Around 60 activists and councillors met in Birmingham on 16 March to discuss the Councillors Against Cuts campaign.
The event had four sessions:
• Supporting unions and campaigns fighting against the cuts this year
• Defending Labour councillors fighting against the cuts from victimisation
• Winning the arguments over the coming years, building a united labour movement campaign to stop further cuts and to reverse those already enacted.
Each of these was accompanied by short statements for voting, which all passed. The level of the debate was good and focused on the role of the Labour Party, the affiliated unions, and where the campaign can go next.
Various speakers observed that the cuts haven’t hit everyone yet. The question was asked: despite the overwhelming majority of councils passing on the cuts, where do we go from here as even tougher cuts come through?
The role of the unions has so far been contradictory. On the one hand unions are helping to run local campaigns, but nationally their leaderships are advising union-backed counillors to vote for the cuts or failing to defend them, other then formally, when they face disciplinary procedures for voting against them.
It was agreed that we should continue to put pressure on unions, especially those affiliated to Labour, to defend the councillors who have voted against cuts and to raise their opposition to councils voting through cuts budgets.
Josh Jones, a councillor from Birmingham (who abstained on his council’s cuts budget) also highlighted the need for a strong campaign to push councillors into defying the whip and educating them politically on the importance of the fight against cuts.
Gary Wareing from Hull spoke about the importance of getting councillors who have defied the whip to speak to meetings in their community, to local government union branches, and local Labour Parties.
Some activists thought it was highly likely councillors could be expelled, in which case they should just continue to act as Labour councillors regardless. Gary stressed that he would do this and he felt that, with enough support and a real fight being waged inside the Labour Party, it was possible to avoid expulsion from either the Labour Party and also, hopefully, the Labour group on the council.
The poisonous atmosphere facing many councillors was discussed. In Hull, portfolio holders flooded one CLP meeting to argue against the “Defend the Hull Three” motion. The leaders of the Labour group on the council are clearly agitated. It was agreed that the councillors should continue to share their experiences and work with local campaigns. The conference also agreed on the importance of not splitting local anti-cuts campaigns by insisting they stand candidates against Labour.
These discussions immediately split campaigns and exclude not only Labour Party activists but anyone not persuaded of the case for running in elections.
Our campaigns should be built on organising direct action against the cuts anddefending councillors who have voted against the whip. Within Labour Party selection contests, we should back candidates who pledge to vote against cuts.
We need to politicise both our local Labour Parties and anti-cuts campaigns to think about what we need from elected representatives.