FISHPONDS AGAINST THE CUTS MEETING 7th February
25 people attended the second meeting of the Fishponds Anti-Cuts Group.. We heard brief reports from three speakers:
Chris Cuthbert, branch chair of the PCS Jobcentre Plus spoke on behalf of workers at Lodge House, recently on strike action against the loss of beneftit processing. Chris explained PCS’s arguments against the cuts, pointing out that the £126 billion in uncollected and evaded taxes would remove the justification for balancing the budget. She stressed that PCS members were stiking for their own basic human dignity (call centre workers at Lodge Hosue now have managers questioning how long they spend in the toilet), to defend much needed jobs in the community and to defend the services they provide to some of the most vulnerable people in Bristol
Matt Hollinshead, representing the recent student occupation at UWE reported that UW Lecuturers were now due to take strike action against the abolition of 80 jobs on Thursday 10th and Friday 18th February, showing that complency on the part of Cameron and Clegg that they had ‘seen off’ the revolt in education would be very misplaced.Finally Roger Davey, secretary of the Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health branch of Unison, and a member of the union’s NHS service group executive, spoke in a personal capacity. Roger explained how the latest NHS ‘reforms’ will effectively privatise healthcare, and open the way for hospitals to treat paying patients in hospitals.
In a lively discussion from the floor two NHS workers from Blackberry Hill spoke of the impact of the cuts so far. One of them pointed out that many NHS services such as cleaning and catering were privatised by the New Labour government with appalling consequences for both working conditions and patient care. A physiotherapist who works Gloucestershire NHS Trust explained how backdoor privatisation by the establishment of a ‘social enterprise’ has led to the total withdrawal of Physio services, for instance to those recovering from cardiac surgery, she warned that this is bound to mean patients will die unnecessarily.
Plans were laid for local leafleting for the February 19th demonstration and the Lobby of Bristol City Council on 22nd and it was agreed to hold another meeting on 14th Mach to build for the 26th March national demonstration in London. A special Fishponds leaflet advertising these events has been produced and was well received on the UCU picket lines on Thursday 10th Febraury. The next leafleting is to take place on Saturday 12th February meeting at Guinea Lane zebra crossing (next to Wethersoons) at 10.00 am.
Bristol City Council Cuts:
A number of speakers stressed the importance of getting information out to people about the impact of the cuts in Bristol. We need clear, concrete examples of which services are ate risk and where. However as Mike Luff, who represented the Anti-Cuts Alliance at the Council’s Resources and Scrutiny meeting explained, the council has so far only identified ‘global’ figures without actually explaining which jobs and services are to go.
It seems likely, though, that in many cases they will seek to mask the cuts by pretending to keep services going, when the reduced staff levels make this impossible.. Libraries, for instance, may not close, instead, health and safety and customer services will be undermined by minimal staffing levels following the installation of self-service machines to issue books. The Fishponds group has produced a ‘campaign pack’ listing all the cuts made so far. If members let us have information about new cuts as soon as they hear of them we will keep this updated.
Some controversy arose over a suggestion that the meeting should invite local Labour Councillor Martin Golding to speak at the March 14th meeting. Everyone present agreed that we should put as much pressure as possible on all local councillors to vote against the cuts package being proposed and support the Anti-Cuts-Alliance’s policy which is:
‘To campaign against all proposed cuts in public services, sell-offs and privatisations nationally and locally, whether initiated directly by the Coalition Government or carried out by local authorities of any political complexion.’
A Labour Councillor, Mike Woollacott, who was present, however, made it clear that the Bristol City Council Labour Group’s policy is only to oppose ‘the worst of the cuts’ and that Labour were not prepared to vote for an ‘illegal budget’ – meaning that if they were elected in May he and Cllr Golding would implement cuts in line with Government policy. Mike said that Labour councillors ‘could not’ take action to defeat the cuts but that it was ‘up to you’ to do so.
It is my personal opinion that, in the light of this statement, until the Labour Group is prepared to support a budget based on the needs of the people of Bristol rather than the dictates of a government of millionaires in London it would be very difficult for the Alliance to give a platform to local politicians who are asking us to reject some cuts in services but not others. As another speaker pointed out this would be recipe for division: the anti-cuts movement would be reduced to advocating the retention of schools or hospitals in one area at the expense of another.