Council Tax Benefit Cuts Hit Plymothians Hard, Plymothians Hit Back Harder

Plymouth City Council (PCC), which is a Labour-run council, chose to implement a 25% cut to Council Tax Benefit on April 1st despite sitting on reserves of £31.3 million when the cut was implemented. As a result of choosing to safeguard their reserves rather than some of Plymouth’s most poverty-stricken, nearly 8,000 Plymothians have gone into arrears as a direct result of cuts to Council Tax Benefit. PCC issued a mass summons of Plymothians for non-payment of Council Tax on Friday 16th August, the second mass summons since the cuts were introduced.

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The court hearings were listed for 14:00 and I’m sure the council officers were expecting just another day at the office. What they instead witnessed was a defiant message from people who are just starting to see the benefits of fighting back against these barbarous cuts.

Plymouth Against Benefit Cuts (PABC), the local campaign group set up by Socialist Party members to oppose the Bedroom Tax and cuts to Council Tax Benefit, organised a demonstration outside the court starting from 13:30. More than 25 people gathered outside the Magistrates’ Court in protest, including the local Unite Community Branch, a strong Socialist Party presence, campaigners involved with PABC as well as general supporters and the local press.

However, this was only the beginning as 6 campaigners, 1 of whom had been summonsed, went into the Magistrates’ Court to speak to others who had been summonsed. Campaigners encouraged those summonsed to speak out rather than accept that they should plunge themselves further into poverty to pay their council tax, which the Council Officers were more than happy to bully them into doing.

The Council Officers, who refused to identify themselves by name, were telling people that they could avoid the court costs if they made an arrangement to settle with the Council Officers outside the courtroom (It has since come to my attention that some of these Council Officers were actually Unite members so I only hope that these Council Officers can work in solidarity with us in the future to oppose these cuts). This would seem like a merciful gesture if it weren’t for the fact that the Council were the ones responsible for dragging these people to court in the first place, instead it has clearly been used a way of intimidating people into paying up.

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However, when one Socialist Party member who had been summonsed demanded to see the Magistrate others quickly started demanding the same. Not only that but thanks to some leaflets provided by Unite the Union, people were encouraged to use Unite’s payplan service. This is a service provided by Unite to give advice and help for those in debt. By using a debt management service like this, court proceedings have to be adjourned for 30 days which Council Officers were not too impressed about.

Many of those who attended court expressed an interest in PABC and want to come along to the next meeting to organise against these cuts. PABC, Plymouth’s Unite Community Branch and the Plymouth Branch of the Socialist Party have all vowed to return every time people are summonsed to court and are prepared to make the implementation of these cuts completely unworkable. Moreover, all 3 groups will be taking the fight to the Council next month as a lobby of the Council will be taking place on Monday 16th September.

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If Labour do not listen to this outburst of anger now, they are likely to be punished in the polls as the Socialist Party is organising a TUSC meeting in September in preparation for next year’s council elections. The Plymouth Branch of the Socialist Party is working with the RMT union as well as anti-cuts groups and is aiming to put forward 18 TUSC candidates in the May 2014 elections who will oppose cuts. If Plymouth’s Councillors will not listen to the outcry of those affected by the cuts they have chosen to make then maybe they will start listening as they begin losing their seats in the council.

The April Theses

Lenin wrote the April Theses upon his return to Russia in April 1917 and it marked an important shift in the direction of the Bolshevik Party. The main shift was a rejection of the idea that a socialist revolution could only be sought after a successful bourgeois revolution took place, paving the way for capitalism.

Essentially, Lenin recognised the idea that Two-Stage theory was flawed and Trotsky’s notion of permanent revolution should be adopted. This would mean that rather than waiting for the establishment of a bourgeois democracy and the development of a capitalist class in Russia, Lenin recognised the need for workers to take control and make demands in their interests directly; to prevent the formation of counter-revolution.

In the April Theses, Lenin called for the immediate end to its involvement in World War One due to it being an Imperialist war rather than a war which was necessary for “revolutionary defencism”. Lenin also made it clear that there were many sections of the proletariat who honestly believed that the war was being fought for the purposes of revolutionary defencism. He made it clear that the Bolsheviks should take the time to explain to the masses why they were mistaken in this belief by pointing out their error.

