No Confidence In Commissioners or Cuts Councillors!

As a result of Birmingham City Council declaring itself bankrupt through its section 114 notice, as we write, cabinet minister Michael Gove will appoint commissioners in the next few days to run the city. Regardless of any expertise in delivering public services any of these people may have, we can be sure that the Tory government’s austerity policies will be followed to the letter.

There is speculation that the Tories will loot Birmingham before they are kicked out of office and ‘preside over what is likely to be a fire sale of assets, which could include the Library of Birmingham and Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.’ Assets treasured by Brummies will be sold off to make up for financial incompetence. Council workers and service users are not responsible for the council’s financial position and the Socialist Party does not believe that they should bear the cost of it.

We are also against the appointment of unelected and unaccountable commissioners to supervise the city. The Socialist Party will fully back any action by the council unions to defend jobs and services.

In the early 1970s, councillors in the small Derbyshire town of Clay Cross refused to increase council house rents when instructed to by the Tory government. The government sent commissioners in who they refused to co-operate with to the point they refused to provide them with desks and chairs, and they even had to buy their own tea cups.

After six months of non co-operation they left with their tail between their legs and rents not increased. Compared to the 70s, today the Tories are in disarray and any organised coordinated fight back between local government leaders and its workers against carrying out any cuts on the city would trigger further fractoring in Sunaks’s government.

Not only do we believe that a similar attitude from Birmingham council workers could produce a similar result to Clay Cross but such a stance would have the full support of the people of Birmingham. The lobby of the council meeting of 12 September was a good start but there needs to be a mass campaign actively involving all council workers.

Socialist Party members have been ridiculed for years by councillors when we urged them to defy austerity and set a balanced no cuts budget using borrowing powers and reserves where necessary.

We were often told that if they took this course of action the government would send in commissioners. Well, they refused to take our advice and commissioners are now at the entrance to the Council House despite Labour councillors obediently carrying out Tory cuts for years.

Working class Brummies will rightly want to see these cuts making councillors held to account for this, along with their failure to deal with equal pay issues and the £100m bill for the Oracle IT failure. But a Tory-appointed establishment-led enquiry can't be relied upon to do this! We need a transparent union and community led investigation into what lead the council reaching crisis point, with democratic oversight by local residents.

Council unions have quite correctly blamed the Tory government for the funding crisis in public services. But despite attacks on Bin and Homecare workers being beaten back by determined strike action, the local leaderships have often been reluctant to oppose Labour cuts consistently.

This has meant that they were unprepared for the scale of fight needed to maintain jobs and services. This needs to be corrected now and a fight on a scale never seen before is necessary.

Labour in Birmingham has shown that it is totally incapable of defending jobs and services and a Labour government in Westminster would be no more successful. Keir Starmer has ruthlessly purged Labour candidates’ panels of people who are opposed to cuts and austerity and has remained utterly silent on Birmingham’s situation in the last few weeks.

If Birmingham Labour Cllrs refuse to take the necessary steps to defend the city, then the local unions need to form their own list of worker’s candidates to support at the ballot box. Candidates prepared to stand on an anti austerity programme.

It is now time to take the crucial steps to form a new party which puts the interests of workers and the poor at its heart. Birmingham is not the first council in recent months to declare a section 114, and it will not be the last. What it can be is the platform of a new wave of struggle against cuts in the local government arena.

Local trade union activists should take courage from the recent strike waves in worker’s preparation and determination to fight - but in order to do this a lead needs to be taken from the worker’s movement to inspire and provide a fighting strategy to win.

We invite everyone who wants to discuss what this would look like to come to our public meeting next month, featuring socialist former MP Dave Nellist and local trade union activists:

7:30pm, Monday 2nd October

Top floor, The Wellington

Bennetts Hill

Birmingham City Centre

B2 5SN

Written by workers for workers.

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