All Circus and No Bread: Plymouth City Council Cuts Budget and Democracy

Councillors sat today (Monday 27th February) to move the annual budget and yet again it’s the people of Plymouth that are being made to suffer.

With Labour having lost control of the council after the 2016 elections ending four years of Blairite Labour branded austerity the Conservatives and their allies in UKIP are now wielding the axe and they are certainly wasting no time.

It’s difficult to fathom how UKIP can in any way claim to be an “alternative” when they are lining up with the Tories to dish out more misery for ordinary Plymothians. Moreover, we hear once again about the need to be prudent and fiscally responsible from the Conservatives, yet they are continuing to slash services whilst having the gall to increase council tax for every household in Plymouth by 4.49%. This effectively means that the people of Plymouth will have to pay out even more despite the fact that the Tories and their friends in UKIP are further reducing the services which Plymouth City Council is offering. In short people will have to pay more for less.

The Tories have pinned the council tax rise on the need to raise funds to ensure the council is able to meet its requirements for providing adult social care. Rather than lumping the bill on the poorest and most vulnerable in Plymouth why hasn’t Ian Bowyer (Conservative leader of Plymouth City Council) demanded more funding from central government? If they can find extra money for Surrey, why not Plymouth? The people of Plymouth are being expected to pay out more in taxes whilst simultaneously having to put up with reduced bin collections as well as the potential closure of over half of Plymouth’s libraries to name but some of the cuts.

The Labour Councillors were ridiculing the Tories for making cuts and raising council tax but this is exactly what they themselves did over the four years that they had control of the council. However, their remarks were cut short when the Conservatives and UKIP decided to use their majority to end the debate early and go straight to the vote. It seems that the Conservatives are taking a leaf out of Trump’s book by stifling debate which UKIP fully supported.

Despite being cut short the Labour group could have used what time they had to table an alternative no cuts budget as I have suggested to them year after year before budget setting meetings. Corbyn supporters in the Labour Party have been much more open to discuss such an alternative but so far not a single one of Plymouth’s Labour Councillors has been open to even discussing a legal no cuts budget.

Plymouth is in desperate need of an alternative to austerity. We need Councillors who are going to stand up for public services rather than wield the axe. Whether that fight comes from Corbyn supporting Labour candidates prepared to unseat Blairites and oppose the cuts or whether that fight has to continue to come from TUSC, what matters is that fight needs to be had.

TUSC are prepared to continue in that fight and we are always happy to have fraternal discussions with any and all individuals and parties that are also willing to take up that struggle. Let’s build the alternative.

Ryan Aldred

Socialist Party Secretary and TUSC Election Agent

Library Closures: If it’s not about money, what is it about?

Below is a letter I’ve sent into the Plymouth Herald:

“Conservative Councillor Glenn Jordan claimed at a library consultation meeting on Tuesday 21st February that the ridiculous plans to close 10 libraries across the city was not about saving money. If the money is there to keep the libraries open then why not keep those libraries open? How will culling jobs and destroying community spaces help to benefit the city?

The Conservatives are seriously suggesting that library services can reach the people of Plymouth better by closing ten of the city’s libraries, which, when coupled with the expensive public transport system is going to leave people isolated and less able to reach these services.

Likewise, we heard that North Prospect Library is planned for closure because it doesn’t have meeting space. When it was challenged that there are indeed meeting rooms in the library building the retort by Councillor Jordan was that the meeting space needed to be in the library space itself. Forgive me for my ignorance but I would have thought that a library is meant to be just that, a library and not a library/meeting space! The fact that there are meeting spaces available in the North Prospect library building which are being ruled out on the utterly spurious grounds that they are not “in the library” suggests to me that there is more than meets the eye going on here.

If it’s not about money, why don’t they try to increase engagement with these wonderful public spaces rather than simply trying to close their doors for good? Councillor Jordan has put forward these plans “so we are not constrained by bricks and mortar”. I have to wonder aloud, is there a more lucrative business venture that these shameless Conservatives are eyeing up which they are happy to turf out community groups and public sector workers for?