This is, in my view, a perfect example of how a vanguard party of the working-classes should conduct themselves. Rather than making a decision on behalf of working-class people and assuming that they will follow, Lenin highlights the importance of engaging with working-class people and bringing them round to our ideas through discussion. It is by doing so that we can remain at the heart of the working-class struggle and not an ultra-left or sectarian faction.

With the demand for an end to Russia’s involvement in the war Lenin made it clear that all annexations should be renounced in deed not just in word. This highlights a tactic used by bourgeois parties and bourgeois apologists which can still be seen in mainstream politics today.

Labour have said that they are opposed to the privatisation of the NHS, the bedroom tax and anti-union laws and yet they have made no pledges to reverse the changes. The Conservatives pledged all manner of things before the election, one of the most memorable being no top-down reorganisation of the NHS which is now on the road to privatisation. Even the Lib-Dems have betrayed working-class people with similar lies and in doing so have lost a generation of youth voters. Students will not soon forget that not only did the Lib-Dems go against their pledge to end fees for students, instead they have compounded their betrayal by being a part of seeing fees triple.

Lenin also called for no support for the provisional government precisely because of “the utter falsity of all its promises”. By exposing the vast chasm between the word and deed of bourgeois parties and juxtaposing it with the conviction of those within the Socialist Party, we will hopefully be able to win over much of the disillusioned working-class masses and encourage them to draw the revolutionary conclusions that are necessary to affect the changes needed rather than putting their faith in the hollow words of political charlatans.

Lenin also demonstrated the need to be aware of the objective situation and to act accordingly. He identified that the Soviets of Workers’ Deputies were to form the basis of a revolutionary government but also that the Bolshevik Party were a small minority against “a bloc of all the petty-bourgeois opportunist elements, from the Popular Socialists and the Socialist Revolutionaries down to the Organising Committee”. Lenin pointed out that these groups had all yielded to the influence of the bourgeoisie which has the effect of spreading the influence of the bourgeoisie amongst the proletariat.

Lenin stated that it is important that these elements need to be exposed at every avenue while expressing the necessity for power to be transferred into the hands of the Soviets of Workers’ Deputies. It is thus from experience and the critical analysis of revolutionary elements that workers can learn from their mistakes and proceed in a manner that looks out for their interests and not those of bourgeois apologists. This is one of the reasons why we, as the Socialist Party, engage in Trades Councils today.

Lenin stressed that to organise as a parliamentary republic would be a retrograde step as the soviets are where the voice of the proletariat resides, not in bourgeois democratic structures. This emphasises, even today, the vast shortcomings of bourgeois political structures in catering for the interests of the proletariat; many leading trade union activists will attend Trades Councils but will rarely, if ever, be seen in the council chambers. This clearly demonstrates where the voice of the proletariat is best expressed in contemporary society.

Lenin called for the abolition of the police and a standing army as these are institutions used by the bourgeoisie to repress and restrict the proletariat. Lenin argues that the people as a whole should be armed to protect themselves against invasion rather than relying on a standing army.

This may seem like a shocking measure to those of you who are new to revolutionary politics but if you see the way the state has been mobilised to quash protests internationally you will understand the necessity for this call. Even here in Britain, there are plenty of well-documented cases of police using agent provocateurs to stir up violence only to use it as justification to come down hard on protesters.

Lenin also called for all elected officials to be limited to the average wage of the worker in order to be able to adequately represent the people they are meant to be speaking on behalf of. This requires little justification and one need only look at the state of the trade union movement to see why this demand is raised.

Many high paid trade union officials form a bureaucratic layer who slow down the movement as they are effectively on a boss’s pay and it is in their interest not to be leading an active union as it means more work for them. By pledging to take an average wage leading trade unionists remain firmly in the class of people they are elected to represent and are more likely (though by no means is this assured) to fight for working-class rights.

Lenin calls for the nationalisation of all landed estates and the consolidation of all banks into a national bank which is to be governed under the democratic control of workers. This shift of economic control from the hands of the bourgeoisie into the hands of the proletariat would mark one of the most important shifts in the transition from Capitalism to Socialism. This is because it would mean that democracy would no longer be constricted by economic factors imposed by the bourgeoisie. Thus, with democratic control of the economy, society would become much more equal in economic terms as wealth is collectivised rather than hoarded by a minority to levy power over the majority.

Lenin draws attention to the need for a new international which would have the function of bringing together working-class people from all over the world. The reason for this is that Capitalism is global in its exploitation and Socialism needs to be global if it is to truly emancipate working-class people. Without the international spread of Socialism, countries will be isolated as Russia was after the Bolshevik Revolution as it is in the class-interests of the bourgeoisie to prevent the spread of Socialism.

