Within the next few months local councils will be voting through budgets for the coming financial year and are under extreme pressure from the government to make yet more serious cuts in jobs and services. Labour councils in particular are being asked to act as agents for the Tory-led Coalition at Westminster in the interests of big business. Socialist Appeal supporters interviewed several Labour Party councillors in Hull who are preparing to defy the cuts.
Within the next few months local councils will be voting through budgets for the coming financial year and are under extreme pressure from the government to make yet more serious cuts in jobs and services. Labour councils in particular are being asked to act as agents for the Tory-led Coalition at Westminster in the interests of big business. In a previous article on fighting the cuts, we explained that the Labour Party was formed by the trade unions to fight for the aims of the working class. We further explained that Labour controlled councils across the country must now link up with each other and the trade unions to take on the Tory led coalition in local and national campaigns under the slogan of “No implementation of the cuts”. We gave the example of Hull council which is faced with an estimated £ 100 million cuts to be made by 2014 and with 240 jobs under threat this year alone, where a group of Labour councillors intend to make a stand against the cuts.
Leading this group are train driver Gary Wareing, Gill Kennett and Dean Kirk. Socialist Appeal recently interviewed all three and put the following questions to them.
[Update: since this interview was given, Gary and Gill have been called up to the Labour group on the Hull council for their opposition to the cuts. Gill was given a warning and Gary was given a three month suspension, which was later put aside. Gary, Gill, and Dean are continuing to oppose the cuts.]
Socialist Appeal: What made you stand as a Labour councillor?
Gary: I have been active in the Labour Party since I left school in 1977. I was very active in the Labour Party Young Socialists. I am still active now in my trade union ASLEF. I attended my local ward party meetings and was asked to stand as the Labour Party candidate. At the time the Liberal Democrats held the council seat by over 1000 votes. I don’t think anyone expected Labour to win but I spent all my time on the doorstep talking to local people, standing as a working class trade unionist. I stood because I want to make a difference on the local housing estates.
Gill: Having left the Council approximately eighteen months ago when my job was deleted and my service cut, I thought that becoming a councillor would enable me to have a positive impact on the services delivered to the people in Hull, especially the most vulnerable, who I had worked with for over twenty years. Along with this, I saw it as a way of working for my community and my ward where I have lived for thirty years.
Dean: As a long standing member of the Labour Party I’d done my fair share of complaining about the political and social situation with both the Tories before 1997 and then New Labour government led by Blair. I strongly felt that the best way to get things changed in Hull was by being elected as a councillor. I couldn’t bear the way that the Lib/Dems were treating the public sector workforce in Hull, like numbers instead of real working people who were not just delivering vital services but who had families to bring up and rent and mortgages to pay. Following a successful 2010 election campaign involving Unison and Party members in Hull I won the Derringham Ward for Labour who gained control of Hull from the Lib/Dems. I was under no illusion about the difficulty of the job to be done and when we saw the state of the finances that the Lib/Dems had left, we had to make difficult decisions. We were forced to make a few cuts but succeeded in avoiding compulsory redundancies. However, inevitably there was a reduction in services which I felt very uncomfortable with and I made my feelings clear at the time.
Socialist Appeal: What are the main issues facing the working people that you represent?
Gary: Hull has some real problems. There is a general lack of jobs and prospects. A lot of heavy industry has gone leaving low paid jobs with few prospects. Unemployment is high especially youth unemployment. Housing is generally poor with high rents. Over 14,000 people are on the council house waiting list. “Buy to let” landlords have bought up houses in the city preventing first time buyers getting a home and charging high rents for poor quality housing.
Gill: The people who I represent in my ward are predominantly families who are trying to ‘make a living’ and work together in this. There are many older people who offer child care to their children to enable them to work. Many of the people in my ward are public sector workers and have huge concerns as to their future work prospects, or lack of them. There are also many people in my ward who work in the caravan industry and other companies that are now leaving our city. There are young couples who have been made redundant and are undertaking a number of part time, low paid jobs to ‘make ends meet’. Many people can’t find work at all. There are also quite a lot of older people; therefore I am concerned about their services being cut. This is duplicated across the city, so it can be said that these issues face us all. Our city, like so many others, has had millions of pounds taken from its budget and has seen factories closing down on an almost weekly basis.
Dean: Where to start really! Benefit cuts to working families affect many of my constituents. Lack of affordable housing and the bedroom tax just to name a few. The number of job losses in Hull is a huge issue and the lack of good quality full time jobs has a major effect on the local economy and reduces the spending power of the population as a whole. What we also must keep in mind is the impact that the NHS cuts are having on public health in our area which is made up predominantly of working class communities.
Socialist Appeal: What can we do to fight the cuts?
Gary: Labour councillors can’t fight the cuts alone. It needs a much bigger movement. Every Labour councillor will vote against cuts when they are in opposition. It is a bigger test where Labour is in power. We can’t just be red Tories implementing the government cuts for them.
Labour councils need to work with the trade unions, the local labour party branches and community groups to hold large protests against cuts to services. We also need to join with other councils to hold coordinated action. Labour MPs have to be put in a difficult position. They are opposing cuts in parliament but what are they telling councils to do? Our Labour MPs in Hull are too busy taking up minor shadow roles in parliament. We need real local MPs who will work for residents not just to further their ministerial careers.
Gill: Continue in what we are doing; it is building. I understand that many people are not yet aware of what will ‘hit them’. This has a lot to do with a right wing media which keeps the truth away from the headlines and concentrates on trivia and ‘smoke and mirror’ tactics. We need to be there and stronger as realisation hits. I really believe that history tells us that one can’t predict what will be a catalyst for change so if we keep working as we are doing leafleting, holding meetings; communicating and sharing ideas, things will ‘move on’. It is a scary place to be for many of us. I personally have never been in a position before where I have felt totally that I can’t vote alongside many of my colleagues, colleagues I respect and who I know are horrified at the decisions they feel they must make. With this in mind, I see that supporting our comrades who want to stand up and fight the cuts and those who are doing so, is a huge contribution to our ambitions.
Dean: We need to mobilise the different groups within the community; voluntary sector etc. We are already raising the profile by supporting local groups, by leafleting and speaking to residents on the streets. We are ensuring what limited resources we have within the Council budgets for 2012/2013 have been directed to front line services for example Social Services and street repairs.
We have to get the message over strongly to the people that we represent that it is the coalition government of the Tories and Lib Dems who are the authors of this financial disaster. The government is forcing Labour controlled councils such as Hull to carry out their own dirty work. If any local council tries to increase its spending above government limits, then it is seen as an illegal budget and the government has threatened to wheel in its own unelected administrators to carry out the cuts. Why is not illegal for governments to cuts millions of pounds from towns and cities and leave them with poorer services and fewer jobs and bring communities to their knees? Now that should be illegal! We must keep up the fight and this will be done by us on the Hull Labour group and other comrades in the trade unions and the community
Gary: Local council workers are looking for leadership and answers to the low pay redundancies and pay freezes. We need local reps to take the lead by explaining the reasons for the capitalist crisis. Everyone can see that austerity is not the answer. Reducing demand and spending leads to further job losses. The financial mess left by bailing out the bankers in the city of London is leading to lower living standards for everyone except the richest 1%. Working people are looking for clear leadership out of the chaos of capitalism’s boom and bust. They are looking to the traditional organisations of Labour and the unions. We need to be in every meeting putting forward the case for socialism and a radical change in society.