Don’t get me wrong, I do support more being invested to offer a digital service but that shouldn’t be at the expense of jobs and excellent public spaces. If the Conservatives want to see more engagement with libraries why don’t they invest more into ensuring that libraries are well-maintained and remain accessible by keeping them open? Or is it as I suspect that this is indeed not about money but about the continued destruction of our public services?

If these Conservatives and their chums in UKIP can’t look after our public services I’ll be more than willing to show them how it’s done.

Ryan Aldred

Plymouth TUSC Campaign Organiser”

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From 1905-2017: Echoes of the Abortive Russian Revolution

 

Below is the manifesto produced by the Soviet of Workers’ Deputies at the height of the revolutionary storm which bubbled over in Russia in 1905. It is striking how many similarities there are between the autocratic tsarist regime of 1905 and the towering heights of predatory capitalism today.

The working-class shook Tsarism to the core when they felt their collective strength in 1905 and in 1917 the working-class swept Tsarism into the dustbin of history. The shaky ground which capitalism currently rests on can once again be shaken as the working-class move into action. Capitalism itself can be swept into the dustbin of history as the working-class reject the poverty, exploitation and misery that is becoming all too familiar.

As working-class people start to feel our collective strength in the face of the bourgeoisie’s fracturing system, socialism can once again be placed firmly on the order of today’s business and with the collective effort of billions of workers across the world we can achieve a society from each according to ability, to each according to need. All we need do is demand it and through collective action, strive for it.

1905

“The government is on the brink of bankruptcy. It has reduced the country to ruins and scattered it with corpses. The peasants, worn out by suffering and hunger, are incapable of paying taxes. The government gave credits to the landowners out of the people’s money. Now it is at a loss as to what to do with the landowners’ mortgaged estates. Factories and plants are at a standstill. There is unemployment and a general stagnation of trade. The government has used the capital obtained by foreign loans to build railways, warships, and fortresses and to store up arms. Foreign sources have now been exhausted and state orders have also come to an end. The merchant, the supplier, the contractor, the factory owner, accustomed to enriching themselves at the treasury’s expense, find themselves without new profits and are closing down their offices and plants. One bankruptcy follows another. Banks are failing. All trade exchanges have been reduced to the barest minimum. The government’s struggle against revolution is causing daily unrest. No one is any longer sure what the morrow will bring.

Foreign capital is going back home, ‘Purely Russian’ capital is also seeping away into foreign banks. The rich are selling their property and going abroad in search of safety. The birds of prey are fleeing the country and taking the people’s property with them.

For many years the government has spent all its state revenue on the army and navy. There is a shortage of schools. Roads have been neglected. In spite of this, there is not enough money even to keep the troops supplied with food. The war was lost partly because military supplies were inadequate. Mutinies of poverty-stricken, hungry troops are flaring up all over the country.

The railways are economically sick through the government’s fault. Many millions of roubles are needed to restore the railway economy.

The government has pilfered the savings banks, and handed out deposits to support private banks and industrial enterprises, often entirely fictitious ones. It is using the small saver’s capital to play the stock exchange, where that capital is exposed to risk daily.

The gold reserves of the state bank are negligible compared with the existing claims of government loans and the demands of trade turnover. It will be reduced to nothing if gold coin is demanded for every transaction.

Taking advantage of the absence of any control of the state finances, the government has long been issuing loans which far exceed the country’s means of payment. With these new loans it is covering the interest on old ones.

Year after year the government issues false accounts of expenditure and revenue, showing both to be less than they are in reality and robbing indiscriminately to show a surplus instead of an annual deficit. Officials are free to rob the treasury which in any case is already exhausted.

Only the Constituent Assembly, after the overthrow of autocracy, can halt this financial ruin. It will carry out a close investigation of the state finances and will draw up a detailed, clear, accurate, and certified balance sheet of state revenue and expenditure (budget).

Fear of popular control which would reveal to all the world the government’s financial insolvency is forcing it to keep putting off the convening of the people’s representative assembly.

In order to safeguard its rapacious activities the government forces the people to fight unto death. Hundreds of thousands of citizens perish and are ruined in this fight, and industry, trade, and means of communication are destroyed at their very foundations.

