Over the last few months, Youth Fight for Jobs and Education, with the support of York Socialist Party, York Student Socialist society and many local trade unionists, have collected 1167 signatures on a petition to restore EMA and now that it’s handed in to the council has been debated.
Martin Readle, York YFJ
From the outset the response we got was fantastic, ordinary people were keen to sign the petition and support the campaign – parents and students alike recognised the real value of EMA. The argument put forward was a simple one, that cuts weren’t necessary, in fact would compound the damage and that pressure could be built at a local level to supplement national campaigns to restore EMA. Given that Ken Livingstone had pledged to restore EMA for all of London in his mayoral candidacy and two boroughs of London have restored EMA – we had hoped that the local council in York would take the opportunity to follow suit.
The petition was formally handed over to the council for consideration and debate on Thursday 28th February, the date that the City of York Council set it’s budget, unfortunately – or perhaps ‘unsurprisingly’ – it’s third successive cuts budget since the Labour grouping took control of the council in 2011. We took along a delegation of four speakers who spoke explaining the reason they supported the petition and why they were calling on the council to do the same, each was given 3 minutes to speak. The flaw of the public participation is of course that the councillors are given 30minutes to respond after the public participation and there is no further reply from those moving the petition.
The delegates raised many issues in their contributions. Majella pointing out that EMA wasn’t an isolated cut with the trebling of tuition fees and over 1 million young people unemployed. Not only not but roughly the same count as under-employed. Youth services across the country have been cut to the bone and huge council house waiting lists all combine to keep young people stranded at their parent’s house.
Megan explained that for those who want to study the outlook is bleak, even after college with no EMA and £9000 tuition fees – there aren’t any jobs for graduates either, those that exist are likely to have hundred’s of applicants. She challenged the sitting Labour councillors to follow the example of Don Thomas and Keith Morrell, and vote against all the cuts, for a needs budget which can buy the time to organise a fightback against this weak government.
Leigh Wilks, Unite representative on the York Trades Council, spoke reminding councillors that York is a city which prides itself on it’s education and that they should take steps to try to protect York’s residents. Not just students and not just locally the whole country is bearing the weight of Austerity Britain, meanwhile the economic outlook drastically worsens in the UK and across Europe. In 1979 the Conservative Party slogan was “Labour isn’t Working”, nowadays ordinary people can see that “Austerity isn’t Working”.
Nigel Smith spoke saying that though people had clearly been incredibly supportive of the campaign he had little faith in this council to listen to their concerns. Having himself been to several of the councils consultations on various issues and seen the conclusions ignored, For example an Elderly Peoples Homes consultation– where the mood was unanimously against privatisation – yet still they are being privatised, to a recent consultation on turning libraries into social enterprises, where the person leading the discussion wasn’t aware what a social enterprise was! The answer is that they are the first step towards privatisation…
Labour councillors then spoke, initially in praise of EMA, saying how proud it had made them feel and often giving personal examples of people they’d known whom had benefited. However after speaking favourably for several minutes wound up their speeches quickly and proceeded to fall back on the usual clichés that “there isn’t enough money”, “it’s the national government that should be blamed” or “our hands are tied”. The same angle was taken by the Green Party, “.. the council cannot fund the EMA but should scrutinise what it can do for students” – ‘scrutiny’ doesn’t really cut it in these dire circumstances – where EMA is just one of a myriad of cuts. We also recognised that this is a national cut, from a weak national government, that if a concerted campaign was mounted, one backed up by councils across the country restoring EMA it would be the completely dismantle the lie that the ConDems perpetrate that EMA was ‘unaffordable’. Such a campaign backed up by Trade Unions, Anti-Cuts campaigns and community campaigners could strike a major blow to the Government. Unfortunately the councillors who spoke, mostly Labour, and all the councillors who voted lacked the courage to take a stand, content to believe that they are the friendly face of Tory cuts, instead of trying to fight tooth-and-nail to stop this disastrous and dangerous austerity agenda.
We would like to thank everyone who supported the campaign, especially the University of York Student Socialist Society, York Trades Council, Unison North Yorkshire Police Branch, York Socialist Party and York Stop the Cuts, not to mention of course everyone who took the time to sign the petition on a the street over the past six months.