YFJ co-hosts People’s Budget Conference

Clive Heemskerk speaking at Leeds People's Budget Conference

Clive Heemskerk speaking at Leeds People’s Budget Conference

This Saturday, Youth Fight for Jobs, alongside Leeds Unite Community, hosted the ‘We Need a People’s Budget Conference’ in Leeds to discuss how local authorities could challenge the cuts and set legal no-cuts budgets. The conference brought together campaigners from different groups including those fighting fire service cuts, the bedroom tax and cuts to Esol.

Iain Dalton, Yorkshire Organiser, Youth Fight for Jobs

Guest speaker, Clive Heemskerk, of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, who has advised councillors in places including Hull, Southampton & Leicester, on moving no-cuts budget amendment, gave an overview of the situation facing local authorities. He emphasised that whilst councillors can’t be a substitute for a mass movement, they can play an important role in building up a mass campaign in defence of public services, after all councils control 1/4 of all public spending.

He explained the most effective way of doing this is drawing up budgets that don’t make cuts to services. This has become known as the Liverpool Road following the budget set by the council in 1984/85, which was in fact a deficit budget with £30m missing from it which was won from the Thatcher government, the equivalent of £98m today. This allowed the council to carry out significant improvements to the lives of those in Liverpool, including building 5,000 council homes, more than were built across the whole country under the 13 years of New Labour goverment of Blair and Brown!

Clive pointed to the red herring put up by some, that anyone today is advocating not setting a budget. This he explained, was not the tactic of the Liverpool councillors, but something they went along with 1985-6 due to the front of around 20 Labour councils including those led by David Blunket (Sheffield), Graham Stringer (Manchester) and Margaret Hodge (Islington), who all rapidly retreated from the struggle leaving just Liverpool and Lambeth councils isolated. John McDonnell had some involvement in this at the time as one of those who opposed the retreat of the GLC under Ken Livingstone from this struggle.

Clive commented that it was also unfortunate that, despite being elected on an anti-austerity platform and calling on council’s to ‘band together to fight the cuts’, the new leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, had co-signed with John McDonnell and John Trickett, a letter which muddied the waters as to the opportunites for councils to resist, giving right-wing labour councillors the excuse to carry on cutting.

Councillors do have a duty to set a balanced budget, but as Clive commented, what a balanced budget is itself a matter of debate, and through moving no cuts amendments in a number of cities those around and working alongside TUSC had tried to advance this debate, in particular around the use of reserves and borrowing powers. (See TUSC briefing pack)

Before introducing Clive, the chair of the discussion, Leeds YFJ convenor, Tanis Belsham-Wray, had pointed out that in the council’s last statement of finances the usable reserves of Leeds City Council stood at over £390m, with those having increased by £65m in the last year. Nearby Sheffield council is dipping into some of the usable, but allocated (for PFI spending) reserves to put into a pensions deficit. If that could be done on that basis, then why not to stop the cuts?

Clive also explained that in their attempt to rebut the argument of TUSC councillors in Southampton to borrow to protect services, the council had instructed a QC to look at the legalities who had to admit that the 2003 local government act does allow councils to borrow to support revenue spending. The QC argued that this could not be done long-term, but then TUSC councillors weren’t arguing that, they were putting it forward as a short-term measure to allow time for a campaign to be built to win the necessary funding from the government.

In reality, the only argument against councils taking such an anti-austerity stand is that you would only have the ‘hope’ of winning such funding. But there are no guarantees in struggles – if you only campaigned when you knew you’d definitely win, then you’d never do anything!

Clive pointed out that when setting budgets for 1991-2, how many council officers expected that Margaret Thatcher would be replaced as Tory leader by John Major and one of his first acts would be to pump £3.4bn in to local government funding? But this is precisely what happened as a result of the mass campaign against the Poll Tax.

Of course, there is the fear of reprisals being taken against councillors if they took such a stand. The Clay Cross and Liverpool councillors were surcharged (fined) as a result of their stand. But on this, and some other issues, the situation is more favourable today, with the power to surcharge only now applying in cases of corruption.

The Corbyn letter to councils raises about council’s Section 151 officer (a senior council official) issuing a notice under Section 114 ordering them to take measures to bring a budget back into balance. The letter states “Failure to do so can lead to complaints against councillors under the Code of Conduct, judicial review of the council and, most significantly, government intervention by the Secretary of State”.

