Sunday, 27 June 2010

Brighton socialists protest against the ConDem budget

[Words and pictures by Peter Knight, Brighton Thursday branch]

Up to 200 socialists and trade unionists from a range of city workplaces united to vent their anger at the ConDem budget on Tuesday 22 June at a Brighton, Hove and District Trades Union Council-organised demonstration outside Hove Town Hall.

Union reps from Unison, GMB, PCS, UCU and NUT trade unions, along with representatives from Brighton Benefits Campaign, all rounded on Chancellor George Osborne's repressive plans to attack public services and welfare rights that will see the poorest workers and the unemployed paying the price for the bankers' failure that underlines the current economic crisis.

With 25 per cent cuts being passed on to local council authorities, and an initial £3.5 million already set to be cut locally, the axe that threatens public services across Brighton and Hove falls into the hands of the city's 54 councillors.

All 54 were invited to attend the demonstration to publicly agree to the trade council's demands to vote down any budget presented to the city council that will result in: Redundancies in the council workforce; Cuts to the council’s public spending budget; The privatisation of any part of the public sector; Attacks on pay, pensions and working conditions of the council workforce; Increases in Council Tax.

A handful of Labour Party councillors attended but hypocritically spoke of their anger at the ConDem cuts - Labour itself was prepared to "cut deeper and harder than Thatcher did in the 1980s," announced former Labour chancellor Alistair Darling before the general election in May.

Some trade unionists and lefts are falling into a dangerous trap by trusting Labour to save the working class from these cuts, as the political force to defend jobs and services. Socialist Party speakers at the rally were supported by loud applause when they reminded those there of Labour's record of privatisations, wars, job cuts, school closures and relentless attack after attack on trade union rights and living conditions for millions of working people during their 13 years in power.

And instead of explictly supporting the trade council's demands, Labour councillor Gill Mitchell blamed the stitch up by the Conservative run-council in denying opposition parties the democratic right to vote at the emergency council budget meeting on 15 July where £3.5 million worth of cuts are lined up.

No councillors from either the Tories or Liberal Democrats dared to show their faces, but four Green Party councillors came to protest with councillor Jason Kitcat saying that they "will vote against all the cuts, we will vote aginst all the Tory plans."

A video clip from the demonstration of the Labour and Green party comments can be found here.

Following on from the Brighton, Hove and District Trades Union Council March for Jobs demonstration earlier this year, trade unionists and Socialist Party members are playing a key role in continuing to organise against the attacks facing working people and to mount pressure on the city's elected representatives not to carry out these unjustified cuts.

United pressure from the city's trade unions and communities can force back the ConDems and their cuts agenda, just as the Tories were defeated by Liverpool city council in the 1980s and by the 15 million-strong "can't pay won't pay" campaign that brought down the hated Poll Tax and eventually former prime minister Margaret Thatcher herself.

Organised trade union and community pressure can force councillors to begin a fight back but the Socialist Party is not confident that Labour or Green parties can be relied on to stop these cuts.

Socialist Party members except that Labour and Green parties will talk tough by expressing opposition to the ConDem attacks to score political points. But it will be actions that count when it comes to defending the working class and Labour's record in office is littered with betrayal after betrayal. As for the Greens, its record elsewhere in office does not hold up well.

Instead of relying on these bourgeois parties that can only claim to represent everyone's interests, the Socialist Party argues for the creation of an independent working class party that can genuinely defend the working class and make the rich pay for the crisis caused by their system - capitalism.

The Socialist Party played a key role in the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition which put down a marker when it stood in Brighton Kemptown at the general election and plans are now underway to stand working class candidates in next year's local council elections.

With 10 months until the polling stations open across the city, now is the time to continue to build the political fight back, alongside continuing to agitate for trade union national demonstrations and general strike action to put a stop to every cut.