Thursday February 28th will go down in local labour history as the day that three Hull Labour councillors stood up for their principles and voted against the Tory led coalition cuts. Socialist Appeal supporters spoke with these courageous councillors, who are setting an example for other Labour controlled councils across the length and breadth of the UK to follow, and of course for the whole labour and trade union movement.
Thursday February 28th will go down in local labour history as the day that three Hull Labour councillors stood up for their principles and voted against the Tory led coalition cuts. By being prepared to stick their heads above the parapet and having the courage to take on the Tories, they are setting an example for other Labour controlled councils across the length and breadth of the UK to follow, and of course for the whole labour and trade union movement.
Gary Wareing, Gill Kennet, and Dean Kirk defied the Labour whip and voted against the Labour controlled council’s plan to cut 600 jobs and raise council tax by 1.95% to tackle its budget deficit.
The council has to save £80m by 2015 because of a five-year reduction in central government funding. This had the effect of pushing the council to make a cut in the budget of eight pence in every pound.
Following the meeting in which the council’s plan was approved by 38 votes to 18, Adrian Kennett, branch secretary for Unison, told Socialist Appeal, “I think it’s another nail in the coffin for Hull. Hull can’t afford to lose jobs, lose services and the terms and conditions are being driven into the ground.”
Now, nearly a month after their courageous decision to stand up against the Tory led cuts and the tremendous support shown by the trade unions and communities of Hull for their stance, the three councillors have stated that they have no regrets. However, this has led Gary, Dean and Gill being summoned before the Labour Group with the decision that Gary and Dean be suspended indefinitely and Gill for three months. Despite this, the councillors have been buoyed by the tremendous support they have received from all sections of the community, not only in Hull but across the country, for their stance.
Socialist Appeal spoke to them on how they feel now about the decision to vote against the cuts, their suspension from the Labour Group and what more needs to be done.
Gary: Of course I stand by my decision to vote against the Tory led cuts against working people in Hull. I felt I had to make a stand, despite the consequences, so that my colleagues and I could send a message to the Government that some of us at least are not going to roll over easily and accept another year of austerity – with far more to come.
Gill: I am comfortable with my decision; it was not easy to do as the pressure was and still is huge, but in such desperate times, it is not ‘business as usual’ and I will not be part of giving away all that those brave people fought, sacrificed and often died for over the last century.
Dean: I won my election on a platform and manifesto on fighting cuts which was previously implemented by the Liberal Democrats in Hull. I would have found it very hypercritical of myself if I were to vote for cuts when I won an election on fighting them.
The cuts been inflicted on us all, are at their core, based on the fact that we are being expected to pay for the mess left by the casino banking sector. Millionaires are given a forty thousand pound a year tax break whilst the Government sit back and set the working poor against those on benefits and private sector workers against public sector workers. My stand is only a small one. I am powerless to stop what is going on by myself, but my stand, however small, is one I had to make and I hope that the public and the Labour Party understand that.
Gary: I am very disappointed that I was suspended indefinitely from the Labour Group. I am Labour through and through, and all I want is for the Labour Party to be able to properly represent the people we are accountable to and encourage other like minded Labour councillors across the UK to do likewise. Surely that is not a crime.
I am appealing against the decision. All I am asking for some understanding from Labour on why I took the decision to vote against the cuts which was taken against a background of attacks on the working people of Hull. The Labour Party in Hull was voted in on a manifesto to do better than the previous administration of Liberal Democrats and that is exactly what I have done. Indefinite suspension is a very harsh punishment for sticking to the election promises that I gave to my own community.
Gill: I feel that it is a regrettable state of affairs that I have been suspended for voting with my conscience and not carrying out the wishes of this tyrannical government. I did however realise that there would be consequences as I was informed of this by the Whip when I made my intentions known to him.
Being formally interviewed by members of the forty strong Labour Group who sat in attendance on Monday evening was difficult, but not nearly as difficult as it would have been to live with myself, had I voted for a budget that was to mean job losses and the destruction of services. Also, not nearly as difficult it would have been to live with myself, had I not ‘challenged’, even in my own extremely small and insignificant way, these greedy, selfish and oppressive people who are in power. I also feel that it is totally unfair that Gary and Dean have received a different sentence to me, especially as we all voted against the budget. We do not know why these decisions were made as they appear illogical and inconsistent.
Dean: After the group meeting on Monday night, Councillor Gary Wareing and I were suspended indefinitely and Gill Kennett was given a three months suspension. I must state, right from the beginning I did request that any punishment that was to be given would be equal for all three of us, as we had all broken a three line whip. However this was not the case. I find the punishment of indefinite suspension from the group very harsh.
Gary: We have all had tremendous support from all over the country which shows the huge amount of potential for a united stand against the cuts to public services and the blackmailing of Labour controlled councils to carry out the cuts under the threat of town halls being taken over by Tory hatchet men like Pickles.
This support, which is coming in each day, has given me and my colleagues great heart and I will continue to fight against the cuts with all the strength I have, under the banner of the Labour Party and my own ward here in Hull, and of course, alongside a determined and united labour and trade union movement.
Gill: The support we are getting is extremely encouraging and growing at a steady pace. It involves words of support (which cannot be underestimated), motions that are being tabled at various ward meetings by activists, letters to the local paper, statements on the net on various sites and pages.
We are also in communication with other councillors across the country and various people from organisations that are committed to fighting the cuts. We are part of the LRC and Councillors Against the Cuts, which is extremely helpful.
Other councillors who feel the same as us must be prepared to follow our example and stand up and be counted.
With regard to other members of the Labour group. There are councillors who are still keen to include us in dialogue and behave in a friendly manner, people who did not want to impose this budget, a budget imposed by this ConDem government.
Dean: We are campaigning very hard here in Hull to keep the support and momentum going against the cuts. With a united and determined stand across all Labour controlled councils to defy all cuts we can make it impossible for the Coalition to govern at a local level.
This would be a great boast to all working people and hopefully galvanise the Labour leadership in adopting a more radical approach to fighting the austerity cuts brought about by the ongoing capitalist crisis.
The spirit of 1945 should be enacted now in 2013. There is no time to waste.