“Glasgow Labour has much work to do to regain the trust of our communities, and to be given the chance to form an administration again… Over the coming years, Glasgow will face enormous challenges.” That’s what the publicity said for an all-members conference organised last weekend by Glasgow City Council Labour Group.
After 40 years in control of the City Chambers, Labour had gone into opposition after losing last year’s local authority elections. But there was no sign at the conference that the Labour Group understood why it had lost office. In fact this was the after-effect of the suicidal decision to collaborate with the Tories in “Better Together” in the 2014 independence referendum. But the opening keynote speaker at the conference was the Labour candidate for Glasgow East, Kate Watson – who had worked for “Better Together”. Nor was there any acknowledgement that Labour’s own record in power had alienated swathe after swathe of traditional Labour voters.
The Purcell-led Labour administrations (2005-2010) had ditched municipal socialism in favour of municipal neo-liberalism. For Purcell, the function of the City Council was one of market-orientated entrepreneurial governance. It was Purcell who created Glasgow’s arms-length companies (ALEOs), rightly denounced by Unison as: “Nothing but a combination of tax wheezes, a chance to hammer workers’ terms and conditions, and an attempt to minimise equal pay claims.”
Being friendly to big business, but hostile to workers’ rights, inevitably alienated core Labour voters. So too did what the Herald described as “the cronyism at the heart of Purcell’s council” and his “elaborate system of political patronage”: “The wages bill for the dozen or so ALEOs set up by Purcell ran to almost £400,000 over what it would have cost to pay councillors had the services remained in-house.”
Tory-Lib-Dem austerity began to kick in after 2008. Successive Labour administrations passed on those cuts. The pattern of passing on cuts continued through to Labour’s election defeat in May of last year Implementing cuts in jobs and services inevitably brought the Council into conflict with the Council trade unions. As a GMB statement explained: “The ‘Transforming Glasgow’ programme is about job cuts, and cuts to terms and conditions to balance the £121 millions budget cut.”
Yet in the financial year 2015/16: the Chief Executive’s salary went up to £180,000; the City Building Executive Director’s pay increased to £146,000; the Culture & Sport Glasgow Chief Executive’s salary went up to £135,000; and total pay for senior staff in ALEOs rose to £1,480,000. This de facto policy of “For the Few, Nor the Many” was made even worse by the conscious strategy of successive Labour administrations to deny the equal pay claims of council female employees. In the period 2007-17 the Labour-controlled council spent over £2.5 million fighting those equal pay claims — £1.8 million on legal fees, and £700,000 on ‘internal staff costs’.
Party activists need to organise to:
• Put democracy and accountability at the heart of the relationship between Party members and councillors.
• Call to account those responsible for the politics and policies which have alienated Labour voters and youth voters.
• Build a campaigning alliance with local authority trade unions against SNP and Tory cuts, using industrial action to stop further cuts.
• Reorientate CLPs: Away from labour movement routinism, and towards community and workplace campaigns and struggles.