South Birmingham’s Communities Against the Cuts (CAC) group held a successful all-Birmingham anti-cuts conference on Saturday. The organisation, which Socialist Party members participate in, previously held a public meeting of 170 people in January titled ‘Save Birmingham’ in response to the Labour council’s decision to enact the Tory party’s collective sordid fantasy and slash £600m from the city’s jobs and services.
Around 100 turned up on Saturday and took part in a very democratic discussion, debate and workshops covering various aspects of how to fight the cuts.
Most importantly the conference resolved to take a number of steps forward. Significantly it voted to stand anti-cuts candidates in council elections and also to set up a new cross-city anti-cuts federation.
Although all of the resolutions passed these two caused debate and some disagreement among some of those present due to the fact that there is already an ‘official’ campaign, set up by the local trades council and officially supported by the city trade unions called Birmingham Against the Cuts (BATC).
Those arguing against the resolution stated that it is unhelpful in the fight against the cuts to have two separate anti-cuts bodies in the city. However CAC, although beginning as a local offshoot of BATC a couple of years ago, has benefitted from a significant number of youth and newer activists getting involved. With some successful campaigns against local cuts and closures and having stood two candidates in the last council elections the group has taken on flesh and has been able to call city-wide public meetings with larger and newer attendances than any other campaigns in the city so far, including BATC.
It is therefore the case that CAC calling for the formation of a new democratic federation of anti-cuts groups might be seen as dividing the movement by some – or a new possibility for healthy growth of one ambitious wing of Birmingham’s anti-cuts movement by others.
The Socialist Workers Party held the former view and strongly argued against the resolutions claiming that the need for unity against the cuts meant that a new anti-cuts body would definitely be a bad thing. Their principal argument was that standing candidates against Labour would mean potentially alienating Labour party members /supporters and excluding them from the movement against the cuts. This is surprising because the SWP are part of TUSC, one of whose stated purposes is to stand anti-cuts candidates in elections – including against Labour.
However others pointed out that if no anti-cuts candidates stood in elections Labour would be unchallenged while they acted as commissioners carrying out government cuts. Labour would feel even more able to vote for policies against the interests of the people they are supposed to represent. Further, no opposition would be prepared for when Labour, if elected to office in 2015, would carry on similar multi-billion pound cuts and even worse that would leave the only opposition to them to come from the right.
Birmingham Socialist Party supported the resolutions but we initially proposed some amendments which argued the need for the new organisation to adopt a friendly approach towards BATC and to work together wherever possible. We explained that the emphasis needs to be it being ‘anti-cuts’ rather than ‘left of Labour’, to avoid creating unnecessary barriers when building the new organisation among new campaigners in communities or even any Labour councillors who decide to vote against cuts. We also moved that the campaign should seek to involve trade unionists particularly in the services which we are fighting to save. These amendments were accepted in the main by CAC without needing a separate vote.
We also don’t view having two separate anti-cuts bodies as being necessarily beneficial to the Birmingham anti-cuts movement. But at this stage, although BATC activists work hard to build the city’s anti-cuts movement, turnouts at meetings are still relatively modest. Also, apart from in one or two areas the anti-cuts movement has yet not drawn in significant numbers of new people.
It is also true that many unions remain affiliated to Labour and some even prefer not to attack Labour for its cuts even if those cuts are hitting its members. So while some unions may try to use this as a reason not to work with CAC, others such as the RMT –involved in standing candidates as part of the Trade Unionist & Socialist Coalition- and the PCS who have voted to consider challenges in elections against any party implementing cuts and other unions should find it more than possible to work with CAC.
While up to one third of government cuts have been made, the anti-cuts movement is still at an early stage. So we support this attempt by CAC to energise the Birmingham anti-cuts movement and will work with others to try to make it a success.