Anti-cuts round-up: new committees and small victories

Submitted by Matthew on 19 August, 2010 - 12:57

Trade union activists have begun building community and workplace opposition to Academies in the borough as part of the Tower Hamlets Anti-Cuts Coalition.

Unlike neighbouring borough Hackney, Tower Hamlets has never been receptive to Academies (partially because of the strength of union organisation in the borough’s schools). Now, under the Tory scheme which allows any school to apply for Academy status, some Tower Hamlets heads are seeing pound signs. Old Ford and Mulberry primary schools have both expressed an interest in applying for Academy status. The financial incentives are, however, negligible; the real motivation behind the proliferation of Academies is to break up the state sector, attack collective agreements and union organisation and introduce backdoor privatisation.

The local campaign is still at an early stage and is held back both by squabbling between the SWP and Counterfire (a group made up of recently-expelled SWPers) and by the bureaucratic conservatism of some of the leading figures. However, activists were able to organise petitioning and leafleting on the estates around Old Ford primary. Many residents had not yet head about the school’s plans to seek Academy status; unsurprising given the governors’ decision to begin the process in the middle of the summer holidays. The response was almost entirely positive, with some residents expressing an interest in getting involved with ongoing campaigning. Activity will continue over the coming weeks and anyone interested in getting involved should contact Laura on 07971842027.

Hackney

Hackney Alliance to Defend Public Services (HATDPS) was set up on 14 July following a call from Hackney Trade Union Council to all those involved in the public sector, both as workers and as users, to meet in the week after the 50 day budget was announced.

HATDPS is supported by a wide range of elected representatives of Hackney trade unions and community groups including Hackney Unison in health and local government, Hackney PCS, Kurdish/Turkish community groups Day Mer and Gik Der. There have been over 120 delegates at the four organising meetings we have so far held. The meetings are fortnightly and have been somewhat bureaucratic as it has taken time to decide on the organisation’s structure and how decisions are made. A constitution based on the one used for Save the Wittington Hospital campaign has been accepted and six joint officers (treasurers, secretaries, chairs) voted in for the first three months. Sub groups have been established for housing, community, education, health, environment, publicity and a decision made for more trade unionists to get involved in the council. A bulletin was written by the time of the second meeting and thousands of copies have been distributed in work places and community centres and given out door to door.

We are having a public launch meeting on (provisionally) Thursday 23 September, at the Round Chapel, and the HATDPS meeting has agreed to ask Diane Abbott to speak against cuts at this meeting. The local meetings will hopefully grow if we keep up the focus on distributing bulletins and setting up stalls. There are some interesting debates taking place about our attitude to Labour councillors, some members believe we need to be welcoming and inclusive, others believe that these people need to put on the spot and asked to refuse to implement the cuts.

The next open meeting will be held in the Moth Club, Hackney, Tuesday 24 August at 7pm.
hackneyalliance.wordpress.com

Barnet

Barnet’s senior Tory councillors recently pushed through a big hike in their allowances — the Leader’s allowances rose by £20k and Caibinet members doubled their allowances from £17k to £34k. They did not expect much opposition, but in a council that has imposed a pay freeze, and plans to outsource the vast bulk of services, the news has caused uproar.

The local paper, responding to popular feeling, has run a “Reject the Rise” petition; the papers have been filled with letters from residents objecting to what they see as the Tory regime’s arrogance and hypocrisy; the trades council has organised a lobby of the council on 14 September. Conservative central office responded with pressure on the council to change their minds, and finally pushed a new councillor, Mark Shooter, a hedge fund manager, to challenge for leadership of the Tory group. The Tories’ meeting is on 7 September.

In this febrile atmosphere, the Leader Lynne Hillan has backed down and is reversing the rise, in an attempt to save her own skin. But she knows she has much bigger fish to fry with the privatisation programme she wants to push through. The problem for her is that the wide and politically multifarious opposition has scented blood. All manner of small campaigns have taken heart from this climbdown by the Tories, forced by popular protest. Suddenly, the papers, local and national, are filled with the story of Edward Meakins, an 83-year-old man, now living alone, who is going to be moved from the three-bedroom house he has shared with his family since childhood into a flat, because Barnet’s waiting list for family homes is so long.

The trades council is linking support for Mr Meakins with a call for more houses to be built: support Mr Meakins! Build homes for all!

