Council Cuts Can Be Stopped!

Birmingham’s Labour council is pressing ahead with plans to carry out the largest cuts in history. The £300m cuts planned by spring 2025 will see 25 out of 35 libraries close, bin collections go from weekly to fortnightly, arts funding removed altogether, 50% cuts to youth services and special needs transport, and the Homecare service and day centres for vulnerable adults run down.

And we’ll be paying more for it, with council tax already hiked by 10% with another 10% to come on top next April, making 21% compounded. This at a time when there’s not end in sight to rising rents, fuel and food prices.

Councillors and senior management have tried to point the finger at everyone except themselves. First they blamed women workers for demanding back pay in line with male-dominated roles. Then they tried to make out the root of the problem was bin workers getting bonuses that council leaders signed off on in 2017 and 2019, and the task and finish system there.

Now it seems that even Max Caller, head of the team of commissioners sent in by the Tories to supervise the council is admitting that the £760m thrown about at the time of the council declaring itself bankrupt last autumn is not a “real number”! He’s also saying he may be in place for 5 years, getting paid over £1000 a day along with his six colleagues – nice work if you can get it!

On top of that, the council still doesn’t have a fully accurate view of its cashflow due to problems with the Oracle software put in place to manage the accounts two years ago. Staff at the coalface repeatedly warned of problems with the new system, but were ignored as finance chiefs instead threw £100m at trying to solve the problem.

Rather than rely on snippets from pro-cuts politicians and senior managers, we need an independent workers’ inquiry to get to the bottom of the source of the council’s crisis

Despite this, very little is a done deal – the library service, bin collections and several other areas in line for cuts are subject to “reviews”, due to report back in the coming months before the exact nature of cuts and closures are finalised. There’s still time to build mass opposition to stop attacks on services – but it has to step up a gear!

That’s why it’s positive that GMB have announced strike action by their members in 35 schools on 14th May. This should be used as a springboard for co-ordinated action with other council unions, starting with the NEU and NASUWT teachers’ unions, the former having been on strike nationally over pay, workload and school funding last year, with none of these things resolved since.

From here it needs to link to the wider council workforce. Cuts to 600 jobs means existing staff will have more work with less people.

Individual days of protest need to be the initial steps in laying the basis of escalated action.Local trade unions taking a lead could inspire confidence in their workers and cut across demoralisation.Mass in-person workplace meetings could lay the groundwork for cross-union campaigns and trade union coordination.

These could also pull behind them the campaigns of service users around libraries, special needs provision, youth services and more which have formed. In a general election year, this could put the demand on all the main parties to restore the funding stolen from Birmingham and other local councils over the last 14 years while big businesses and the richest pay less tax than ever.

Political Fightback Needed

But how much easier it would be if this movement had allies in the council chamber to amplify the voices of those fighting back and provide a platform for campaign.That’s why we need a political voice at the ballot box in the interest of council workers and working class Brummies as a whole. 

The Socialist Party is taking steps towards this by standing in the upcoming Kingstanding by-election as part of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition.Local union branches should support motions at conferences this year to support anti-cuts candidates where they’re standing and to take first steps of unions to stand their own.

This will be the most effective tool to build pressure on all the main parties ahead of the general election. Funding for local government will not be solved by either Sunak or Starmer who are already saying the quiet part out loud that they ‘won’t turn on the taps’, and there is ‘no magic money tree’.

This shows the need for a new mass party for working class people, as a step towards achieving socialist change that can take the wealth off the richest to fund the services that we rely on.

Written by workers for workers.

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