Finally, it is worth pointing out that Lenin’s rebuttal of Plekhanov at the end of the April Theses is admirable in that Lenin takes the time to scrutinise each and every point that Plekhanov raises and then counter these points on an intellectual basis by pointing out the error of his ways.

If you would like to read the April Theses yourself and simultaneously help to fund the Socialist Party in our struggle for Socialism you can do so by ordering the pamphlet from here for the modest price of £2:

http://leftbooks.co.uk/epages/950002679.sf/en_GB/?ObjectID=5190769

The Transitional Programme

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Leon Trotsky was a key figure in the Bolshevik revolution of October 1917 and later went on to become leader of the Red Army. He also formed the left opposition against Stalin. He was exiled in February 1929, however he continued to oppose the policies of Stalin which were highly repressive and led to the deformed workers’ state which Soviet Russia descended into.

One of Trotsky’s key works, the Transitional Programme: The Death Agony of Capitalism and the Tasks of the Fourth International has remained a key text of many Socialists since it was first published in 1938. This is for a number of reasons.

It is firstly useful as a historical document as it lays out some of Trotsky’s reflections on some of the challenges and conditions the Bolsheviks faced during and immediately after the revolution of October 1917. It also goes on to look at some of the developments in Russia and across Europe right up to the rise of fascism.

Even though the Transitional Programme was written 75 years ago there are a lot of similarities that can be drawn between the political and economic landscape of the 1930’s and today especially when looking at the rise of fascism in Greece right now and the economic turmoil faced by much of the Western World.

The Bourgeoisie or ruling classes face a crisis of Capitalism as it becomes more and more clear that Capitalism is displaying contradictions which will never be overcome unless there is a revolutionary change in the way we organise our economy.

The austerity measures and dismantling of the welfare state are ideologically driven attacks on the proletariat or working-classes of Britain to squeeze profits out of public services by privatising them. This is an attempt to keep extracting profits as a means to keep Capitalism going which Trotsky highlights create the prerequisites to a Proletarian Revolution. This is because, as we’re seeing in contemporary society Capitalism enters into what Trotsky highlights as a blind alley. One need only look at the rising unemployment figures, the dips into recession and the lowering of living standards to see that Capitalism is not sustainable.

Trotsky’s Transitional Programme highlights some of the problems faced by the Russian Proletariat which we can certainly appreciate today such as the crisis of Proletarian leadership. While we can see that the Trade Union movement is the most likely vehicle for a mass movement of working-class people due to their democratic and organised structure, we do not take an uncritical approach to Trade Unions.

As highlighted in the recent Falkirk incident whereby Unite influenced a Labour candidate selection and have subsequently been turned over to the police, there is a problem of Proletarian leadership. This is due to Trotsky’s notion of petty-bourgeois cowardice being exhibited in Len Mcluskey’s unwillingness to break away from a party that clearly no longer represents the class-interests of working-class people.

Trade Unions also face the problem that their leadership is generally bureaucratic in nature and trade union leaders are on wages which are closer to that of the bosses than the workers. To be the leader of a trade union which has no disputes is the easiest job in the world because effectively there is nothing to do, this coupled with their high pay often puts Trade Union leaders on opposing sides to Trade Union members when it comes to the class struggle.

I, myself have been witness to the bureaucracy of my Unite union which at best suggests incompetence and at worst suggests bureaucratic sabotage. However, that will only change by affecting change from below within the union and the formation of rank and file organisations such as the National Shop Stewards Network which can levy pressure on the leadership.

The transitional programme is also certainly worth reading as it goes into detail about the problems of famine faced by the Bolsheviks, the criticisms of the idea of Socialism in one country and also goes into detail about the formation of workers’ councils or to use the Russian; Soviets.

The other part of the Transitional Programme which is makes it a key read for any member of the Socialist Party is the Transitional Method which Trotsky developed, which the Socialist Party has adopted.  You will sometimes hear the Socialist Party being referred to as a “Trotskyist” Party and it is because we use the Transitional Method as a means to help develop the consciousness of working-class people.