Whilst Clive regarded this as an accurate summary, when you break these measures down they are actually mostly toothless.  In regards to this, he explained that if such a notice was issued, the council would have to meet within 21 days and discuss the advice, but there is no compulsion for the councillors to agree to it. A similar thing would happen if a council was taken to court by an auditor.

Potentially, they could be breaking the councillors Code of Conduct which they signed when they were elected. But what’s the sanction? As Clive explained, until 2011 councillors could be referred to the Standards Board which could have disqualified them from office for a period of up to 5 year. However, in 2011 during the ConDem government’s purge of quangos they abolished this body, replacing it with councils themselves setting up their own standards boards – so councillors would now be referred to themselves!

Clive argued that the abolishing of the Standards Commission, Audit Commission and other bodies, in part reflect a certain complacency by the establishment after they had defeated some of the mass struggles of the 80s and early 90s and capped this with the neutering of Labour Party with the expulsions, abolition of clause 4 and other measures. In 2014, Eric Pickles even removed the guaranteed legal protection for council chief officers if they were sacked by a council to have a guaranteed legal hearing.

Clive also dealt with the question of Commissioners, which he said was an important weapon for the government. But the process for sending in Commissioners requires a long process of inquests and other legal hearings. This power wasn’t used against Liverpool in the 1980s, where ex-government minister Patrick Jenkins explained that where there is a mass campaign ‘How do you get commissioners past half a million people, and how do you get them out again?

Clive pointed out we may get a taste of the difficulties of using these powers, if for example, hospital trusts refuse to implement the new junior doctor contract that Jeremy Hunt is trying to impose, as has been mooted.

This led to quite a wide ranging discussion, with the example of £300m being forced out of the government by Tory backbenchers refusing to vote for the Local Government Finance Settlement given as to how funding can be found if it is politically expedient. An Esol campaigner pointed out that as a result of their campaigning they’d managed to stop further funding cuts from taking place.

Several council workers commented on their efforts to promote a discussion on this matter in their union branch. One remarked that although the figures for reserves are printed in black and white in the councils own document, they were referred to as ‘fanciful’ in discussions in the branch. Undoubtedly, five years of the union nationally failing to take a lead to fight austerity has ground down activists throughout the union, but as was pointed out, not to respond to redundancies or attacks on pay, terms and conditions would be to ‘negate the whole purpose of a trade union’.

The afternoon saw an interesting discussion with Ellen Rowbotham from Hands off our Homes and Ben Mayor of Leeds TUSC discussing some of the campaigns they were involved in to challenge the council to use powers available to them to resist austerity.

Ellen explained how Hands off our Homes played a key role in opposing the bedroom tax in Leeds, which estimates say has affected 13,000 living in the city. Whilst evictions hadn’t taken place, the council had gone as far as taking people for possession hearings. Many tenants had support from Discretionary Housing Payments (DHP), however, these had become increasingly means tested pushing tenants into government ‘workfare’ schemes.

Hands off our Homes is now focussing on opposing the government’s Housing Bill which amongst other things includes lowering Housing Benefit for council tenants down to the levels of Local Housing Allowance in the private rented sector, which will take millions of pounds of funding away from councils. She encouraged everyone to attend the Housing Summit they are organising next month to discuss how to resist this. (See Eventbrite page for the Summit)

Ben explained how TUSC had lobbied the council over establishing a not-for-profit letting agency to tackle rip-off landlords and letting agencies. Although the council is now watering down this to what it calls an ‘ethical lettings agency’ which would only cater for certain landlords, it is still a step in the direction of showing that councils can try and intervene on this issue.

He also explained how TUSC had supported the RMT union in challenging the new franchise plans for Northern & Transpennine Express which include the introduction of driver-only operated trains. These proposals are being co-sponsored by a body, Rail North, made up of representatives of all the councils in the North of England, the vast bulok of which are Labour controlled. Ben pointed out that anti-austerity councillors should be using their influence to oppose such policies, as someone else pointed out with regards to government plans to hand councils powers over Sunday Trading regulations.

The conference closed by voting to establish a ‘Leeds People’s Budget Campaign’ to work towards trying to present a no-cuts budget amendment to next year’s budget, either via working with sympathetic councillors to do so, or a deputation to the council on the issue. In the meantime, we will seek to mobilise those fighting local government cuts together. As one of the conference attendees expressed, an idea is only as effective as the people you can mobilise behind it.

