Fight library privatisation in Birmingham

On 3 September the new £188m Library of Birmingham is due to open. Its arrives in the wake of £2.1m worth of cuts to community libraries issued by Birmingham’s Labour council in 2012-13, which have seen opening hours shortened by 9.5% and a 37% cut to paid library staff - with volunteers expected to make up for the shortfall. Yet before its gates have even opened, the Labour city council has made plans to privatise the running of the new library.

 

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Wythenshawe opposes the bedroom tax

Labour Manchester City Council has once again voted a multi-million pound Wythenshawe in Manchester was once the biggest council housing estate in Europe. Under Labour, those council houses remaining after ‘Right to buy’ were handed over to two housing associations, Parkway Green and Willow Park. Parkway Green has told tenants deemed to be ‘under-occupying’ their homes that ‘you will have to pay Parkway Green the difference to make up your rent or your home could be at risk.’ FRFI organised a Smash the Bedroom Tax meeting in the estate on 28 February out of which came Wythenshawe Smash the Cuts. Sam Knowles explains why she decided to get involved:

 

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Glasgow: Police ratchet up repression

Glasgow Against Atos (GAA) has been stepping up its campaign for scrapping both the Work Capability Assessment and the Department of Work and Pensions’ contracts with Atos. Such has been its success that the Scottish Daily Mail has ‘exposed’ the GAA as a violent left-wing conspiracy! As the campaign has developed so the Strathclyde Police has increased its monitoring and harassment. On 22 February, over 50 cops were involved in trying to close down a protest against Atos, arresting two campaigners, both members of FRFI, one for using a megaphone, and the other for allegedly trying to liberate a prisoner from custody. Both were released following protest phone calls to the police station where they were being held and were given bail conditions banning them from protests in Glasgow city centre.

 

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No ifs, no buts – PCS leaders collaborate with cuts

FRFI has consistently argued that the opportunist left’s reliance on the trade unions to fight the onslaught on the working class is a bankrupt strategy. In the case of the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union, it has become downright reactionary. The PCS, which organises within both the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) and Atos, refuses to side with disabled people to confront the notorious Work Capability Assessments (WCA). Both the Socialist Party (SP) and the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), which are very influential in the PCS, have opposed direct action against the DWP and Atos by those fighting the WCA tests, and have tried to destroy the reputation of one of the leading disabled activists in Wales, Liza van Zyl.

 

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Newcastle: Labour attacks protesters

On 6 March Labour-run Newcastle City Council passed a devastating package of £100 million cuts over the next three years. Every Labour councillor supported it. Council leader Nick Forbes, as ever, blamed the ‘unfair’ government and complained that he passed the cuts ‘with a heavy heart and much soul searching’. Forced to respond to calls by campaigners to set a budget based on the needs of the city’s population rather than follow government dictates, Forbes said the council would be regarded as a ‘civic basket case’ if it did so.

 

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Camden: A London for the rich

Camden’s Labour council has told 761 households they will have to leave their homes after changes to housing benefit. According to the council, the ConDem benefit cap will mean a maximum of £175 housing benefit per week for three-children families. 2,816 adults and children have been told they can no longer afford to live in Camden – or anywhere in South East England. Councillors are already planning for the removal of the poor, to towns up to 200 miles away. Other Labour-run London councils are making similar plans. Louis Brehony reports.

 

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Manchester: Labour cuts and growing resistance

Labour Manchester City Council has once again voted a multi-million pound programme of cutbacks upon some of the poorest communities in Britain. As ever, Labour councillors opposed the ConDem cuts with words, but not with their votes on 8 March. At a time when working class people are starting to challenge the bedroom tax, the council is slashing £3.4m from the ‘supporting people’ budget for accommodation centres, hostels and rehousing support groups. We have a fight on our hands.

 

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Smash the Bedroom Tax - Cut the Bloated Bankers

From 1 April, the ConDem coalition assault on the working class reaches a new pitch. This month sees the introduction of the bedroom tax and massive cuts in council tax benefit. Benefits will be uprated by a miserable 1%, a cut of 2-3% in real terms. The Welfare Reform Act comes into effect, cutting disability benefits by 20% and imposing a ceiling on the benefits any family can receive. The Health and Social Care Act comes into effect, catapulting the NHS into chaos. On top of this a third round of council cuts will slash services for the poorest and put tens of thousands out of a job. Robert Clough reports.