Trotsky discussed the idea of a Minimum/Maximum programme and its limitations when looking at the contradiction between the objective maturity of conditions for a socialist revolution and the immaturity of the Proletariat. If one was to run out into the street shouting “Emancipate the Proletariat” most people would think one had gone mad. Likewise, if Socialism is put forward as a way to oppose the bedroom tax it probably would not get very far either as most people would not be aware of the relevance of a Socialist transformation of society unless they are educated in political theory.

It is for this reason that Trotsky developed the transitional method, to bridge the gap between the everyday struggles of workers and the goal of the Socialist Revolution. Within this framework, there are three kinds of demands that the transitional method consists of.

These are immediate demands, democratic demands and transitional demands. Immediate demands are just that, demands that can be made presently in everyday class-struggle. A good example of an immediate demand would be a call for the scrapping of the bedroom tax.

Then there are democratic demands. These challenge the accountability and openness of bourgeois democracy. A call for the opening of the books and an end to Capitalist business secrets would be an example of this kind of demand.

Finally, there are transitional demands; these are demands which would attack the bases of the bourgeois regime and expose the contradictions of Capitalism which the bourgeoisie would be unable to satisfy without relinquishing a degree of their power and wealth.

With reference to the example of the bedroom tax, calling for the building of more social housing could be considered as a transitional demand. This is because it is based in the everyday struggle of working-class people but calls upon the ruling class to build more housing which would eat into their closely guarded profits, thereby exposing the failures of Capitalism and demonstrating to working-class people their class position and need for education, organisation and mobilisation as a class against a class that is already organised and mobilises against their interests.

It is also worth noting that these demands have no set definition as an immediate or democratic demand can quickly become a transitional demand in the right circumstances. For example, demanding that the Capitalists open their books could create a great deal of anger when the obscenity of their profit extraction is juxtaposed to the meagre wages earned by the exploited Proletariat.

By putting forward a mixture of these demands Socialists can chip away at the hypocrisies of the likes of New Labour who have compromised themselves by trying to reform Capitalism. It is also by putting forward transitional demands that we expose the economic wealth and power of the bourgeoisie and by working as a vanguard party willing to struggle on the front-lines with all working-class people, we can embolden working-class people not just to defend the morsel of bread which the ruling classes want to deprive them of but to demand peace, land bread and power to the soviets!

If you would like to read the Transitional Programme, which I strongly recommend you do you can purchase it from here:

 

http://leftbooks.co.uk/epages/950002679.sf/en_GB/?ObjectID=2333802

 

Alternatively you can buy it from your local branch of the Socialist Party. Here is a list of branches to find a branch near you:

 

http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/articles/17104/15-07-2013/socialist-party-branches

Election Reflections: A Working-Class That Bites Back First Needs TUSCs!

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As many of my friends will know, I have been frantically working hard to mount a campaign in the Southway by-election to raise the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition or TUSC Party as an alternative to austerity. On Thursday the 27th June the election took place and I attended the count with Sam to see the fruits of my labour.

With less than 1% of the vote it could certainly be said that I was underwhelming when it came to providing that alternative. However, I am not arrogant enough to think that I can speak for the working-classes, they have their own voice and are more than capable of speaking up and speaking out when they are ready to. It did of course sting a little that I only managed to muster 22 votes (0.76%) but that means that 22 people did believe in the alternative that TUSC and indeed I have to offer as a representative of TUSC.

The 22 votes that I received also needs to be analysed in the wider context of surrounding events. In many ways the working-classes spoke out with a very loud voice; only 29.24% of the electorate turned out to vote. This deafening silence in electoral politics suggests that people have very little faith in changing things through the ballot box. This could be because of apathy but more likely it is because the majority of people don’t believe that there is a viable alternative to the main parties which have all adopted the neo-liberal consensus. This is clearly something that could have affected the votes which TUSC received. However, with relatively few numbers on the ground it is hard to get the comprehensive policies of TUSC across to approximately 10,000 people in a few short weeks.

Looking at the voting patterns it is clear that an alternative is being sought. The Conservatives, who had held the seat were relegated to third place in this by-election and the Liberal Democrats received less than 3% of the vote. The independent candidate in the area, who received quite a sizeable vote (10%), suggested that Party politics needed to be rejected. It is clear that the austerity measures have caused an outcry of working-class people who have instead put their faith in Labour, and to a lesser extent, UKIP. This is not surprising as Labour would seem the obvious choice for many as a vehicle to oust the Tories and UKIP seems to be quickly becoming the established electoral protest vote.

