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.

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!

Reflections on struggle: A homage to brothers and sisters…

Dear reader,

You will have to forgive me for my neglect of this blog over the last month or so, I’ve been incredibly busy writing a different story out in the streets and this blog has been woefully unattended. Due to the chaos of my life right now though, I have plenty of things to write about and so I hope you will continue to enjoy my sporadic posts. It is in these times of intense struggle that I have come to build much stronger bonds with my proletariat brothers and sisters. This has led to some of my friends really coming together to provide support and encouragement for me as I hope I return in kind.Image

For example, there is nothing quite like an expertly prepared meal produced by a clear genius of a cook after a long day’s campaign work, a decent glass of wine and the fine company of such a wonderful comrade. My thanks go to Nigel (pictured above, on the right), it was just what I needed to recharge the quickly draining batteries. I have been overdoing it a little this week due to my election campaign for a seat on the Council in the Southway ward. However, a good meal, some great conversation and a place to crash when my strength fails me, leaves a man wondering what could wealth and riches possibly offer me that I would want over these things that have made me feel enriched in spirit. My thanks also go to Rob (pictured above, second from left) who is my election agent in the upcoming elections and has already made a sterling effort in spreading the ideas of Socialism in the ward in which I’m standing as a Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) candidate, long before I’ve even had chance to step foot in the ward!

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It is at times like this, with enduring and relentless struggle that a true sense of camaraderie comes about. In this sense, I would also like to thank George (pictured above, kneeling in front of me) for his kind words, there is nothing more confidence building than hearing such kind words of praise from a comrade that I hold in the highest of regards. Lou (pictured above, kneeling on the far left) has also been an inspiration with her bubbly personality and commitment to getting stuck in! I have also appreciated the company, compassion and concern of Steve, another comrade who I’ve yet to capture on camera!Image

My thanks go to Alex (pictured above) Branch Chair and Justin (pictured below, front and centre) Branch Secretary, for being two inspirational leaders of the Plymouth branch of the Socialist Party. I shall continue to show my appreciation through hard graft and an iron resolve.

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Finally, I shall leave you with a picture of the 90+ Socialist Party comrades, all stood together after an intense weekend of training for the future struggles that the working classes are destined to face. If you feel isolated in your desperation, take comfort in seeing a party of workers thriving. Guided by ideology, a sense of justice and fairness for everyone we hope to be joined as people reject mainstream political parties for their betrayals to working people. We need change and we need to build it together. Let us, the workers of the world, unite!

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Yours Fraternally,

Ryan Aldred

P.S. As much as this has been a political post I would also like to thank Karis in a personal capacity for putting up with my incessant political diatribe, I am looking for the brakes to slow down Karis, but until I find them I shall continue to frantically push buttons to see what happens!

One final thanks goes to Ewa, yesterday I was on the brink of despair and with a few short but direct words you pointed out the error of my ways. I look forward to seeing you this summer, my lady x