 

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Manchester: Taking on Labour and the SWP to smash the bedroom tax

Along with hundreds of people, FRFI supporters attended the 16 March protest against the bedroom tax in Piccadilly Gardens organised by the Labour left. Through Facebook the organisers had warned anyone who didn’t want a ‘peaceful’ protest to ‘stay away’ – clearly they didn’t want the defiant, working class tactics that beat the Poll Tax.

On the day, they gave fine speeches through their sound system about how the tax should be axed along with other ‘Tory cuts’, but would not condemn the £80m cuts Man­chester Labour council had agreed a few days earlier. They refused to allow other campaigners to speak because ‘this is not an open mic’.

 

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National Health Service: catapulted into chaos

From 1 April, the NHS will be catapulted into chaos as the Health and Social Care Act comes into force. Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt expressed his contempt for those labouring in the face of massive cuts when he declared: ‘Too many hospitals are coasting along, settling for meeting minimum standards.’ No longer will he be responsible for the delivery of health services, and nor will anyone else under the new and immensely convoluted arrangements. 211 Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) will be responsible only for buying health care, spending £64.7bn of the NHS budget of £95.6bn for 2013/14. Foundation Trusts and other organisations, many of them privately run, will be responsible only for what they are contracted to do. The Clinical Commissioning Board exists only to support commissioning and to buy specialist services. Monitor exists only to enforce competition. The Care Quality Commission has no teeth and is grossly understaffed: it is a myth that it can do anything about quality. No one is in charge. There is no nationalised health service anymore. Instead there will be chaos.

 

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Campaigning with Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism!

FRFI supporters are active in campaigns against state violence and racism and in defence of working class living standards, as part of the struggle to build a new working class movement that can resist the attacks of the ruling class on every front. Exposing the bankruptcy of the Labour Party and its followers is a crucial part of the battle against the opportunists who always, and in the end, defend the ruling class. See also pages 2/3/4 of this issue of FRFI.

Justice 4 Grainger

On 3 March the Justice4Grainger Campaign marked the anniversary of the shooting dead of Anthony Grainger by the Greater Manchester Police with a ‘speak out’ in Manchester city centre. Other families who have suffered deaths at the hands of the police attended and spoke about their experiences, including Janet Alder, whose brother Christopher died in police custody in 1998, Carole Duggan, the aunt of Mark Duggan who was shot dead by the police in London in August 2011, and Ann Michael, whose son Jacob was killed by the police in Leigh in August 2011. Charles Chinweizu spoke for FRFI, putting Anthony’s death in the context of more than 30 people shot and killed by the police in England and Wales since 2000, with no police officers facing trial for these deaths. 

 

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Housing: haves and have-nots

The ruling class justification for the bedroom tax is that it is the ‘under-occupation’ of homes by some families that leaves thousands of others in overcrowded accommodation. This divide and rule tactic is a cover-up for the real problem – the decimation of council housing stock through ‘right to buy’ programmes and the end of any council house building programme. The bedroom tax will be a further nail in the coffin as it ends secure tenancies and enables the full privatisation of all forms of social housing. Barnaby Mitchel reports.

 

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Legal Aid cuts to match austerity

Cuts to Legal Aid provision, taking effect at the beginning of April, will seal the poverty trap for the poorest sections of the working class in Britain. Communities already facing the brunt of the government’s attack on living standards, in particular those who rely on welfare benefits to survive with dignity, will now be unable to seek legal advice, help or representation to challenge the unfair and worsening conditions they are forced to suffer.

 

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War on the poor

The bedroom tax is just one part of the wholesale attack on benefits that is being ratcheted up from the beginning of April. The council tax benefit cut will affect at least 670,000 working-age recipients in both social and private accommodation including an estimated 162,000 low-paid workers. They will have to find between £100 and £250 per year. This will be on top of any bedroom tax for which they may be liable, or on top of any rent they have to pay because of last year’s cuts in local housing allowance for those in private rented accommodation.

 

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Social cleansing in Camden – Feb 2013

Camden council has announced plans to contact 761 working class households to tell them that they can no longer afford to live in their homes. The Condem government's benefits cap will affect 2,816 adults and children who depend on housing benefits in Camden. And the Labour Council’s response? ‘Get out!’

