Scottish Labour starts to make noise about local government cuts

Submitted by cathy n on 23 February, 2016 - 10:31 Author: Dale Street

The Scottish Labour Party organised a lobby of the Scottish Government Cabinet meeting in Clydebank last week, to protest against the SNP government’s cuts of £350 millions in local authority funding.

This week the Glasgow City Council Labour Group is staging a lobby outside the Scottish Parliament, to protest at the SNP’s cut of £133 millions in funding for Glasgow, which will cost around 3,000 jobs.

This is progress compared to muttering about underfunding and but getting on with ‘managing’ local authorities on a reduced budget anyway.

So too does Scottish Labour Party leader Kezia Dugdale’s call for a 1p increase in income tax rates in Scotland, as a way of raising the money needed to stop the cuts from going ahead. For all its limitations, it represents an alternative to SNP austerity.

After nine years of being in opposition at Holyrood, Scottish Labour seems to have woken up to the fact that the job of an opposition is to … oppose. But there is still no sign of a real labour movement campaign to challenge head on the cuts and their SNP architects in Holyrood.

(The SNP even denies the gross inadequacy of its funding of local authorities. SNP Finance Secretary John Swinney has claimed that the cuts in funding will have a “minimal” impact on local authority budgets.

And according to an SNP leaflet currently being distributed in Glasgow, the city worst hit by the cuts: “Once again Glasgow has done very well with its grant from the Scottish Government for 2016/17.”)

Constituency Labour Parties (CLPs) in Glasgow and Edinburgh have passed motions calling for local anti-cuts conferences bringing together CLPs, trade unions and community groups. But there is still no sign of any such conferences being organised.

There is a lack of co-ordination between Labour Party anti-cuts campaigning and campaigning by unions against the cuts. This week’s lobby of Holyrood by Glasgow Labour Group is on Wednesday morning. The trade union lobby is Wednesday afternoon.

Pointing the finger of blame at the SNP government in Holyrood, which is what the Scottish Labour Party campaign currently amounts to, is certainly justified. But it is not the same as organising a fightback to defend jobs, working conditions, and services.

The fact that the SNP has rejected the proposal for a 1p increase in income tax rates is being used as an excuse by some councillors to press ahead with cuts: We proposed an increase in income tax; but the SNP voted it down; so now we have no alternative but to make cuts.

Edinburgh City Council (a Labour-SNP coalition) has already voted through a cuts budget. Other Labour-controlled councils (such as Glasgow and Aberdeen) have drawn up cuts budgets to be voted on later this month or early March.

Nor is there a co-ordinated local-government trade union strategy: responses to the threat of massive attacks on jobs and working conditions have varied from one union to another.

Trade Unions for Scottish Labour, unsurprisingly, is pinning the blame on the SNP government: “The real divide: implementing austerity v combating austerity.” But while it is true that the SNP is implementing austerity, so too are Labour-controlled councils which vote for cuts!

UNISON Scotland has produced a “Combating Austerity Report and Toolkit” which proposes a series of (worthwhile) financial measures which councils could implement and, claims UNISON, thereby avoid the need to make cuts.

Unite’s focus is to demand that the UK Treasury write off an estimated £2.5 billions worth of pre-devolution debt owed by councils.

The GMB, despite its right-wing Scottish leadership (anti-Corbyn, pro-Trident and pro-fracking), is already carrying out a consultative ballot of its members in Glasgow City Council and its arms-length company Cordia over proposals to cut jobs and terms and conditions.

At the same time, the GMB is also backing the call for a 1p increase in income tax rates and mobilising for anti-SNP lobbies at Holyrood.

By contrast, those sections of the Scottish trade union movement who have effectively signed up to social peace with the SNP government now seem to flinch and sneer at the idea of criticising and mobilising against SNP austerity.

Labour-controlled councils have a straightforward choice: Campaign with trade unions and community groups on the basis of no-cuts budgets, or fight against trade unions and community groups to try to push cuts through.

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