- Created: Sunday, 20 October 2013 07:32
- Written by Robert Clough
While Labour Party supporters point to Ed Miliband’s announcements at the Labour Party conference that an incoming Labour government in 2015 will cap energy price rises, build 200,000 houses a year and scrap the bedroom tax as an indication of how the party has returned to its roots, the reality will be quite different. Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls, addressing the conference, once again spoke of the need for more cuts in state spending:
‘We won’t be able to reverse all the spending cuts and tax rises the Tories have pushed through. And we will have to govern with less money around. The next Labour government will have to make cuts too ... we will keep the benefits cap, but make sure it properly reflects local housing costs. We will have a cap on structural social security spending. And yes, over the long-term, as our population ages, there will need to be increases in the retirement age.’ Robert Clough reports
Although the government has had to defer implementation of Universal Credit for new claimants from October 2013 to April 2014, Labour still supports its principles. On the ground, Labour-run councils are preparing for a fourth round of savage cuts while refusing to do anything in practice to ameliorate the impact of the bedroom tax, rising council tax or the benefit cap. The impact on the working class as winter approaches will be terrible. But there is not the slightest sign that Labour councils will offer any resistance to the ConDem coalition.
In London, Labour councils are shipping victims of the local housing allowance caps to places as far apart as Kent and Lincoln. What possible excuse can they provide for these acts of inhumanity? They will do the same with those who suffer housing benefit cuts through the overall benefit cap. Up to 40,000 households in London, families with three or more children, may be affected by this. How can anyone justify the possible expulsion of well over 100,000 people, mostly children, from the capital? Labour councillors will wring their hands and protest that they hate what they are doing, but claim they have no choice but to implement central government directives.
It will be the same with the fourth round of council cuts, which will be followed by a fifth and sixth round. Once again they say they hate what they are doing, but if they set an illegal budget the government will send in commissioners who will cut even more services and jobs. Labour-run Derbyshire County Council will cut £157m and 1,600 jobs over five years; Manchester City Council will cut a further £52m on top of £250m since 2010. Newcastle Council is planning for the second year of a three-year programme of cutting £100m. Having slashed spending by £42.5m in 2012/13, Wirral Council now proposes £27.5m cuts for 2013/14, with the aim of cutting a total of £109m by the following year, a third of its budget. Camden Council in London has cut 600 jobs since 2010, with 400 being made redundant; Lambeth has cut £66m since 2010 and has to slash a further £108m by 2016. In what possible way could commissioners make it worse? In his Labour Party conference speech, Ed Miliband described David Cameron as ‘strong at standing up to the weak, but weak at standing up to the strong’. That fits Labour councils to a T. It does not occur to any of these Labour councillors that they could be part of a movement against the cuts that would defend their residents.
And what of the trade unions? The annual TUC conference preceded Labour’s by a fortnight. In 2012, the TUC voted to explore the possibility of organising a general strike against the government. FRFI was not deceived by this bluster; we said the motion was ‘a way of kicking the whole idea into the long grass. The practicalities will become impracticalities, not least of which will be the fear that such action will breach the anti-trade union laws for being political. The strike just will not happen, and nor is it intended to.’ (FRFI 229, October/November 2012). We were right. There has been no general strike; the idea has been shelved in favour of vague calls for days of action and campaigns of civil disobedience. A true measure of the degree of trade union resistance is the number of days lost through strike activity – and these have remained at a historical low, 239,000 days since the 2012 TUC conference. That is equivalent to each trade union member taking one day of strike action every 25 years.
Where resistance does exist, it is outside both the Labour Party and the trade unions. Organisations like Disabled People against the Cuts and the anti-bedroom tax groups have had to do battle with Labour councils and with unions like PCS and Unison whose members administer the Atos disability tests, the punitive JSA sanctions regime or decide on bedroom tax liability. While the People’s Assembly has presented itself as an umbrella group for campaigns against austerity, the experience in Newcastle (see below) shows that in practice it will be a vehicle for the Labour Party to promote its electoral fortunes and for trade unions to stifle local resistance especially when it targets Labour councils. By contrast, community-based, democratically-organised groups are showing the possibilities of working class organisation: it is through their actions against the bedroom tax, organising appeals, meetings and protests that they have been able to push the government on to the back foot. This has to be the model for building struggles against the benefit cap and the next round of council cuts.
Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 235 October/November 2013