North Staffs Trade Union Council Launches Anti-Cuts Campaign

I’m writing this as a blog rather than a news item because I want to select aspects of interest to me and interleave my own opinions. The NSTUC held a public meeting about the cuts on 18th August 2010 at the “ËœHope Centre’ in Garth Street, Hanley. I attended primarily as a worker and a union member but also out of general interest about people’s reactions to the cuts and planned cuts and as an occasional blogger.

Jason Hill, president of NSTUC, chaired the meeting and introduced a panel of speakers who it was stressed were expressing personal views not necessarily those of the TUC. Jason estimated that ~100 people attended but hadn’t counted, I estimated ~70 and didn’t count either. So let’s say ~85. He thought attendance was high, I thought it was not nearly enough given that thousands of jobs are likely to go.

I found, although I agreed with many points raised, that the message was largely a bit simplistic, along the lines of cuts are bad so we need to have protest demonstrations, although there were a few higher quality contributions from some.

Chris Bambury of right to work campaign said we have a nasty but weak government, he opposes increases in the pension age and VAT and wants to save money by stopping the Afghan war and trident. I agree with his preferred cuts, but I think the previous government was a bit more nasty and a lot more dishonest.

Andy Bentley of the universities and colleges union criticised Stoke-on-Trent council for agreeing to make 32% cuts and focussing on playing off much needed services against eachother in deciding these cuts. He wants to defend services and jobs and recommends a one day general strike of public sector workers. I would agree that action beyond just a protest would be good.

Mike Barnes, community voice councillor, said the council’s consultant led “Ëœlean thinking’ policy means mass redundancies and service cuts, communities and trade unions should campaign against this. Agreed.

Liat Norris of youth fight for jobs said university students having to live on very little have to juggle work and studies. He thinks EMA is needed at a higher level but will be cut out, apprenticeships should be at least at minimum wage and have a job at the end. Cuts will lead to youth unemployment and temporary contracts. I agree with him about the adverse effect of the cuts would go further, I think university students in a climate of high unemployment will struggle to find those jobs to supplement the loan plus any grant. I can’t agree on the EMA though. To me that has only ever been a temporary bribe to keep people off the unemployment figures while 16-18 education is made compulsory. I don’t agree with raising the age of compulsory education as it doesn’t suit everyone. Also, as child benefit goes up to age 19 if in education/training, why have EMA as well? I agree on apprenticeships, without having a job at the end they are nothing different to YTS.

Neil Singh of the communication workers union wants nationalised industries and thinks there is no point talking to the likes of David Cameron and Vince Cable. I agree some services are best nationalised but disagree about refusing talks just for silly party political reasons.

Tony Conway of the public and commercial services union rattled on about all sorts of bodies that would be cut, many of which I had never heard of and sounded a bit like unnecessary labour quangos introduced to give jobs to their mates. He actually began to convince me the tories are right about some of the cuts anyway. He said “Phillip Green is a tax dodger who has a personal wealth of billions”. I do agree that bringing in such a person to inflict cuts on the poor is “Ëœa bit rich’.

Kassem Al-Khatib, labour councillor, said it would be crazy for labour councillors to vote against the budget. He did not go down well, largely we thought he was the one who was crazy if he would vote for cuts against the wishes of the electorate. I did agree with him that there should be no redundancies for any business in profit though.

Jenny Harvey from unison in the health service made an excellent point I thought, that the biggest threat was not the cuts, but under the guise of choice and freedom the door being opened for global companies to get control of NHS money. Public services should be accountable to us, not shareholders. Bank taxes would be an alternative to cuts. I liked the comments she made the best of all of them.

The general discussion was along the lines that everyone should work together to campaign against cuts to services and facilities that we want, but at the same time some took the chance to have a go at each other.

I will pick just some comments from the general discussion that I thought particularly stood out, most people did not state their names.

Someone from the probation service union said labour, tory and libdems are all to blame and reminded us how rich Blair has become.

Someone else suggested anti-cuts alliances should involve both private and public services. There can be successes. DHL workers had campaigned successfully when redundancies had been targeted specifically at union members.

Paul Sutton said he was terrified to lose his job as who will employ him, over 50, there shouldn’t be age discrimination but it happens. He specifically had a go at Tristram Hunt, who was there, for the previous labour government having got us into debt and started the cuts and asked him if he would now support a campaign against cuts in pay and jobs in the civil service. Tristram Hunt said nothing.

Someone said we need to establish whether our elected representatives are with us or against us, a broad union of left winged and nationalist parties is needed.

Someone else said our councillors should vote against cuts as we need a voice in the council chamber. At the next election we should vote out councillors who support the cuts and vote in those who vote against the cuts. An answer is needed from MPs and councillors. The MP and councillors there not on the panel said nothing in response.

Arthur criticised the trade unions themselves and said left to union leaders the campaign would focus on the public sector, but a wider campaign is needed. The state is also the enemy. Instead of striking a good idea is to occupy facilities planned for closure.

Someone from the department for work and pensions who is losing his job and can’t find another said we should go back to the workplace and encourage involvement in campaigning. He talked about action and hope, but I also award him the prize for the emotive quote of the evening, referring to David Cameron’s policies, “he wants his big society shoving up his arse”.

The panel made some final comments, the best from Chris about approaching young workers to rebuild the trade union movement, grass roots activity and a general strike. There are closures and privatisations now, we can’t wait for the TUC or it will be all over. I award him the prize for the best summing up comment of the evening “the TUC has done nothing over the last 30 years”.

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