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Manchester's councillors have lost their legitimacy

While Labour was preparing to celebrate retaining its seat in the Oldham bye-election, half an hour down the road in Manchester its councillors were announcing 2,000 redundancies from April. In practice, they are doing the government’s dirty work – with the support of the national party led by Ed Miliband.

He has sent union representatives around the country to tell Labour councillors, to their relief, that they should blame the Coalition for the cuts but do nothing that might take them outside the law. In other words, they should make a “balanced budget” (councils are not allowed to run a deficit, unlike the government) and stay in office.

In the end, of course, holding on to political positions for their own self-interest is what Labour is all about since Blair and Brown transformed it into a party that sponsors business interests, the financial sector, private-public partnerships and corporate-driven markets.

Any councillor who had even a smidgen of concern for Manchester city council’s workers and their families would have declared that the cuts, which follow on from the savage reduction in government grant, were impossible to support. The councillors could have turned the famous town hall into a fortress and challenged the government to come and do its worst.

Of course, that was never going to happen, especially as national union officials, who knew what was on the cards, stayed silent until the news broke. Sir Richard Leese, leader of the Labour-controlled authority, while complaining about the “unfairness” of it all, announced that the authority would slash £110 million of its budget for 2011-12 and axe almost a fifth of its workforce. Resistance had not even crossed his mind.

The predictable response from union officials was … predictable. Unison leader Dave Prentis, said: "The shockwaves of 2,000 job losses will spread across the city of Manchester and beyond. It is a tragic loss to workers who will have to break the news to their families that they are losing their jobs. It is also a bitter blow to communities who will lose services they rely on and will hit local businesses and trade."

And that was that. No call to action, nothing, nada.

Unite regional officer Keith Hutson admitted that the cuts would have a “devastating effect on services and the people that use them." He threatened – wait for it – a “consultative ballot” on industrial action. That’s a consultation on whether to hold a ballot for action. By the time that’s sorted, the jobs would have gone.

Which puts incoming Unite general secretary Len McCluskey’s remarks on BBC Radio 4 this week into perspective. McCluskey has been talking loudly about industrial action against the cuts. But when it came to the crunch, McCluskey rejected any intention of bring down the government and insisted: “It's all about getting the government to change its mind" and instead of making cuts, "go for growth". With the global capitalist economy increasingly heading south, he can dream on.

His assertion that the deficit is “not high” is equally rubbish. On a number of measures, Britain’s budget deficit is the most serious of all the major capitalist economies. It reached £162 billion in 2009- 10, which represents 11% of national income (GDP), the highest of the group of 20 leading capitalist economies.

Meanwhile, jobs are disappearing rapidly. The GMB union said a total of 113,765 jobs were now under threat at 145 councils across Britain. Councils implementing Coalition cuts have lost their legitimacy. Manchester workers should take a leaf out of the books of the students and occupy their workplaces, including the town hall. That would be a major step towards creating People’s Assemblies in Manchester and elsewhere to defend every job and service and develop alternatives to the present failed social system.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor
14 January 2011

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