Doncaster Council has announced huge cuts with the loss of 1,200 jobs and closure all of the town’s council-run care homes. John Westmoreland reports on plans to resist
The people of Doncaster, after years of watching their community blighted by unemployment and economic decay, have just been kicked in the teeth once again by Cameron’s austerity addiction. Over £93 millions have already been cut from Doncaster’s budget but now a massive £109 million is to be clawed back by the government of bankers and big business.
We are all going to be victims but the poorest and most vulnerable will get it worst. Over 1,200 council jobs are to go; Council tax will increase by 2% every year for the foreseeable future; all eight council run care homes are to go; Children’s centres and leisure centres are to close; transport subsidies and subsidised bus routes are to be slashed. The private sector is now poised to take over our services as a result. As Labour Mayor Ros Jones says, “Every man, woman and child in Doncaster will feel the pain of these cuts”.
The neoliberal spider’s web
Doncaster is paying the price of years of accepting the neoliberal dogma of first the Tories and then New Labour. For years we have been spun the lie that Doncaster needed to modernise and “accept change”. When New Labour brought the Mayoral system to Doncaster New Labour argued it was to “fast-track change”, and didn’t it just! What was once a prosperous manufacturing town is now an unemployment back spot. All our Secondary schools have been turned into academies and there are plans to do the same at Primary level.
New Labour’s Martin Winter made so many cuts as Mayor while wasting a fortune on grandiose capital projects (to give the illusion of progress) that it caused a populist right wing backlash that saw the election of an English Democrat, Peter Davies. Davies is a vile right winger who wanted to press every populist button in the right’s book, to hang on to power. He built on Winter’s cuts under the constant encouragement of the Tories and the Taxpayer’s Alliance. But in a close run election Labour managed to win it back.
The current Labour Council is going to learn the lesson of why it is a mistake to get too close to the neoliberal spider. When it gets hungry it devours those that are closest. Council’s that make cuts set themselves up for more cuts. If you accept cuts you ask for cuts and the coup de grace of the private sector.
Creating the movement to defeat the cuts
Many on the Left can’t wait to stick the boot into the Labour Council. They are of course right to point out that New Labour was the architect of neoliberalism in Doncaster. Doncaster’s three Labour MPs, Caroline Flint, Rosie Winterton and of course Ed Miliband all supported the privatisation of our schools, and championed many of the cuts that first hit us. However, it is a huge mistake to start sharpening the sectarian knife in the belief that this will take us forward. The mass movement we need has to bring the thousands of Labour voters in Doncaster on to the streets. The People’s Assembly is the united front that can make this happen.
The truth is that even though Labour are massively compromised we cannot afford to indulge in sectarianism. The Tories have imposed the cuts deliberately to make the Labour Council impose them and to embarrass Miliband after he has been gaining ground because of his criticism of the energy companies. Caroline Flint, usually on the right of the party, has been very effective at battering the energy companies and the Tory Energy Minister Ed Davey. The employers’ strategy is to make the unions and the Labour party look irrelevant and to get the workers who are normally loyal to them to look to the populist right.
Even though Labour’s reputation has been massively tarnished we should be enraged that the Tories are trying to effectively break the appeal of the Labour party and the trade unions by forcing them to accept the fatal dose of Neo-Liberal poison. The cuts will make Doncaster more miserable and bitter if there is no mass fight back, and there will be another round of victims, as immigrants and the unemployed are blamed for what the Tories and the bosses have clearly orchestrated.
Doncaster People’s Assembly have called a mass meeting to be held at the Trades Club in the French Gate Centre, on Thursday 31 October (starts at 7.00). This will be an excellent opportunity to discuss the kind of strategy we need. UNISON have called a demonstration for the following Saturday November 2 (assemble at Doncaster Civic at 12.00) and it is backed by the Doncaster People’s Assembly and affiliated bodies. We need everyone who opposes austerity on that demo. We need Labour councillors and trade union officials to speak out against austerity, and we need activists to look seriously at how a united mass response to the cuts can be launched. The campaign has to be inclusive and huge. We have until next February to make our mark and give the people of Doncaster some hope that their future might be better than the present.
John is a history teacher and UCU rep. He is an active member of the People's Assembly and writes regularly for Counterfire.
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