How do we stop the cuts?

Public Meeting
Called by Leeds Against the Cuts and Local Government Unison
Tuesday 24th May at Leeds Civic Hall

Leeds Against the Cuts have called a public meeting to discuss how we can build on the Leeds March for the Alternative, which was the biggest May Day march Leeds has seen for many years. There will be speakers from local campaigns and trade unions, including those unions who are planning strike action on June 30th.

Facebook purges political groups

A few months back, the media was full of claims of the key role that Facebook (and Twitter) played in the revolution in Egypt. Never mind that the role has been overstated, especially given that the revolution was able to carry on when the Egyptian Government pulled the plugs on the country’s links to the internet.

This weekend, however, there seems to have been a wholesale purge of anti-cuts groups on Facebook, with 50 having disappeared without warning. The list includes groups linked to UK Uncut, including BigSociety Leeds, but also the Westminster Trades Council, and Save NHS. People are trying to get an explanation, and a Facebook group has been set up to put pressure on the site to restore the groups. However, this shows  the risk of relying on a closed, commercial site like Facebook for organising. To quote Guy Aitchison:

Either way, it is a scandalous abuse of power by Facebook to arbitrarily destroy online communities built up over many months and years. These groups provide a vital means for activist groups to communicate with their supporters. Ultimately, the anti-cuts movement in the UK will need to start organising through self-hosted, open source platforms to avoid reliance upon the very corporate power structures we are aiming to challenge.

Facebook is limited as a platform for campaigning, anyway, as it is fundamentally closed. It is useful for groups of people who are already acquainted, to organise events. However, very little content is available to people who are not already members of the site, and very little of the content is searchable from outside Facebook.

Facebook has shown itself to be slow to act against groups like the EDL who use the site to spread racism, hatred and division. But, today’s events show that it can act quickly against non-violent protest groups campaigning to defend jobs and services. We should not rely on the site too heavily for organising our activities.

Cut backs at Bramley pool stopped

Campaigners celebrated winning their battle to against reduction in opening times for Bramley Baths. Over the last few weeks, schoolchildren have marched against plans to slash hours in half. This was part Leeds City Council’s recent decision to make £90m of cuts.

Older campaigners joined in, some of who have been using the baths since they opened over 50 years ago. The community was able to find £40,000 Capital Investment.

Bramley pool will now stay open for 60 hours a week, instead of just 29 proposed under the Councils cuts. Local councillors found £40,000 capital investment for a new jacuzzi and other renovation works by using the area committee funds from the council.

Elderly residents will continue to enjoy early morning swimming and primary schools will continue to have their swimming lessons there.”

Another example which shows that fight-back campaigns work.

Leeds March for the Alternative

Called by Leeds TUC
Victoria Gardens, The Headrow, Leeds (outside the Art Gallery) [map]
Saturday 30th AprilOn Briggate, Leeds March for the Alternative

The Leeds March for the Alternative, was the biggest May Day March held in Leeds for many years. Around 300 people turned out, with flags and banners, ranging from the large and professionally-made, to the home-made. The march itself was lively and angry.  The rally afterwards heard speakers from the GMB, UCU and PCS, among other unions, speaking about strikes we have seen, and the strikes that are coming. We were reminded about the Leeds bin strike, and the plans for co-ordinated strike action between civil servants and teaching unions. We also heard from a member of Leeds Uncut, reminding us that all the cuts are unnecessary, and a Midwife speaking for the Keep Our NHS Public campaign, on the need to fight to defend the NHS.

Union flags on Vicar Lane

Leeds Anti-Cuts Convention

Held at Leeds Metropolitan University, Broadcasting Place on 9th April 2011
Organised by Leeds Against the Cuts

The Coalition Government are imposing austerity on us – cutting our jobs and services and privatising anything the rich like the look of. Leeds City Council is planning to impose £91million of cuts, slashing essential services like mental health day centres and cutting up to 3,000 jobs.

Banners on the march

The March 26th March for the Alternative was big, but it is not the end of our movement, and the convention brought together around 120 trade-union and community activists to discuss how we can take the various campaigns forwards in Leeds.

The opening plenary session heard from a number of campaigns. Jo Pinto from the NUS, spoke about the movement against student cuts, and Michael Tippett of Unison told us of the threat being posed to the NHS. He was followed by Michael Hall, of Leeds Tenants’ Federation, who told us of their campaign which focuses on the importance of rent regulation in the private sector, security of tenure for all tenants, and on fighting the attacks on Housing Benefit.

Rosie Watson from the CWU then told us about the successful pay campaign for front-line staff in Post Office Counters. However she warned that, while they have won a great battle on the basis of the fact that Royal Mail did not want a “row”, the row is still out there. This is the attack on the universal mail service provided by Royal Mail Group, as well as the threat of closure to more than 4,000 Post Offices, with 2,000 of those remaining forced to be self-funding and run entirely for profit.

