Report: Protest against Swansea Council Cuts
5th February 2014
Labour Council Leader, David Phillips and Deputy Leader Christine Richards were given a rough ride by protesters against the Labour Council's proposals for £45 million of cuts, in Swansea last night.
A good number of council workers and people anxious to defend council services had turned out in filthy weather to demand answers.
The protest had been called by City & County of Swansea UNISON branch to lobby a scheduled council cabinet meeting and promoted with an advert running in the local paper demanding Swansea councillors (the Council is overwhelmingly Labour) fight Tory cuts not implement them.
Our council leaders' sole response to the anger of union members and service users was to point out that neighbouring Labour authorities are making worse cuts! "Why aren't you protesting in Neath?" asked Councillor Phillips, "they aren't paying the Living Wage."
Swansea may have agreed to pay the Living Wage, this year at least, and at the rate before the last increase, but it also employs hundreds of people on zero hours contracts. A number of UNISON members have recently lost up to 10% of their income in changes to terms and conditions. These changes were imposed with a public threat from the Deputy Leader to accept new contracts and "sign or be sacked"; another reason why she was given such a hostile reception last night.
At least we're not simply taking an axe to services across the board, like Carmarthenshire (another Labour-led neighbouring council) was another reason Phillips gave as to why we should accept these devastating cuts. Apparently cuts in Swansea are "forensic", all £45 million of them!
Sensing he was loosing his audience, Phillips began to rant, telling us that protest "won't make a jot of difference." So much for a Labour Council talking to the trade unions, one of the ways they claimed they would be different to the Lib Dem-led authority they replaced!
He also accused UNISON members of frightening elderly care residents through a publicity stunt with a bed, to draw attention to plans to close residential care homes. Because that and not the plans to actually close homes is frightening!
Catching sight of a Socialist Party placard he shouted "If you hadn't stood" referring to the Council elections in 2012, "we would have had a bigger majority." In 1 ward where TUSC stood 2 candidates, Labour failed to take seats off the Liberals. I think his maths is inaccurate but that's irrelevant. The fact that a Labour council passes on Con-Dem cuts, while insulting and attacking unions, is proof that TUSC shouldn't worry about which cuts-making party we take votes off. Besides I think most of the people that vote for us have already given up on pro-cuts Labour; if we didn't stand, providing a no-cuts, socialist alternative, they'd have no one to vote for. They'll be a lot more people like that the next time there's council elections as Swansea's Labour Council continues to implement Con-Dem cuts and show such contempt for trade unionists.
UNISON officials put themselves in an awkward position last night. Having invited the Labour councillors to address the meeting, they found themselves trying to shush angry members, while the councillors insulted us and attacked them. Our branch should cut all ties with the Labour Group and demand our union breaks with Labour, backing only candidates who fight all cuts.
Last night was a good start to the campaign but action needs to be stepped up now. We need to pull out all the stops, with workplace meetings and talking to our members, for a big turnout for the demo through town on Saturday 15th (Update: this demo has apparently been cancelled). We need to appeal for support to service users as well and make sure that we have a huge turnout for the full council meeting on 18th February to make sure any wavering Labour councillors understand the anger that exists in Swansea towards the cuts they are voting.
Ronnie Job, UNISON steward (personal capacity)