There is only one way out: to overthrow the government, to deprive it of its last strength. It is necessary to cut the government off from the last source of its existence: financial revenue. This is necessary not only for the country’s political and economic liberation, but also, more particularly, in order to restore the financial equilibrium of the state.

We have therefore decided:

To refuse to make land redemption payments and all other payments to the treasury. In all transactions and in the payment of wages and salaries, to demand gold, and in the case of sums of less than five roubles, full-weight hard cash (coinage).

To withdraw deposits from savings banks and from the state bank, demanding payment of the entire sum in gold.

The autocracy has never enjoyed the people’s confidence and has never received any authority from the people.

At the present time the government is behaving within the frontiers of its own country as though it were ruling conquered territory.

We have therefore decided not to allow the repayment of loans which the government contracted while it was clearly and openly waging ware against the entire people.

Signed: The Soviet of Workers’ Deputies.

The Main Committee of the All-Russian Peasants’ Union.

The Central Committee and the Organization Committee of the Russian Social-Democratic Workers’ party.

The Central Committee of the party of Socialist Revolutionaries.

The Central Committee of the Polish Socialist party.”

To read more about the events which surrounded this document, check out 1905 written by Leon Trotsky.

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Profits Before Safety: RMT Strike To Protect Passengers and Staff

Ryan Aldred interviewed an RMT official about RMT’s decision to take 48 hours of strike action

Why have RMT members taken strike action?

This dispute has arisen over concerns surrounding the issue of new trains which First Great Western (FGW) and the RMT have been in talks over for two years. Staff working at stations and maintenance staff are likely to be withdrawn. Moreover, it is likely that the buffet car will be removed in favour of a buffet trolley which will mean a reduction in staff and a worsening of services provided.

Also, it seems that the role of the train guard is being withdrawn from London to Wales and the South West which means that trains will be Driver Only Operated. This means that rather than a guard being responsible for the train leaving the driver free to drive the train, the driver will have to take sole responsibility for the train.

This would require ensuring that trains depart from platforms safely with no assistance from staff on the platform and the driver taking sole responsibility for passenger safety in the event of an accident despite the driver being most at risk. These changes would jeopardise passenger safety and because of this RMT has balloted members working for FGW and has seen resounding support for strike action so members have taken 48 hours of strike action followed by 24 hours of action short of strike.

What has the mood been like among strikers?

The mood has been very good. Both old and new members are taking part and taking lead roles with many members taking strike action for the first time. Members were employed to do a job and we won’t accept FGW changing terms for worse service. So far there have been two meetings since the ballot and at every stage the company refused to meet our demands. Our members feel that these are not too much to ask when East Coast Trains have met these demands and have the same trains. If these concessions are acceptable for East Coast to offer their staff it should be good enough for FGW staff as ultimately it is the passengers that would have to endure worse service and increased risk to safety.

What has support from the public been like?

The public have been overwhelmingly on our side as they are concerned about the prospect of a worse service. FGW have promised more customer facing staff but we are seeing more staff being removed from customer facing roles which will eventually lead to a faceless railway. Even some MPs have felt the pressure and have come out in support of this strike action as the wider public are hugely in favour of passenger safety over profiteering.

Are RMT members prepared to take further action if necessary?

Further action is being looked at after the 48 hour strike and overtime ban has taken place. Members are prepared to take further action but we are open to talks with FGW to try and resolve this matter. We don’t want members to lose money but we have had to take this decision to protect the safety of passengers as well as ensuring the job security and safety of staff. Our members were employed to do a job, they cannot have their terms changed at the bosses’ whims

Our demands to FGW are:

We want a guard on all services to ensure passenger safety

Retaining role of dispatch staff to ensure safety of passengers making their way from the platform to the train as well as ensuring safe train departures

Buffet service to continue to be offered from a buffet car as preferred by customers rather than a buffet trolley which won’t work in busy times

TUPE all in house fleet maintenance staff to Hitachi who will have sole responsibility of keeping fleet serviced and maintained

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Reflections On The TUSC Campaign Trail…

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With just over 3 weeks to go until the General and Local Elections take place I have found it useful to take 5 minutes between putting letters and statements together, preparing for hustings and leaflet drops as well as canvassing, to reflect on the changed mood from last year.

