The Lib/Tory government plans to make many of its cuts by chopping finance for local councils. Local councils, including Labour councils, are now preparing to pass on that cut, axing jobs and services. And committees to fight those cuts and Lib/Tory cuts in welfare are now being set up in areas across Britain.
Local Trades Councils are the best bodies to initiate such committees — anti-cuts campaigns need to have the local labour movement at their heart. If committees are initiated outside trade-union structures, for example by community groups, they should move to link up with the labour movement, winning affiliations and delegates from trade unions.
The committee must, however, be broader than the Trades Council, drawing in delegates from community groups, ward and constituency Labour Parties, and workplaces, as well as trade unions.
These cuts will affect the whole working class, not just public sector workers — parents who rely on local nurseries, carers who will lose allowances as disabled people lose benefits, and anyone who enjoys visiting the local library, the one that is about to close.
The campaigns need to be open and democratic, accessible to all activists who want to contribute.
The committee’s aim should be simple: to fight every cut in jobs and services.
A first task of an anti-cuts committee could be to audit the effect of the threatened cuts in its area. Who uses this service? Why is that service important? People using the service should be approached to get involved.
The key thing is to get out to the working class — organise regular stalls in shopping centres, outside big workplaces.
Demonstrations, lobbies of the council, workplace meetings, and support for industrial and community direct action against cuts, will also be part of the committee’s work as it develops.
All of this requires left activists, who will be fully involved in these committees to throw off habitual ways of organising — big “top tables”, limited time for discussion, speeches which do not engage with the actual problems facing working-class people. These campaigns need to be attractive to new activists.
But these committees will also be an opportunity for the whole left to work together to an extent not seen in recent years. The necessity of organising a lot of urgent practical activity may engender a certain “discipline”. That does not mean political disagreement — for such problems as the reformism of the Socialist Party and the opportunism of the Socialist Workers Party — will disappear. They won’t. Nonetheless “left unity” is made necessary by the urgency of the class struggle.
These committees must also be a pressure on the “official” labour movement. The TUC has now promised to organise a demonstration on 19 October, the eve of the government’s Strategic Spending Review, when the next round of detailed Lib/Tory cuts will be made. It should not be a trek around Westminster by full-time officials.
The 19 October should be made into a proper “day of action” including a mass labour movement demonstration. If the leaders won’t lead, then the rank and file must.
In some meetings to set up these committees, there has been debate about the proper relation between them and council Labour groups.
If council Labour groups call for “unity against the Lib/Tory government”, that is fine. But the question has to be: unity to do what? Behind that is the question: will Labour councils and councillors fight the Tories — can they be made to do it?
Committees should welcome delegates from council Labour groups. But they should take their own decisions, based on the needs and wishes of the workers and community groups they represent, and measure what the councillors do by the needs of the struggle against the government.
They should organise to make Labour councillors refuse to cooperate with the cuts. If council Labour groups carry out Lib-Tory cuts, then the committees must fight them. Dissident Labour councillors who fight the cuts will be important and useful assets to our campaigns.
Some of the new committees are a good start to the fight against the cuts — and look capable of developing into what we desperately need — democratic working class organisations which will help shake the trade union movement out of its frozen inertia of the last 13 years and more. We must convince working-class people that these cuts are not inevitable.
• Fight every cut;
• Set up labour movement anti-cuts committee everywhere;
• Build for a labour movement day of action;
• Force Labour councils to defy Tory cuts.