In the Council Cuts session, which I attended, we heard about the genuine crisis in Leeds City Council. The government is intending to slash one sixth of the Council’s budget over the next four years, with more than half of the cut coming in the first year. If this is allowed to go ahead, it will mean up to 3,000 job losses. Even if compulsory redundancies could be avoided, these jobs will still be lost, denying opportunities for young people in the future. Due to years of pairing down front- and back-office roles under the “Gershon Efficiencies”, there is no longer any surplus capacity and each and every job loss will affect front-line services.  The cuts will also mean job losses in the private sector,  both in companies that rely on contracts with the council.and from businesses losing custom due to fewer council workers with money to spend.

We heard from the campaign to defend the mental health day centres. They have managed to stave off the closure on the basis of the Council’s failure to carry out an adequate consultation or equality impact assessment. However, it is quite possible that the Council will come back with the same decision after the consultation that is now running, so the campaign has not won yet. There is also a need to broaden out these individual campaigns into a fight against all the cuts, and for the trade unions to take a more pro-active role in this.

If you have a reports on the discussions in the sessions on Education, Housing and the Localism Bill, Cuts and the Environment, the NHS, Right to Protest or the National Anti-Cuts Movement that you would like to share, please get in touch.

The closing plenary received the reports of the various sessions, and discussed the following action points arising from them:

Education cuts

  • Work to create a Leeds anti-academies campaign
  • Try to draw more school students into the anti-cuts movement

Council cuts

  • Build solidarity with the strikes on 30th June
  • Focus on drawing private sector workers the anti-cuts movement

NHS cuts

  • To create a facebook page about resistance to NHS cuts
  • Write to the Local Medical Committee about the white paper and lobby them
  • Encourage people to write to their GPs about the consortia

Housing & Localism Bill

  • Hold a local anti-cuts demonstration on the last Saturday in May
  • Take steps to try and stop the council implementing the cuts, for example naming and shaming councillors and MPs who vote for cuts
  • Set up a local branch of the Housing Emergency Campaign, with a launch meeting on Thurs 21st April 5:30pm, Westminster Buildings, 31 New York Street (near CAB)

The Right to Protest

  • Produce a LAC leaflet on the right to protest and organise legal observers for protests

National Anti-Cuts Movement

  • We will publish a program of activity on the LAC website

General action points that were proposed in the final plenary

  • To arrange for Leeds Against the Cuts meetings to be held in a larger and more accessible venue
  • To send a delegation to the Coalition of Resistance 9th July resolution-based conference and submit a motion to unite the various national anti-cuts campaigns
  • Develop the Leeds Against Cuts website and update it more often
  • Hold regular Leeds Against Cuts stalls in the city centre on Saturdays
  • Create a portal that can link to all the Leeds anti-cuts websites

Amendments to the Leeds Against the Cuts statement were discussed, and the statement was passed: Final statement as agreed (pdf).

The convention was supported by: Leeds Trade Union Council, Leeds Education Assembly, Coalition of Resistance, Right to Work, Leeds Met Against Cuts, Leeds Uni Against Cuts, Northern Schools and Colleges Against Cuts and other organisations.

Royal Armouries museum cuts staff

The Royal Armouries museum in Leeds has axed more than 10% of its workforce as it battles with the impact of Government spending cuts. Seventeen members of staff have been sacked from the Leeds site, and we have been toldd that nearly fifty jobs will go across the Armouries’ three UK sites. The Royal Armouries described the move as an “inevitable” consequence of its bid to save £3.4m over the next four years.

The bosses of the Armouries set up the savings plan after being told they, like other national museums, faced a 15 per cent reduction in real-terms funding from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). On March 31st one of the major assets in Leeds’ tourism and educational programme will quietly slip away, the victim of government cuts..

The Armouries management has sacked all their actors who interpret history and will close the tiltyard where the jousting occurs. This will be turned into a children’s’ playground. The existing actors were allowed to do a final show on March 13th.

The ten-strong live Interpretation Team at the Royal Armouries is being disbanded, along with 30 other staff redundancies. The Armouries, which reported its best year last year, undoubtedly in no small part because of the of the live displays, has decided to axe the key draw to their museum.

The Armouries management has little appreciation of what an asset the horse, falconry and historical monologue shows are. The longbowmen, Shakespearian swordsmen and the poleaxemen are gone.

So  the interior of the Armouries will become as grey, silent and dull as it’s monolithic exterior,

All together for the NHS day – April 2nd

Saturday 2nd April 2011, 12:00pm

Millenium Square, outside Leeds General Infirmary, Leeds LS1 3HE [map]

100-150 people rallied in support of the NHS in Leeds on 2nd April 20011

It was a little unclear whose event this was, at first. Although All Together for the NHS Day was originally announced by Unison, and members of Leeds Teaching Hospitals Branch were there with their banner, the initiative in Leeds appears to have been taken by a group of medical students involved with the Medsin global health campaigning group.

Between 100 and 150 people turned out for this event, good considering how hastily it had been called, and credit needs to go to everyone involved in organising and publicising it. However, in a city like Leeds, we should be able to build something much bigger, in defence of our health service. The trades unions need to take a role in building the next one, although we cannot simply leave it to them. The NHS belongs to us all, and the task of defending it falls to every one of us.

