David Huckerby reports on job cuts and resistance in Sheffield.
Nick Clegg and local Lib Dem council leader Paul Scivan have claimed that there will be 250 job Losses for 2011/12 at Sheffield city council. However, this does not include the 600 current job vacancies which will not be filled, and another 320 vacancies caused by voluntary redundancies. Nor does the official figure include job losses from the knock-on effect cuts in services will have council contractors. Local unemployment is rising sharply.
A large proportion of the cuts fall unfairly on services to young people, children and families. This is in complete disregard for equality issues or legislation. They are considered to be an easy target for cuts. Connexions will face £2.4 million cuts in 2011/12. The axe will also fall on leisure and culture services. It is proposed that there will be £2.9 million of staff cuts in this service area. Altogether there will be a 15% reduction in council spending in the first year.
There is no attempt to justify this in the report to cabinet by the finance director. The coalition government spending review called for a 28% reduction in four years, whereas the Lib Dem council wants a 30% reduction in three years. Again, no explanation of why this is necessary is given. It also comes as no surprise that senior council management are not offering much in the way of cuts. In Sheffield Homes, the council’s housing organisation, four senior managers earn more than £60,000, but they will be attempting to cut the yearly increments of lower status low paid staff. Their contribution to the cuts is zero. There has been a pay freeze for council workers for two years. Increases in VAT, national insurance, and rising prices in petrol food and energy are already cutting living standards.
The Sheffield anti-cuts alliance is now supported by all the main local trade union branches except the UNISON branch leadership. Rod Padey, the branch secretary of UNISON, has refused to support the campaign. In contrast, the GMB Sheffield 38 branch elected three delegates to the steering committee of the campaign at its last branch meeting in February. The GMB, like other unions supports the anti cuts campaign protest planned for the Lib Dem conference on March 12th, but Rod Padley is not keen. The anti-cuts alliance has also focused on organising for the TUC demo on 26th March and the anti-cuts lobby of the council on 4th March.
But the anti-cuts alliance is still a top down organisation. The steering committee delegates are not even identified at meetings let alone asked for votes or consensus on issues by the chair of the campaign. Meanwhile, a handful of officials make all the important decisions. No agenda is produced in advance, the steering committee meeting is not asked to agree the agenda or the order in which items are taken. Some members of the campaign think such meetings are all about agreeing activity and practical arrangements. Meanwhile, policy decisions are taken by the temporary officials. At the last steering committee meeting, a letter from the green party which seemed to imply the green councillors will agree the bulk of the cuts if some improvements are made in some areas, was left to the end of the meeting preventing a full discussion. The argument to moderate the cuts by administrating the cuts ourselves undermines the entire campaign against the cuts.
The anti-cuts alliance needs to be democratised and opened up to facilitate local links between the unemployed, tenants and housing officers, rank and file workers unity across the unions and bringing in the students and young people targeted by the cuts. The campaign needs to sink local roots in the city, rather than channel all energy its into revitalising the trades council. The campaign should discuss the alternative policy to the cuts. It should ask if the trade union programme of a fairer capitalism is utopian in the context of a world crisis of capitalism. If taxing the rich is a viable proposition given that entire nations have gone bust. The campaign must become anti capitalist and anti state to succeed.