The cap in housing benefits of £175 for a family means that they will no longer be able to afford to live in Camden or anywhere else in the south east. For 2 and 3-bedroom homes in Camden the local housing allowances are £300 and £340 a week but average private rent is £445; Camden has the fourth highest rents in the country. The households affected have an average of three children and would need to find an average of £91 each per week to pay their rent. 900 children could be forced out of their schools and their education disrupted. Labour is conniving in the expulsion of the poorest people in the borough and Bradford, Birmingham and Leicester have been suggested as possible places to move them to. Meanwhile, 56 councillors share £807,473 in allowances per year (April 2010 – March 2011) – 14,400 per councillor.

 

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Pissing on the poor: Labour cuts in Manchester

Writing on Twitter recently, the Labour leader of Manchester City Council Sir Richard Leese, said anti-cuts campaigners ‘want us to piss in the wind’. He was replying to a post asking Labour to take a stand against ConDem cuts. For residents of Greater Manchester, already the victims of Leese's council cuts programme, the only surprise here is that anyone has illusions in his anti-working class party.

Since 2010 Manchester Labour council has implemented £170m in public service cuts. 2,000 council jobs have disappeared. Whole departments dealing with issues as serious as dementia, children's centres and community groups have gone as have tens of millions of pounds of grants to charities and organisations supporting a range of vulnerable people, from women suffering domestic abuse to people with drug and alcohol addictions. Labour councillors have voted unanimously for this, including councillor Julie Reed who has now opportunistically joined the Save Levenshulme Baths campaign.

 

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Newcastle cuts: the fight is on

Over the next three years Newcastle City Council will slash £100m from its budget, devastating working-class communities with service cuts and job losses. The proposed closure of 11 out of 18 libraries and the abolition of the arts budget have drawn huge opposition. Youth services across the city are to be destroyed: the entire play service is to be cut and only two youth workers are to be retained. Four out of seven leisure centres in the city are to go. Bin collections will become fortnightly. It is a ruthless onslaught on the working class. James Bell reports.

The city’s Labour council refuses to challenge the government’s cuts programme. Council leader Nick Forbes has repeatedly complained that he is in an ‘impossible situation’ and that he intends to ‘continue lobbying central government’. However, without a single councillor in the city taking an anti-cuts position, this will be an empty promise. He is more concerned about preserving his position than about the impact these cuts will have on the city he claims to represent.

 

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Glasgow Against Atos campaign

On 14 January 2013, a small victory for all those who have been fighting Atos: the Co-op will terminate the contract it has with the company to provide occupational health services to its 82,000 employees. With the current contract set to expire in March, pickets took place outside the Co-op’s flagship stores across Britain demanding that Atos be ruled out of the bidding process. The Co-op has now confirmed that the Atos contract will not be renewed. Glasgow Against Atos has been picketing other stores and companies with Atos contracts as well the company itself. The Scottish Citizens Advice Bureau has received 24,000 complaints against Atos’s decisions in work capability assessments for disabled benefit claimants. 80% of people who challenge their initial fit-for-work verdict win their cases against the company.

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 231 February-March 2013

 

 

 

In all your decadence, people die...

‘I never thought when my daughters grew up and moved away from home that I might face eviction and homelessness. I didn’t expect the unemployed would be resented by the working/’striving’ members of their community for having their curtains closed after 8am. When I became angry about the treatment of the poorest, most vulnerable people in society and decided to protest I never dreamed I would be arrested for dressing in a costume and having a toy gun from the pound shop. Yet this has all happened.

 

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Hunt announces closure of services at Lewisham A&E. The fight goes on! - Jan 2013

Despite the mass opposition of local people who use and need the hospital, despite a recent 25,000 strong march and rally, despite months of vibrant campaigning and strong statements from leading health care workers within the hospital, on Thursday 31 January, Jeremy Hunt, health secretary, revealed the fate of Lewisham Hospital in south east London - announcing the closure of significant services in the A&E department, intensive care, maternity and children service.

 

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Fighting the Cuts in Newcastle - Arthur's Hill Day of Action 2 February 2013

On 2 February more than 200 people took part in a day of action against cuts to community services in the Arthur’s Hill area of Newcastle. The protests were in response to the Labour Council budget proposals which, if voted through, would see the closure of the community library, the local swimming pool and the axing of the entire play service, which currently provides open access provision for hundreds of children in the area. The event was organised by Save Our Services, a campaign focused on young people’s services, Save Moorside Library group, and local working class children with support from youth and play workers.

