UNISON - fight all council cuts now!
25th October 2013
Statement from Socialist Party Wales members in UNISON
“A militant is only a moderate who has got up off his knees” from the maiden speech to Parliament of the late Terry Fields MP. Socialist Party Wales members in UNISON want to raise our union from our collective knees and fight the cuts being inflicted, by Welsh councils, on our members and the services we provide.
Such are the levels of cuts being inflicted by councils in Wales that councillors are resorting to geological terms to convey the full horror. The now infamous (for his part in the destruction of the Chartist Mural) Bob Bright, Labour leader of Newport Council, described the cuts as ‘seismic’, while Kevin Madge, Labour leader of Carmarthenshire talks about the £30+ million his council is looking to cut, as a ‘tsunami’. The economic effect of cuts of this level would dwarf even the closure of the pits!
The effective end of council services and even councils!
It is clear that if Welsh councils make the level of cuts they have been talking about, then it will spell the end of many of the services we all use and that our members provide. Anything that councils are not legally obliged to provide is at risk. Many people might be surprised to know how much of what a council does is classed as ‘discretionary’ but leisure, culture, refuse and so on, will be unrecognisable if these cuts go through. Rhondda Cynon Taff is looking to shut more than half its libraries, Carmarthenshire trying to off-load its parks, every council is looking to sell-off leisure services, Neath Port Talbot is one of a number of councils even trying to sell public toilets. Even slashing, selling and dumping non-statutory services may not be enough; Russell Goodway, Labour cabinet member for Cardiff, responsible for finance, says that even if the council stopped all of its spending on ‘discretionary’ services, that still wouldn’t be enough to save the £125 million they’re looking to cut. He even predicts that there will be Welsh councils that completely “go bust”.
Cost to our members
Our members and their workmates face being doubly hammered. We use council services like everybody else and will suffer from the loss of those services just like everybody else.
But.. it also clear that councils intend to get much of the savings they’re looking to make from our members – our jobs, terms and conditions. UNISON has estimated that the cuts Welsh councils are looking at would lead to the loss of 25,000 local authority jobs in the next 3 years. That adds up to over 1 in 5 of the workforce! Even that is probably an underestimate; Goodway has stated publically that he doesn’t expect half of Cardiff’s 10,000 equivalent full time staff (excluding teachers) to be working for the Council in 3 years’ time.
It’s not just jobs under attack; they want to attack our terms and conditions as well. Councils aren’t necessarily great employers now! Labour-led Swansea and Cardiff, between them are thought to employ over 2,000 people on zero-hours contracts. Sick-pay, holidays, unsocial hours, shift allowances, pay – all of these will be under attack as councils attempt to make the Con-Dems’ cuts.
What is to be done?
The only position that makes sense for a trade union is to oppose all cuts. If as some argue, we were to accept that some cuts are necessary, then we would have to decide which of our members’ jobs and which services provided by our members can be axed. We stand on the trade union tradition that “An injury to one is an injury to all” and so we demand a fight against all cuts and for every job. The minimum starting point for our union must be to draw a line in the sand and say ‘no compulsory redundancies’! Individual branches should commit to balloting members for strike action to meet the first threat of redundancy and UNISON Cymru should respond to compulsory redundancies in any local authority by bringing out members across Wales.
This is a fight we can win. We may not be able to rely on Labour or Plaid Cymru councillors but we have a reservoir of support to tap in service users in the communities we serve, who value the services we provide. Militant action linking with service users and with other trade unionists taking action can win. We have enormous talent amongst our membership in Wales which our union must tap into. We want a conference of stewards and activists from across Wales to put the union on a war-footing to fight these cuts because it is a battle for the future of council services.
See also: Labour councils – don’t make Con-Dem cuts!