Saturday, 8 January 2011

Should labour councillors refuse to implement cuts?

I know that there have been petitions calling on Labour councillors to join with trade unions and community groups to fight the cuts [1] which presents an interesting question: should the anti-cuts movement call on Labour councillors to refuse to implement cuts?

The issue raises historical examples where Labour councillors have been pushed by local campaigns to oppose cuts in defiance of the law, the most famous example being Poplar in the early 1920s resulting in the jailing of 30 labour councillors for six weeks after these councillors funded services by refusing to pay general rates to London-wide services [2].

The argument in opposition to comparisons of this kind is that councillors have to set a legal budget, or the council’s designated section 151 officer - who has the role of overseeing council budgets - will do so. Better that labour councillors make ‘humane cuts’ than they be enforced ‘inhumanely’ by the section 151 officers [3].

This raises a question about the kind of movement that can fight and win this battle, how should the movement orientate itself? Adopting Neil Kinnock’s “dented sheild” policy of implementing cuts (however partial) or militant and law-defying tactics like occupations, walkouts and the refusal to implement cuts to break the Con-Dem government?

A militant movement involving Labour Councillors refusing to acquiesce to cuts would show a weak government forced to enact policy via unelected officials while highlighting the shallow nature of 'democracy' within Capitalist society and the role of the state in enforcing cuts in the complete absence of any popular mandate.

We should have no illusions that such a movement won't be met with opposition from the Labour Party leadership, in Poplar when George Lansbury opposed the government policy in Poplar the Labour Party denounced him while Kinnock condemned the advocates of mass non-payment of the poll tax as ‘Toytown revolutionaries’. The anti-cuts movement must however provide a space which is open to Labour councillors who refuse to implement cuts while condmening the implementation of cuts from wherever they originate.