This week’s council meeting was the last before the council votes its budget through in February next year. Southampton Councillors Against Cuts, Keith Morrell and Don Thomas, went to the meeting to urge Labour councillors to reject the cuts agenda and launch a mass campaign to fight central government for the funding the city needs.
Through using reserves and borrowing powers to fund the budget gap, as Keith and Don put forward at this year’s budget-setting meeting, it would be entirely possible to protect jobs and services. By refusing to implement the cuts the council would give a lead, build mass support that could force a weak and unpopular government into retreat.
Moving their motion, Keith said:
This motion gives the Labour councillors in this chamber today the opportunity to chart a different course. You can say to this government of the rich and powerful: ‘We were elected by the working people of this city to defend their interests, not collaborate in attacking them.’
You can say to this government of the rich and powerful: ‘We demand you give us back the money you have stolen from us!’ You can say to this government of the rich and powerful: ‘We will convene a conference here in this city to which we will invite the people of Southampton, to debate the way forward and organise a challenge to the unacceptable demands you are making on us.’
You can say to this government of the rich and powerful: ‘We are Labour councillors who refuse to bend the knee. We are Labour councillors who will fight for our class. We are Labour councillors who say: the fight-back starts here, today!’
Seconding the motion, Don said:
It has been shown recently if you are willing to fight anything is possible. Look at how the trade unions last year put up a fight and came out with decent terms and conditions. And of course it’s not that long ago we were told that Oaklands swimming pool was to close and we were to “get used to it”, as the then leader of the council said at the time.
Again residents and others were not willing “to get used to it”, instead putting up a fight and forcing the administration to find an alternative, giving the pool a future. So it can be done.
Council leader, Simon Letts, gave a reply that unfortunately confirmed the deepest cynicism and betrayal in the face of the impact these cuts will have. Completely unwilling to provide any leadership, he hides behind false arguments of ‘illegality’, of ‘commissioners taking over’ and ‘absence of any support’ for such a stand. In fact Labour is happy to promote a consultation process that encourages the public to choose which services they want to cut and where efficiencies can be made.
Some councillors understand that this will mean the wholesale destruction of the youth services, libraries, Sure Start services and non-statutory provision. Even the council workers, whose strike in 2011 paved the way for the defeat of the Tory council in 2012, will see an attack on their terms and conditions. Badged as the implementation of a Living Wage, the proposal is unfunded and demands changes to current terms and conditions.
The Labour administration has warned that if an agreement isn’t reached, workers will be dismissed and re-employed on new contracts. Exactly the same threats as used by the previous Tory council! One outcome of the council debate was to unite Labour, Lib Dems and Tories in attacking Keith’s and Don’s proposal! In reply Keith hammered the Labour group: “The Labour Party was formed to fight for working people against the rich and powerful. All we hear from you are excuses! You have become managers – what difference to the Tories?”
The council debate was covered on the regional BBC TV evening news – Keith and Don and supporters were shown on the steps of the Civic Centre – and BBC local radio interviewed supporters. The message is clear: Labour may have no fight in them, no alternative and no confidence in winning support to stop the cuts, but Southampton Councillors Against the Cuts do and are prepared to take the campaign to communities across the city in the months running up to next February’s budget-setting meeting.