Labour and its backers in Unison attempted to take control of the protest. First, councillor Sheila Newman got up to speak and was booed throughout – she was saying how great Sure Start was but that ‘independent’ (ie private) providers could do the job just as well. The Unison chairperson tried to calm things but slipped up by saying ‘we know some cuts have to be made, but...’ and people interrupted with chanting. Leese was also prevented from speaking by hecklers. This shows once again that not all working class people will be fooled by Labour’s rhetoric. On the 5 March demonstration the Labour speakers didn’t show up, and days later they voted through the cuts. In Manchester the Labour Council is public enemy number one.

Louis Brehony

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 220 April/May 2011