Oxford

It appears that local government job will be first on the chopping block in Oxford.

A number of building and refurbishment contracts — which were already signed — have been cancelled, including the refurbishment of a school and the building of a play-park in Barton, one of Oxford’s most economically-deprived areas. Workers at the John Radcliffe Hospital report that management has been told to find £100,000 of saving from each ward, making a mockery of the Tories’ paper-thin commitment to “ring-fence” funding for the NHS to protect it from cuts.

An Oxford Save Our Services campaign has been formed, mainly on the initiative of independent activists. It works closely with the existing Trades Council and aims to help both service users and workers in effected areas find a voice in order to develop a collective opposition to the cuts. It will hold a “Mapping Oxford’s Cuts” meeting on September 13 to look at both the scale and effect of cuts in the area, and will coordinate joint direct action with the Trades Council on the TUC-called “Day of Action” on October 20. For more info, email nocutsoxford@gmail.com

Lambeth One O’Clock Clubs Victory

One of the UNISON activists involved in the successful campaign against the sacking of all of the London Borough of Lambeth’s One O’Clock Club workers spoke to Solidarity.

“We feel we’ve won the first battle! It was the first victory because of the nature of what they were trying to do — these cuts were not budget-led. In fact the new set up would have cost more. The council had been planning this attack for some time, and after the election they jumped on the Lib-Con government’s bandwagon.

“The council’s arguments were totally implausible. They claimed they were replacing unqualified people with better qualified staff... In that case, why not use the existing procedures? Management just ended up looking stupid. It was clear they wanted to attack the union and attack the service we run.

“What we’ve shown is that if you stick together and fight, and get the support from the wider public, you can win. We can go on from here to fight all the cuts.”

Ana-Marie McFarlane, a parent who uses the One O’Clock Club in Norwood and has been active in the campaign, also spoke to us.

“As a parent and service-user, I was appalled at the underhandedness of how they went about things and at the proposals themselves. As a result, I became quite active in the campaign, as did many other parents. We’ve got a Facebook group with over a hundred and thirty members, we did petitioning, we lobbied the council.

“I was surprised to win so soon, as we really seemed to be up against the odds. When we lobbied the council we were supposed to given a slot to speak twice, but both times it was left off the agenda. They were very obstructive: we might as well have been issued withgags!

“We’ve got what we want, but I get the feeling it’s only interim — they say they’re going to review it, and what I feel is they’ll come back with something more watertight. This time there were all kinds of questions they couldn’t answer, like the opening times of the new service, and why the unions were not consulted.

“Then there’s the broader issues of cuts. I don’t know how services will cope with 25 percent cuts. It will affect the life of every young person."

Social services

Child protection services have been hit by significant cuts in key budget areas.

Social workers tasked with bringing vulnerable and at-risk children into care – re-housing, clothing and feeding them – have already been hit. In Plymouth, a number of individual budgets have been slashed, including a 75% cut in funds used to buy new clothes, bedding and other necessities. The immediate consequences of these cuts equate to a major attack on the poorest, most vulnerable and abused young people in society. Such cuts are a clear indictment of this Tory-Liberal government and show that the vulnerable will suffer first in their economic onslaught.

Connexions

The future of the Connexions youth advise service, which provides help and information for young people from 16-25, is under question in a number of areas.

The entire Connexions operation in Northamptonshire — a privately run, state-funded body — is to be wound up. This not only means the redundancies of all Personal Advisors but a significant re-modelling of advise services in the area. Under New Labour, a plethora of alternative education and training routes — of varying quality, it must be said — emerged. These will largely be phased out or scrapped and along with expected reductions in funding for youth projects, advise agencies and similar bodies, the role of Connexions will change significantly.

Again, the Tory-Liberal’s are making clear that young people are bottom of the list of priorities. All those currently employed by Connexions will be asked to re-apply for roles in a new school-based agency, on much reduced terms and conditions.

Health advice library

The scrapping of Nottinghamshire’s NHS Primary Care Trust has had a number of knock-on effects.

One of the first parts of the Trust to be significantly down-graded is the health information and advice resource. Built up over nearly twenty years, this library of printed and electronic data provides an invaluable resource with information and help on a variety of topics. All staff at the library bar one have been issued with redundancy notices, bringing into question the future role of the resource.

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