 

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Can’t pay Won’t pay

The ConDem assault on the working class is accelerating as the government senses there is no widespread resistance. An all-out offensive on welfare benefits is accompanying the third round of cuts to local services. Not a single Labour council has stood up to the government. The trade unions have colluded with the Labour Party to prevent any struggle from taking place. Deepening poverty is evident in the explosion of food banks across the country and the demand that they attempt to meet. Resistance has to start now across local communities, and has to be organised and led by those who are in the frontline facing the relentless attacks of the ruling class. Robert Clough reports.

 

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The Counihan-Sanchez Housing Campaign starts 2013 in fighting mood

The Counihan-Sanchez Housing Campaign (CSHC) plans to broaden our campaign for housing for the Counihan family and against cuts and evictions in Brent in 2013. In November 2012 we won our first victory in our battle with Brent Labour council, who have been forced to reinstate the Housing Benefit which Brent withdrew from the family when they declared them ‘intentionally homeless’ in April 2012.

 

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Save Newcastle Libraries occupy the council chamber – 5 December 2012

On the evening of 5 December over 150 anti-cuts activists from Save Newcastle Libraries marched on Newcastle's Civic Centre and occupied the council chamber where the full council was due to meet to discuss the proposed 2013-2016 budget, that would see the closure of 11 libraries, 100% cuts to cultural organisations and devastating cuts to play, youth and elderly services. Assembling outside the Laing Art Gallery and City Library, both of which will be impacted by the proposed cuts, the activists ensured their voice was heard loud and clear by marching through the Civic Centre's front doors and demanding that councillors refuse to pass a cuts budget. People decided to hold their own meeting inside the Council chambers, discussing the impact of the cuts in our communities and calling for motions against the budget. Though we invited the councillors to meet with us, they decided to move their meeting to another room behind closed doors, whilst some remained outside and attempted to justify implementing the cuts, arguing that their hands are tied, quibbling over numbers whilst supporting a death sentence for Newcastle's most vulnerable. We demand that the Labour Council refuse to be the executioners for the ConDem government. The vibrant protest tonight put the Council on notice that if they implement this budget, the ensuing devastation and resistance will make Newcastle upon Tyne ungovernable.

 

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Deepening poverty for the working class

The recent publication of the final report from the Commission on Living Standards, Gaining from growth, presents a detailed analysis of how the mass of the working class has suffered under the current crisis. It also shows, however, that downward pressure on working class living standards has existed for years, and has only been offset by a large increase in the number of women working in two-parent households, and by the system of working tax credits. With more women now facing unemployment, particularly if they work in the public sector, and eligibility for working tax credits being reduced, the outlook for many working class households is a rapid decline in real income. Jack Edwards reports.

The report looks at those who are on low to middle incomes, defining this group as working-age people living in households with incomes below the median but above the bottom 10%. However, it sets their situation within a context of growing inequality. From 1955 to 2001, incomes rose on average by 2.7% each year. From 2001 to 2011, however, this had collapsed to 0.6%. The ruling class has, meanwhile, grown richer: between 1997 and 2010 real income for the top 5% of earners increased by 29%, while for the top 1%, it rose by 56%. In 1979 the top 1% of earners had an income three times the average; by 2010 it had risen to 5.6 times. Share in total income for the top 20% of earners had reached 44% by 2011, more than the combined share of the bottom 60%.

 

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Defend Newcastle libraries – fight all cuts!

Newcastle Labour council has just announced savage cuts of £90m to the city’s budget with the loss of over 1,300 jobs. Ten out of 18 public libraries are to be shut; the council arts team will disappear along with all but two workers in the Youth Service; the city swimming pool is to be shut and the council will divest itself of responsibility for four out of seven leisure centres. Bin collections will become fortnightly. In the expectation of resistance, Labour will set up a ‘new unit to tackle anti-social behaviour and environmental crime with greater emphasis on prevention’. City council leader Nick Forbes says that he ‘will not let up on lobbying government’ – despite previous admissions that ‘residents [...] will have to do more for themselves and expect less from the council’.

 

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Save Friern Barnet library!

