Labour councillors in Hull and Southampton have broken the cuts consensus by responding to labour movement and community pressure and vowing to defy cuts.
In Southampton, two councillors have been suspended from the ruling Labour group after they refused to vote for cuts to Oaklands swimming pool. Councillors Keith Morrell and Don Thomas have formed a “Labour Councillors Against The Cuts” group on the City Council. The cuts to Oaklands were part of a “mini-budget”, and although the fight currently focuses on reopening the pool, the councillors are clear that the attack on Oaklands is just the first of many.
Morrell and Thomas said: “We refuse to be silenced, and are determined to continue speaking out on behalf of constituents and users of the pool, and continue demanding that the City Council finish off the stalled repairs, recall the staff and immediately re-open the pool.”
They said that they hope Labour Councillors Against The Cuts will “provide a focus of opposition to the claims by the three main political parties that ‘there is no alternative to cuts’, that ‘we have no choice but to make cuts’, and that ‘tough decisions have to be made’.
“Labour Councillors Against The Cuts demands that the City’s Labour administration immediately announces that it will refuse to do the Government’s dirty work of forcing through massive cuts in public services, and that the City Council will lead a national campaign to demand that the Government restore the money it has stolen from local authorities.”
The councillors’ stand was backed by town hall unions. Southampton District Unison branch secretary Mike Tucker told Solidarity in August that his union supported the fight against cuts at Oaklands and was backing the rebel councillors. Since then, the Unite Executive ratified a motion from its Local Authorities National Industrial Sector Committee backing the councillors, and calling on the Labour group not to take any disciplinary sanction against them for their stand.
A similar movement could be developing in Hull, where 250 people lobbied the Labour-controlled council on 18 October, demanding they refuse to make £100 million of proposed cuts. The anti-cuts movement includes Unite, GMB and the National Union of Teachers locally as well, crucially, as seven Labour councillors. At the lobby, Councillor Gareth Wareing calling on Labour Party members in their branches and CLPs to hold councillors to account and demand that they refuse to pass on central government cuts to local working-class communities.
In Glasgow, a joint campaign between council unions (Unison, Unite and GMB) is demanding that the city’s Labour-controlled council defies cuts and sets a “needs budget”.
One Labour council taking a stand against Tory cuts could be the spark for a much wider fightback.
Local activists, Labour Party members, and rank-and-file activists in public sector unions should use every channel available to demand that Labour councillors take a stand against cuts, even if it means defying central government and facing sanctions.