In the recent local elections, Southampton council was won by Labour after an intense battle with the Tories, as well as the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC, of which HAC is part).
Throughout the campaign, TUSC warned that Labour councillors would betray their constituents and implement Tory cuts, and in the main was correct.
However, in Southampton, two councillors have refused to vote through a budget that would see leisure services cut in working class areas of the city (Oaklands), and are taking a stand against austerity. Below is an interview with them:
”We didn’t become Labour councillors to make cuts and we won’t!”
“Don and I are convinced we are doing the right thing. We knew as soon as we were elected that it was only a matter of time before the Labour administration would be forced to make drastic cuts or privatise services.
I was named Cabinet member for Efficiency and Improvement but resigned soon after. It became obvious that however much we tried to improve savings, it easn’t going to bridge the gap and I wasn’t prepared to promote an agenda of cuts and privatisation.
Within a month of us taking power in the city Labour had announced a mini-budget which proposed the closing of Oaklands Pool with an estimated saving of £250,000 a year.
We refused to accept this and voted against it in the council chamber. Don actually raised a clenched fist to the comrades in the visitors gallery!”
Don Thomas added:
“I thought that this was going to be the hardest decision I would ever make politically, but it turned out to be the easiest. I feel like a weight has been lifted from my shoulders. The public response has been incredible, I’ve got to stop going to the local shop, it’s only 5 minutes away but it takes me a couple of hours ‘cos everyone wants to chat and thank me for what I am doing”
“Some in the party have joked that we are the socialist conscience within its ranks. There is a lot of anger among our constituents that we are being punished for standing up on behalf of the working class people who voted for us.
It is an unacceptable decision to rob a working class district of its one and only leisure facility and we have been propelled into the front line because it happened in our ward.
What is happening here is going to be replicated nationwide as local authorities struggle with the cuts in funding. All Labour councillors will have to choose between dismantling local government or putting up a fight. This will inevitablly mean a fight against the coalition government.
The role of the local authority unions, especially Unite and Unison is very important, they must be prepared to work with us and against the cuts. Unite nationally have passed a resolution in support of our position but at the end of the day it is not just about local government and cuts it is about the continued recession both locally and nationally.
The trade unions must be prepared to take up the fight for all workers.
Workers are now more closely watching what the Labour council says and does and it raises the question of whether the Labour Party works in their interest? I think that it should.
We hear our colleagues say “I didn’t become a councillor to make cuts but…”, well we didn’t become Labour councillors to make cuts and we won’t!”
Simon Letts, Cabinet member for resources said after the election:
”Officers always tend to exaggerate the situation and it never turns out to be as bad as they say”
Well, 2-3 weeks later he was describing the situation facing the Labour Council as “perilous”
This is the backdrop to the discussions around next year’s budget.
They are already talking about establishing a Local Authority Trading Company (LATCO) effectively transferring adult social care to the private sector who can reduce pay and conditions or services without the council directly getting the blame.
I call this ‘passing the buck’.
Referring to the challenges facing Keith and Don in the near future, Don commented:
“there is a line you draw in the sand and we will not budge.”