One of the first things that I have noticed this year is the diminished support for UKIP when speaking to people on doorsteps. It was to be expected that UKIP would be prominent in last year’s elections as the local elections ran concurrently with the European Elections but one thing that has been striking this year has been the lack of vocal support this year compared to last year for UKIP. I have had conversations with a number of people who have expressed support for UKIP, more as a protest vote than anything else, but there has been a marked drop in self-proclaimed UKIP supporters or voters.

This seems at odds with the giant billboards, masses of leaflets going out as well as the seemingly full-time commenting on local news websites of some UKIP supporters. However, this will all have been paid for by millions which have been provided by rich donors that were once loyal to the Conservatives.

Something else I have noticed is a lack of canvassing and grass roots campaigning by the other parties. I have spoken to plenty of people who almost seem surprised that a rosette wielding Socialist is knocking at their door of an evening until I point out that there’s only 3 weeks to go until polling day. Again, there are plenty of billboards from all of the Capitalist parties being erected across the city in an almost clandestine turf war but this seems to be the extent of it. The battle for hearts, minds and political ideas seems to have been reduced to an almost clinical advertising campaign.

One other very encouraging difference I have noticed in this election compared to last year is that these elections are much more political than in previous years. It is clear now more than ever before, at least in the course of my political experience, that people are searching much more deeply for a political outlet which best represents their increasingly irked voice. There is a clear rejection of the tired swing from Labour to Conservative and back again as more and more people are looking to parties that can offer a way out of the protracted crisis caused by the current rut Capitalism finds itself in.

Some have been pulled in by the simplistic and mistaken view that immigration is the cause of every societal woe, whether it’s overcrowded schools, the stagnant wages or the alleged influx of health tourists “burdening our NHS” offered by a rightwards lurching UKIP. Others are turning to the seemingly refreshing views of the Greens, who have lurched leftwards in their rhetoric with promises to end austerity and promise of a minimum wage of ₤10 an hour by 2020. Yet when the Greens have been in a position to end austerity, such as in Brighton and Hove or Bristol, they have capitulated and joined an increasing rainbow coalition of austerity wielding parties. Not to mention that ₤10 an hour is needed now, not some time in the distant future.

There is a dwindling rump of support for the Conservatives and Labour, mainly made up of stalwarts and party faithfuls that have not yet come to terms with the fast changing political landscape. Things cannot go back to the way they used to be. Labour seem to be desperately trying to shed its working-class base as it has spent more and more of its time marketing itself to big business with continued austerity whilst opportunistically also offering rhetoric about communities and helping the most vulnerable. This flies in the face of the reality of Labour councils which have dutifully implemented austerity passed down to them by the Con-Dems.

Likewise, the Conservatives have not managed to attract voters beyond its core support as most people are under no illusions about us all being in this together after 5 years of wages, terms, conditions and public services being hammered.

It’s hugely encouraging to be out canvassing on the streets and being greeted, on the whole, with a barrage of questions as it is clear that the working-class are really starting to explore the potential avenues for them to venture down on the political plain. Fed up with more of the same or petty compromises working-class people are looking for a way out of the sustained poverty and misery being unnecessarily inflicted upon them.

As a Socialist Party member and TUSC candidate in the local elections this May I am glad to be there offering a genuine alternative to austerity through the striving for a socialist transformation of society. The ground is fertile for our ideas, having spent just an hour canvassing we were able to pick up 6 contacts as well as a much larger number of people who said they would seriously consider casting a vote for us this May.

Even more inspiring was the presence of a Norwegian student in attendance at our latest branch meeting, directly as a result of our sustained campaigning efforts. Keen to learn more about what the Socialist Party, and indeed the Committee for a Workers’ International, has to offer, I am confident that this can be replicated many times. We are turning more and more heads in this election and more importantly gaining new members and organisers. This will really accelerate the process of building a strong workers’ movement hungry from poverty, hungry for change… hungry for socialism.

I would like to dedicate this post to Declan Clune, a faithful reader of my blog since its inception.