Friern Barnet library is a small, community library in north London. In April 2012 Barnet Council closed it. The community tried everything to keep it open with demonstrations outside the library, cycle rallies and more, but sadly in vain. Once the library shut in April, Barnet Council removed all the books and left the building closed. In September, activists from the Occupy London movement went into Friern Barnet library and re-opened it to the community. The library has had over 8,000 books donated and is currently run by local volunteers.

Friern Barnet library was opened in 1934 by the Carnegie Trust. Friern Barnet residents have been using it ever since; for a sense of community, for books, CDs, DVDs, to use the computers and more. Friern Barnet library today is the only communal building in the district.

 

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Glasgow Against Atos campaign established

Since June 2012 FRFI has worked alongside other campaigns in Glasgow to oppose the vicious Work Capability Assessments Atos carries out on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions. As well as organising public meetings against the cuts we have held a picket of the Atos testing centre on Cadogan Street in Glasgow city centre at the end of every month.

To unite the opposition to Atos and the cuts in Glasgow, FRFI, the Black Triangle disability rights campaign, the Save the Accord Centre and supporters of the Irish Republican group the 32-County Sovereignty Movement, as well as independent anti cuts activists, have formed Glasgow Against Atos (GAA). The campaign’s launch meeting on 10 October was addressed by FRFI, the Save the Accord Centre campaign, Black Triangle campaign activist John McArdle and a campaigner whose husband is suffering the disability cutbacks. We held a rolling picket on 26 October in Glasgow City Centre, targeting the Co-operative bank and the Royal Bank of Scotland for their complicity with the cuts, as well as the offices of the Atos-sponsored 2014 Commonwealth Games. After distributing hundreds of leaflets we returned to the Atos testing centre and distributed assessment advice sheets to claimants.

 

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No to One Barnet!

One Barnet is a scheme Barnet Council is trying to introduce which involves gambling with £1bn of taxpayers’ money. The Tory council wants to hand 70% of our services over to private outsourcing companies. These services will include planning, highways, cemeteries and crematoria, trading standards, environmental health, council tax collection, the council’s IT, human resources, finance departments and more. Although it is claimed One Barnet will save the council money if it proceeds, it will cost Barnet residents more for public services such as cremations and burials. It is an experiment, one which other councils are seeking to follow, but one which people are worried will end up as catastrophic failure.

 

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Class War On All Fronts

The government’s autumn statement on 5 December 2012 will mark a vicious extension to its assault on the working class. Having announced in March 2012 that it would seek to cut a further £10bn from state welfare on top of the £18bn already planned, the measures it is now considering include:

  • Stopping Housing Benefit for under-25s, affecting 385,000 people;
  • Limiting child-related benefits for unemployed people to their first two children, affecting 310,000 families;
  • Freezing benefits for two years from April 2013.

This is a savage attack, coming as it does on top of the third round of council cuts, cuts in housing benefit for those in social housing, and the introduction of the Welfare Benefits Act, all effective from April 2013. Robert Clough reports.

Council cuts

Throughout the country councils are now finalising plans for a third year of cuts in jobs and services. The average cut for the three years is £160 per head in the 50 worst-hit councils where the average child poverty rate is around a third. 43 of these are run by Labour. The 50 least-affected councils will suffer a total cut of £16 per head. 42 of them are Tory and on average have a 10% child poverty rate. It is the poorest councils which are being hit worst by the 28% cut in central government support over the three-year period. As each year passes the impact of the cuts grows more severe: Sure Start services reduced to nothing, libraries and day centres closed, charges for meals on wheels going up and up, respite care facilities slashed. However rich or poor the council, it is the working class, and working class women in particular, who bear the brunt both in terms of service cuts and job losses.

 

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Stand with DPAC!

As the deadly attack on disability benefits continues, with several thousand sick and/or disabled people a year dying within six weeks of having their entitlement to benefits stopped, the need for unity in action of all against the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and Atos is vital. No one would disagree with this, but it begs the question, on what basis and in whose interests? This has become a burning political question given that a clear division has emerged between sections of Disabled People against the Cuts (DPAC), which has been organising militant direct actions, and the union primarily organising within DWP and Atos, the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS). The issue is, should the fight against Work Capability Assessments, against Atos and the DWP, be led by those who suffer the consequences, or by the union organising those who are implementing the cuts?

 

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