As Portsmouth City Council voted on Tuesday for a budget to make over £20 million worth of cuts the only voice of opposition came from Portsmouth Against Cuts Together (PACT), the community group supported by the city’s trade union movement, which presented an alternative budget to the council meeting.
In the first wave of cuts the Lib Dem led council proposed over £15 million of cuts, including £3,210,800 from children’s services and £2,599,500 from the education budget. Over three years the proposed budget seeks to make £22 million of cuts.
This translates into 183 initial job losses, while the GMB union reported that over 400 workers are under threat, either from redundancy or attacks on their terms and conditions.
While the Conservatives, the city’s official opposition, refused to offer an alternative budget they did propose an amendment to abolish the right for council workers to appeal to councillors about their employment and sought to limit the rights of elected trade union reps to organise in the workplace.
The two Labour councillors were noted for their silence as they too refused to offer an alternative budget. However, in comparison PACT proposed a programme for a ‘needs budget’, calling for the council to take ‘the Liverpool Road’ as an alternative fighting strategy to defeat the cuts.
This alternative strategy called for the council to reject the proposed cuts in favour of using the reserve funds, some of the largest held by any council in the country, as well as the substantial profits made from assets such as the city’s port, to delay cuts in the short term.
The council was then invited to work alongside community groups and the trade union movement to draft a new budget for job creation and investment, before launching a mass campaign to demand the finance from central government.
This strategy, proven by history, is the path which won £60 million for Liverpool city council in the 1980s’ when a socialist council put the needs of working people before the demands of Thatcher.
Prior to Tuesday’s council meeting a copy of PACT’s alternative budget was emailed to each of the city councillors with an open letter calling for them to vote against the cuts and side with their community.
A press conference was then held in the City’s Guildhall before the council meeting where representatives from PACT and the Trades Council outlined the alternative strategy to the media.
This was followed by a lobby of over 100 people, including council workers, museum and library staff, pensioners groups, students and local trade unionists.
15 deputations where then made to the council meeting on behalf of these groups, including testimonies from Alzheimer’s suffers seeking to defend their vital support services and a former council worker who had just been made redundant.
On behalf of PACT, socialist party member Ben Norman presented the alternative strategy to the council meeting saying:
“Today you have a choice. You can vote for cuts and be on the side of the austerity agenda which seeks to make working people pay for the crisis of the financial sector, or you can take a principled stand for your community to defend jobs and vital services.”
“The question is what matters more to you, your careers or your community? Because you can be certain that if you vote against us today, we will be standing against you in May.”
Lib Dem Leader of the Council Gerald Vernon Jackson reacted to PACTs alternative strategy by claiming in his opening remarks: “‘We’re using £4m of our reserves but can’t keep spending them. Confrontation with the government would leave the city with enormous debts. It would be irresponsible.”
Yet the following day Jackson was signatory to a letter to The Times criticising the speed of government cuts. The Lib Dems in Portsmouth cannot propose a savage cuts package and then offer false protest 24 hours later simply for electoral purposes. Similarly the Conservatives councillors cannot claim they have no responsibility for the cuts when it is their party leading the cuts coalition.
Now that the cuts budget has been passed it is clear to all in the city’s anti-cuts movement that a line has been drawn and that we cannot look to the parties in the council chamber to defend our jobs and services.
Instead PACT must be expanded by establishing localised campaigns across the city, emulating the model of the Anti-Poll tax campaign twenty years ago.
Simultaneously PACT will continue to work with the Trades Council, which passed a motion this week pledging to support any industrial action council workers may take, while supporting calls for coordinated action and promising to lobby the TUC to call a one day public sector general strike.
Finally, anti-cuts candidates will now be encouraged to stand on the programme that the PACT alternative budget represented.
“The lobby sent out a clear message to the councillors who think they can cut jobs and services while claiming to represent us that our movement is watching them,” said Andy Waterman, RMT activist and Socialist Party member. “If they remove our services we will remove them from office. The accountants and strategists of the ruling class claim there is no alternative to cuts, but the budget released by PACT proves that there is.”
The next PACT meeting is 21st February 2011 – 7:00 PM, Kingston Co-Op Club, Portsmouth
PACT: Gig Against the Cuts: 3rd March, 7.30pm, Wedgewood Rooms, Southsea
For more information contact Portsmouthagainstcuts@gmail.com