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Voters Can Reject Austerity: TUSC To Contest All Local Seats In Plymouth

Nationally, the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) is standing over 100 parliamentary candidates and over 600 candidates in local elections this May. In Plymouth, TUSC managed to stand in all 19 seats last year, securing over 1,150 votes the first time we stood across the city. This year, TUSC is standing another 19 candidates in the local elections. This means that every voter in Plymouth will have the chance to vote for an electoral alternative that will protect public services and will not implement austerity.

Across Europe there is a growing rejection of austerity and TUSC is standing as widely as possible to give expression to the same mood which exists here in Britain. This is a very ambitious task as it means standing the biggest left of Labour electoral challenge since the end of the Second World War.

This is made more challenging as it is not free to stand in the General Election. Each candidate has to put forward a deposit of £500. This means that nationally, TUSC is having to put forward nearly £70,000 just so that we can stand our parliamentary candidates this May. This is before we even begin to take into account the costs of mounting our election campaign.

It is for this reason that TUSC have to think seriously about where we can have the biggest impact to ensure that we are able to reach the widest number of people as we simply do not have the resources to contest all 650 seats this May. As we will be standing in every seat in the local elections in Plymouth we will already be making in-roads from last year’s successful campaign.

By focussing our efforts in the Plymouth Moor View constituency, we can strengthen the gains that we have already made and develop the profile and grass roots support of TUSC. At the same time, by not standing a candidate in Plymouth Sutton and Devonport we can ensure that the resources are freed up to be put to use in another constituency where TUSC has not built such firm foundations. This will ensure that the banner of TUSC is raised higher than ever as the need for a new workers’ party could not be more stark.

All the main parties are committed to implementing austerity. The Con-Dems have ruthlessly cut funding to local authorities and Labour have committed to Tory austerity measures if elected. Moreover, the Greens have implemented austerity where ever they have been in a position to effectively oppose austerity such as in Brighton and Bristol and UKIP in Plymouth voted against the implementation of a living wage for Council workers. It is clear that there is a need to build a new workers’ party which will oppose austerity in word but also in deed.

Plymouth voters are invited to cast their votes for the only electoral alternative which will protect jobs, public services and will invest in the people who have had to bear the burden of a financial crisis that was not caused by them. Plymouth TUSC remains committed to campaigning for a £10 an hour minimum wage, building social housing to stop the spiralling housing crisis and will set a budget which protects jobs and frontline services, without shifting the cost onto Plymothians through raising council tax.

If you would like to get more involved in TUSC why not contact us at tuscplymouth@yahoo.co.uk or indicate your support by contacting us nationally at http://www.tusc.org.uk/support.php

“Pasokification” of the Labour Party: A Workers’ Party is Needed

“Those whom the gods wish to destroy they first make mad.” This certainly seems to ring true when looking at the current state of the Labour Party. When analysing the comments and actions exuding from Labour representatives and thereby extrapolating its current direction or lack thereof it is clear that it is reaching a political cul-de-sac.

Recently, Sadiq Khan expressed that cuts to legal aid cannot be reversed:

http://www.theguardian.com/law/2015/mar/02/labour-cannot-reverse-tory-legal-aid-cuts-sadiq-khan-says

This might have come as a shock if it were not for the fact that this is only the latest statement in a mounting list of evidence for the Party’s complete degeneration. No matter which area of policy is looked at, the Labour Party seems to barely go beyond apologism for the last 5 years of Con-Dem austerity in a political manifesto that is as anaemic as it is sophistic.

This is to be expected of a party which long ago did away with even giving lip service to the ideas of Socialism with the purging of Clause 4 under Blair. This, coupled with the effective neutering of the Trade Union voice through the Collins Review is very telling of the Party’s gradual but inevitable bourgeoisification. As the leadership continue to break away from the party’s historical roots they will only hasten their demise; a fate which is evident in that their entire existence has become that of simply putting the brakes on Conservative austerity and privatisation rather than seeing any reversals.

The significance of this is crucial because it is evidence that the Labour Party’s leadership is ailing from the fact that it has no alternative to offer and so spends its entire time reacting to Conservative policies rather than offering up anything that goes beyond being the lesser of two evils. If the Labour leadership were to listen to the diminishing number who still cling to the Labour Party in the hope that it will shift direction, or better yet listen to those who have been completely disillusioned it would easily be able to put together a bold programme.