The rally heard from a number of speakers, including local public health consultant Dr. Martin Schweiger. They spoke of the danger of a privatised health service where cost is the sole deciding factor. This would mean that organisations who provide the training for the next generation of staff, offer decent terms and conditions, would not be able to compete. Patients would suffer at the hands of companies offering care on the cheap, delivered by staff on the minimum wage. The organisers gathered a petition and a contact list, and this will be only the first in a series of events aimed at stopping Andrew Lansley’s plans.

Stop Press: The Telegraph is reporting that Cameron is backing down on some of the proposals in the Health and Social Care bill. We still have work to do, but this is a campaign we can win!

The big society says no!

For the best part of a year, the trade union and anti-cuts movements have been building up to the big one – the March for the Alternative. Many criticised the TUC at the time, for the timescale, feeling that the wait was too long. A large-scale national demonstration six months ago, could have meant that our movement would be stronger now, but the TUC may indicate the very size of yesterday’s event as justification for the wait.

March for the Alternative banner

Diversity and anger

The turnout was probably not as big as the February 15th march against the war in Iraq, but it was of the same order of magnitude. The best estimates of the numbers attending are between 250,000 and 500,000 people. I am not sure that anyone really knows how many people went down from Leeds, but local Unison branches alone laid on 11 coaches. And the march was diverse, in terms of age, gender, sexuality and ethicity. Union banners and flags were there  in large numbers, but also banners of trade justice and religious organisations, community groups, political parties and many hand-made placards expressing individual perspectives. And the march was noisy – whistles and vuvuzelas, chants and cheers, and many bands. There were brass bands, steel bands, dhols and drum groups. There was, of course, anger, but also positivity and a good atmosphere.  Despite Cameron’s rhetoric, this was where the big society was on the day.

Banners on the march

As reported on the news, some of the anger was vented at the main corporate perpetrators of tax evasion (including Next, RBS, Boots and Vodafone), as well as the symbols of privilege (particularly the Ritz and Fortnum and Mason), led by UKUncut as well as some anarchist groups. However, while windows were broken and paint thrown in some places, others saw well-controlled protests (such as the shutting of a branch of Boots on Oxford Street, the doors criss-crossed by UKUncut “crime scene” tape). The occupation of Fortnum and Mason was peaceful, in contrast to the kettling of the protesters by police, when they finally left.

At 11:40, the march was heading along Picadilly, and reached Hyde Park shortly afterwards. The rally there was addressed by speakers including Labour Leader Ed Milliband, John McDonnell MP, Billy Hayes of the Communication Workers Union and actor Tony Robinson, and entertainment provided by the likes of folk duo Show of Hands. However, as this was taking place, the demonstration was continuing. After four hours, marchers were still passing Trafalgar Square, and protests in Central London continued well into the night.

Where next?

A key question, after an event like this, is: where do we go next? Following the big anti-war marches, people came back inspired, but for many this soon lapsed into disillusionment, as it became clear the government would pay no attention at all. Marching is not enough, and this demonstration, in itself, will change nothing. However, it does show the number of people who are opposed to the government plans, and willing to take action. This is something we can build on.

For some, the answer will be to trust in the Labour Party, and hope that they will be successful in forthcoming elections. Others will believe that the only thing that will make the government and the super-rich listen, is direct action, breaking windows or occupying buildings. Many more believe that the answer is a deepening and broadening of industrial action, and are calling on the unions to organise a General Strike.

Come and join us on April 9th for the Anti-Cuts Convention, to discuss the way forwards.

Time to Bring Down this Bloody Government!

Leeds District Socialist Workers Party Public Meeting

Time to Bring Down this Bloody Government

Thursday 31st March at 19:30pm

Swarthmore Centre, Woodhouse Square, Leeds [map]

In just nine months in office, the Con-Dem coalition has begun an onslaught on jobs and public services that if continued, will wreck the future and hopes of working class people for generations to come. All this, in a desperate bid to make capitalism safe for the bosses, the greedy and the rich.

And in the face of this slaughter of jobs, education, the NHS and the welfare state, Ed Milliband tells us to wait for a Labour election victory and in the meantime do nothing. The Socialist Workers Party believes that there is a fighting alternative to the option of Labour’s Pie in the Sky. That alternative has to be in the form of building and unleashing the resistance in every union, workplace, community, college and university.

The Cuts in Headingley

Leeds Northwest Coalition of Resistance meeting

The Weetwood room, Headingly Enterprise and Arts Centre

(Bennett Road, Headingley, Leeds, LS6 3HN)

Monday 28th March, 7.40pm

We have invited Ian Pattison from the Socialist Party to talk about the cuts and how they effect Headingley Ward. He is standing as a candidate in Headingley in the May Council elections on an anti-cuts platform. There will be some discussion about the “March for the Alternative “ of the 26th March and the Leeds Convention Against the Cuts on the 9th April.