While this may send a message to the Tories, Ed Miliband has effectively given them the green light to slash and burn the quickly shrinking remnants of the welfare state as he has said that cuts are unavoidable and will not be reversed by Labour. People may have elected Labour in resistance to Tory callousness but Labour are hardly what one would call a resistance seeing as it is hard to nail down exactly what they would be doing differently to the Tories. The Council in Plymouth has been Labour-led for some time now and yet we still have cuts, we still have the bedroom tax, we still have council reserves in the multi-millions and a population which is gradually seeing living standards decline to the point of almost universal poverty.

I have questioned the council on a number of occasions about what they plan to do regarding issues which are having a severe impact on Plymothians and I’m generally met with long-winded responses about how the council is facing tough times but they are doing the best they can. Nevertheless, the bottom line is that the council continues to sit on piles of money while people face cuts to benefits that they desperately need as the unemployment rate remains sky high, the bedroom tax is still being demanded of the poor and vulnerable, the bailiffs are being prepped to collect council tax debts and the city centre looks more and more like a ghost town with more shops closed than open, except of course for the corporate tax-dodging giants.

Here’s a link to my lobby of the council last month:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vnheu6gFDLg

The issue of UKIP is also of great concern. While they are seemingly being brandished by the electorate as a stick to bash the mainstream parties with, by giving support to UKIP working-class people are making a rod for their own back. Every member of the UKIP election team that I spoke to was an ex-Tory member. For a Party that is posing as an alternative to the mainstream it doesn’t seem to have anything to bring to the political table other than more cuts and changes which would damage rather than boost working-class families. Not even the Tories have tried to tax those on the lowest incomes 27% of their wage, something which UKIP would do with their flat rate tax which would mean everyone paying the same percentage of tax whether you’re a bin-man or a banker. The Party has come under fire countless times due to bigotry, racism, sexism, homophobia and some very outlandish and draconian views on certain issues. This is also the Party whose “esteemed” leader has been caught dodging taxes by setting up a trust fund on the Isle of Mann. All in all UKIP seem to be a caricature of the Parties that they claim to be opposing rather than a viable alternative to austerity.

This is the first time that TUSC stood in the Southway ward and I’m sure it wasn’t helped by the fact that the Herald seemingly forgot to publish my reasons for standing and my photo in the paper when the other five candidates were featured the day before the election. I appreciate the time they took to publish articles online about me and would like to say thanks to Sian Davies who put a lot of work into covering this election but I do wonder why I was not featured in the newspaper.

I do wonder what the result would have been if I had got that little bit of extra publicity but it is pointless to wonder what could have been. As much as it seems underwhelming to have only received 22 votes, the TUSC campaign received incredible levels of support from working-class people. With such a short amount of time to mount a campaign, we found it difficult to get our leaflets out to the whole ward and have enough time left over to do some canvassing. The few people we did manage to talk to quickly warmed to our stance of no cuts and the Socialist Party has gained a number of contacts to help our party grow. There is also the fact that in such a short space of time so many people did their best to help out where they could. I don’t have a great deal of links in Southway but so many of my friends supported the campaign in any way they could.

I have had friends advertise my election campaign material in their places of work, friends spread my Herald articles all over facebook and helped to distribute leaflets and talk to the people of Southway, Tamerton Foliot and Widewell. The Socialist Party have been stalwart supporters and contributors of this campaign and I am so glad to be in amongst their ranks. I have no doubt that in the elections of May 2014 when 18 council seats will be up for grabs, TUSC will really hit the ground running, particularly as all Plymothians will get the opportunity to vote, not just in a ward that TUSC is only just breaking ground in.

We are going to need support, volunteers and people who would be happy to stand on a no cuts platform if we are to try and fill the 18 seats coming up in May. If you would like to help out with the campaign or take up the TUSC banner and speak out for the working-class people who are bearing the brunt of a crisis brought on by bankers and tax-dodgers then feel free to get in touch with me by email on rjaldred@hotmail.com

If you would like to know a bit more about where my passion stems from and if you would like to meet like-minded people who believe that there is an alternative to austerity then why not come along to the Socialist Party Plymouth Branch’s meeting on Tuesday 9th July at 19:00 at the Plymouth Social Club (Tavistock Place, behind the Central Library).

The working-class people of Plymouth, and indeed nationally, need to make a stand against the Parties that have left them behind and forced them into poverty with austerity measures while protecting the tax-dodgers and bankers. They need a party made up of workers, who will campaign on issues that affect workers.