Rather than simply increasing spending on the NHS why not reverse the privatisation which has opened up the funding gap? Rather than promising to freeze energy bills, why not renationalise the utilities? Rather than reducing fees from £9,000 a year to £6,000 a year why not scrap fees altogether? It’s insulting enough that the Labour Party are dressing up a reduction of fees as a step forward when students graduating as late as September 2014 will have only had to pay £3,000 a year. How much angrier will the firefighters, teachers, NHS workers, local government workers and many others be when Labour offers up nothing but excuses for why Conservative policies that have led to the degeneration of pay, terms and conditions to all these workers cannot be undone?

The point that needs to be stressed is that it simply is not true that the damage done by the Con-Dems cannot be undone. What is clear is that the Labour Party is not the vehicle through which to effect this change. The very fact that Labour members are floating the idea of a grand coalition of Tories and Labour in the result of a hung parliament is evidence that Labour is reaching a political cul-de-sac:

http://labourlist.org/2015/03/labour-mp-says-party-shouldnt-rule-out-a-grand-coalition-with-the-tories/

Such a move will only bear the same result as their disastrous coalition with the Tories and Lib Dems on the issue of Scottish Independence.

The Pasokification of the Labour Party appears to be a question of when rather than a question of if as it is following the same course of action as Greece’s Pasok party. Pasok continued to implement austerity when it was voted into power in 2009 and has now completely collapsed as Syriza’s anti-austerity message propelled them to take the most seats, largely at the expense of Pasok.

The troika’s (European Central Bank, IMF and EC) strangulation of the hopes of Greek the working-class cannot last as anti-austerity parties gain traction in countries like Spain and spread across Europe. Moreover, unless Syriza stops retreating from its pre-election promises, the working-class could potentially sweep away the current leadership to secure the relief from austerity it was promised, so long as disillusionment does not set in. However, for this to take hold there is a need for the development of a socialist leadership which has the confidence to take on the Troika even if doing so means Grexit.

The feeling around for a vehicle through which to oppose austerity resonates with the current picture in Britain. It seems that even some of the trade union leadership, in anticipating backlash from its rank and file membership which have been at the receiving end of cuts made by Labour led councils, are cautious about putting forward Labour as a solution to the problem of the Tories. A pamphlet recently sent to Unite members urging them to register to vote so that their voices can be heard in the elections clearly gives tacit support to the Labour Party but dares not mention them by name.

Instead, the pamphlet talks about tuition fee hikes, the bedroom tax and the NHS and pushes union members to vote for a party which can protect these things. It seems that the trade union officialdom are just as embarrassed of putting forward their alleged political voice as the Labour Party leadership are embarrassed of strikes and its party’s historic working-class roots.

There is a desperate need for a political alternative that has a programme that reflects the growing feelings of anger at the relentlessness of cuts that have been passed by a rainbow coalition. Labour, Tories and the Lib Dems are committed to continuation of current spending plans and the likes of UKIP and the Greens have posed as an alternative but have shown themselves to be more of the same. Whether it is UKIP Councillors in Plymouth voting against an implementation of the living wage for agency workers employed by the council or Greens in Bristol attempting to close down 7 libraries, it is clear that actions speak far louder than words.

This is where the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) enters, stage left. TUSC mounted a mammoth 560 candidates in the local elections last May and is set to mount over 130 parliamentary candidates this year as well as 640 candidates in local elections taking place at the same time. TUSC has a growing number of Councillors up and down the country putting forward a principled stance of refusing to administer cuts as a means to protecting jobs and public services.

Having now achieved the threshold to qualify for a political broadcast, the national media blackout on TUSC can finally be lifted meaning that millions of people up and down the country can finally hear about TUSC and embrace the only party that will offer a genuine alternative to austerity and misery this May. A vote for TUSC is a vote against cuts but moreover the growing support for building local TUSC groups and steering committees means that the foundations of a new workers’ party are firmly being laid down. TUSC has a comprehensive programme and can only build on its accumulating success to replicate the anti-austerity mood which is starting to sweep across Europe. Capitalism offers no way out of this protracted crisis, Socialism is the only way forward for working-class people and the future of the planet.

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