I would like to give thanks to Jeremy Guise, Tony Staunton, Sam Taylor-Wickenden, Clare Lattimore, Aimee Clayton, George Fidler, Keith Low and Tom Taylor for helping out with the election campaign.

I would also like to give a special thanks to Justin Pollard, Louise Alldridge, Karl Wesemann, Tom Sloman, Rob Rooney (my election agent), Alex Moore, Nigel Buckley and last, but by no means least, Steve Merritt for the superlative efforts you all put into supporting this campaign and keeping me going throughout this hectic few weeks. I have thoroughly enjoyed working with you all to build a collective alternative and it was great to see new comrades join the fray, jump straight into action and come back hungrier for more each week.

I shall leave you all with this: If working-class people are to really bite back at the greed, corruption and ideology which is making them suffer, what they need is TUSCs!

A Victory Against the Bedroom Tax

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Plymouth City Council has demonstrated, at least in principal, that it understands the concerns of the people of Plymouth and is not completely out of touch, unlike the government of millionaires. This government keeps saying that we are all having to do without and yet while the rest of us face austerity measures, millionaires have just received tax cuts.

These measures are ideologically driven by a group of self-servatives who have naught but their own interests at heart. They are using divide and rule tactics to pit public against private sector, Brits against immigrants workers and workers against benefit claimants. The real issue is that the government’s heavy-handed and ideologically driven approach has led to a triple-dip recession. They are incompetent, inconsiderate of the deepening poverty levels that their austerity measures are causing and are only out to line their own pockets.

Plymouth City Council has spoken and voted 34 votes to 20 to scrap the bedroom tax. They will now be calling on Iain Duncan Smith and Plymouth area MPs, as will I. The spare room subsidy/bedroom tax and cuts to council tax benefits do not affect me personally. I just know that the policy is brutally targetting the poorest and most vulnerable and my conscience cannot allow this to pass.

This is a great victory on our part but we cannot allow ourselves to get complacent just yet. The important thing now is to remain focussed; The Council have moved to call for the scrapping of the policy but that does not make it go away. We now need to focus our efforts on lobbying Iain Duncan Smith and our Plymouth MP’s, particularly as Gary Streeter MP and Oliver Colvile MP voted for the Bedroom Tax (verified by http://www.theyworkforyou.com).

We also need to be mindful that though it is now Plymouth Policy to scrap the Bedroom Tax there is still much to be done to mitigate its effects. We can now try to push for the Council to write to housing associations advising them to reclassify their social housing as a way to get around the Bedroom Tax. We can also write to the housing associations directly to ask that they do so.

There is one other point that must be remembered. Cuts to Council Tax Benefits will affect far more than the bedroom tax and requires that people reduce their minuscule budgets even more to accommodate for the extra cost of paying it. This is something that was barely discussed in the full council meeting (dated Monday 22nd April 2013). However, we were informed that the council is willing to use bailiffs to evict those who accrue debts from non-payment of Council Tax. This is a serious issue which needs to be challenged at every avenue. The Labour Councillors spoke out against the injustices and hardships faced by those having to pay the Bedroom Tax. We now need to pressure them to act on their fervent words and expose and oppose the cuts to Council Tax benefit which they have chosen to impose.

I would like to remind you all that there is a Plymouth Against Benefit Cuts meeting tonight (Wednesday 24th April) at 19:00 in Plymouth Social Club (on Tavistock Place, behind the Central Library) and I hope that many of you can attend, as much to celebrate a victory as to plan our next steps!

My thanks go out to all those who have helped to see this campaign through to this point and I hope that with this, our first victory, you’ll be encouraged to help us see these brutal reforms completely and utterly reversed.

Here is an article about the Council lobby organised by members of Plymouth Against Benefit Cuts and members of the Socialist Party:

http://www.thisisplymouth.co.uk/Council-urged-protect-poor-welfare-reforms/story-18787789-detail/story.html#axzz2REMFcRxf

To see the Council lobby and full debate on the bedroom tax, check out this webcast:

http://connect.plymouth.public-i.tv/site/player/pl_v7.php?a=89096&t&m=flash&l=en_GB

Questions start at 19:15

For the Full Bedroom Tax Debate skip to 3:33:15

The Bedroom Tax: A Step Too Far?

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Having been involved in political campaigning for some time, I’ll be the first to admit that it can be difficult to remain positive when faced with disinterest, apathy and even opposition from a sizeable section of the population. Even campaigns such as keeping the NHS public can sometimes be snubbed despite the adverse effects privatisation will have on the NHS and thus the whole population.

However, you try your best to shrug it off and tell yourself that tomorrow will be better. It’s worked for me so far, otherwise I would find it hard to continue to be stubbornly making a stand on issues that I feel strongly about. Though, at times it can still be quite disheartening and it requires a lot more effort to keep active and motivated.

…Then something like the bedroom tax comes along.

The bedroom tax itself is aimed at discouraging those with ‘spare’ bedrooms from under-occupying social housing by cutting housing benefit by 14-25% depending on the number of spare bedrooms. This will then free up housing for larger families who need the space and reduces the burden on the tax payer by lowering the welfare bill. I certainly have no issue with allocating housing according to need or efforts to constructively reduce the welfare bill so why what’s the problem?

The problem is that there is a lot more to this issue than the Tory propagandists are making out. I’ve heard many people say that people should pay if they want the ‘luxury’ of the extra space which sounds agreeable on the surface. But this assumption infers that it easy for those who are under-occupying to move into smaller housing. In reality, the social housing isn’t there for people to downgrade to if they are deemed to be under-occupying so many will just be penalised despite there being no alternative. Many others will move into smaller private accommodation which will increase the welfare bill as these properties have been shown to be more expensive in a lot of cases. There’s also the cost of moving to consider as well as the need to purchase smaller furniture which is likely when moving to a smaller property.

Then there’s the issue of what exactly constitutes a ‘spare’ bedroom. Concessions have already been made for armed forced personnel, children with severe disabilities and foster parents, concessions that were not in the original drafting. However, there is still no consideration for split-parents who require a room for their children to sleep in when they come to visit. There’s also disabled people who may have a spare bedroom but have had thousands of pounds spent adapting their homes to their specific needs who can’t move out because the funding won’t be provided again. The government are also forcing children under 10 to share rooms and same-sex children under 16 to share rooms which will impoverish families by forcing them into cramped living conditions or cutting the benefits they receive.

On the face of it, the bedroom tax doesn’t stand out as a particularly salient issue when compared to the wealth of others out there. Don’t get me wrong, I think this bedroom tax is a disgusting piece of legislation which is going to hit the most vulnerable hardest, but that phrase has become almost redundant with the constant attacks on every working class demographic. The privatisation of our NHS and parts of the police service as well as threats to break away from the European Court of Human Rights will affect everyone in the UK and yet the British Public have remained, on the whole, silent. However, the bedroom tax seems to have struck a nerve and is really starting to rile up the masses. It is certainly an inspiration to see people in their hundreds turn out onto the streets in protest.

In Plymouth, over a hundred people turned up to make their voices heard even in spite of the wet, windy and, thanks to the freak hailstorm, painful weather! Not to mention the estimated 57 other cities which all had well populated protests. Furthermore, follow-up protests have already been organised in over 40 cities (including Plymouth) to help escalate the opposition.

This mass mobilisation does beg the question: is the bedroom tax simply a monstrous piece of legislation which has caused public outcry or is it the final straw in a long line of cuts and austerity measures which have pushed people to the point where they are starting to say enough is enough?

People are being squeezed further and further to pay for the bank bailouts and balancing the books which is thrusting many into poverty while millionaires have just been given a tax cut. Not to mention that there would be no need for austerity if large corporations were not able to engage in legal tax avoidance. It certainly doesn’t look like we’re “all in this together” and bearing in mind who is bearing the brunt of austerity it becomes clear to see that this austerity program is driven by ideology, not necessity.

But if we’re to get that to change we need to step up the action. Big business and millionaires can sway mainstream politics with their generous “donations” and lobbying but it is through people power that we can oppose this corruption and put a halt to the ideology which is making the poor suffer for the failures of the rich and powerful.

The bedroom tax has caused quite a stir already and the fact that the government have already given some concessions should encourage people to keep pushing to have this legislation scrapped. But even if we manage to get the bedroom tax abolished should we stop there or should we step up the action further and organise ourselves against the wider austerity program?

I know I will be continuing the fight and I hope you will too but for now I shall focus on building for the next wave of bedroom tax protests on March 30th. I know where I’ll be on March 30th, I’ll be here:

http://www.facebook.com/events/456044871133544/

The question is, where will you be?