A thousand demonstrate against austerity in Leeds in driving rain

Leeds Youth Fight for Jobs anti-austerity protest 27/5/15 - credit: Leeds YFJ

Leeds Youth Fight for Jobs anti-austerity protest 27/5/15 – credit: Leeds YFJ

Text of post-demo Leeds Youth Fight for Jobs press release

An anti-austerity protest organised by Leeds Youth Fight for Jobs (YFJ) on the day of the state opening of parliament which inspired protests across the country drew a thousand protesters yesterday, despite the driving rain it took place in.

The protest, in Victoria Gardens, Leeds, heard from young workers, students, anti-bedroom tax activists, asylum seekers rights campaigners and trade unionists amongst others on the savage plans to attack working class people that the new Tory government is announcing.

Yorkshire YFJ organiser, Iain Dalton address the protest

Yorkshire YFJ organiser, Iain Dalton address the protest – credit: Erika Sykes

Iain Dalton, Yorkshire YFJ organiser said “The response today and at demonstrations around the country shows that there is big opposition to what the government is proposing. Only 24% of the electorate voted for the government. Many young people who several of their measures are aimed at were below the voting age for that election as well. Interestingly, they’re already pushed back their proposals regarding the human rights act, which shows how protest can move them.

“Given the weather, 1,000 people turning up was beyond our expectations. Many of those people who were on their first protest have been in touch with us to ask when the next demonstration is. We’re building towards a day of action with the Fast Food Rights campaign in Wakefield on the 13th June and, of course, the big anti-austerity demo in London on the 20th June”

Leeds TUC is putting on free coaches to the June 20th anti-austerity march in London. Places can be booked by calling 0113 245 8442

Notes for editors

  • Youth Fight for Jobs & Education (YFJ) was launched in 2009 by young workers, students and unemployed youth to campaign for a future for young people of either a real job, quality training or free education. It is supported by 8 national trade unions, PCS, RMT, UCU, CWU, TSSA, UNITE, BECTU and BFAWU as well as many individual trade union branches. YFJ has organised numerous demonstrations highlighting the lack of a future for young people around issues of unemployment, education cuts and the scrapping of the Education Maintenance Allowance and recently organised the Jarrow March for Jobs 2011 on the 75th anniversary of the original march. YFJ took part in and organised protests in 2012 that recent forced Tesco to backtrack on its support for the government’s workfare schemes.

Why LGBT Youth Should Protest Against Austerity

Michael, marching at the 2014 Leeds Pride

Michael, marching at the 2014 Leeds Pride

Michael Johnson, the LGBTQ caucus convener for the Socialist Party writes why he’s attending the Leeds ‘No To Five More Years of Austerity’ protest on May 27th and why LGBT youth should join him there. Join the event page on facebook – https://www.facebook.com/events/807414962676055/

“Like a large number of LGBTQ people I woke up to the news of a new Tory government with a feeling of dread. The Tories have an extremely poor history with LGBTQ people with their previous opposition to equalising the age of consent, early treatment of people with HIV and, of course, Section 28, Thatcher’s (who is much lauded by the present government) legislation that existed to ensure children didn’t feel they had the “inalienable right to be gay.” The Tories may have slowly become more LGTBQ friendly (it’d be hard to be less) this is largely only due to the growing support LGBTQ people have received from the majority of the population.

“Still, under the veneer of “austerity” the previous coalition government launched a sustained attack on LGBTQ people in nearly all areas of their lives: free schools allow conservative and religious groups the right to be explicitly homophobic, offering students counselling if they enter same sex relationships; attacks of housing, access to jobs and universities force LGBTQ young people to stay in homophobic communities and abusive relationships (lesbian and trans women especially affected also due to the constant closure of women’s shelters) and LGBTQ specific services suffering funding cuts at a local and national level.

“The new Conservative government will try and paint themselves as LGBTQ-friendly, especially following the coalition’s introduction of equal marriage (which still manages to be unequal and transphobic), but we only need to see the recently selected cabinet ministers of culture and equality’s homophobic records (voting against same sex marriage and John Whittingdale voting against the equalisation of the age of consent and equality laws around LGBTQ rights as well) shows us this will be just more of the same AT LEAST (the planned scrapping of the Human Rights Act alone should ring warning bells for most LGBTQ people).

“The LGBTQ community has a proud record of fighting not just for their rights but in defence of the rights of all (as fantastically shown in last year’s hit film Pride). Only by working together can we put a stop to the coming austerity attacks and the sooner we do it the better. That’s why I’ll be attending Youth Fight for Jobs’ anti-austerity protest in Leeds on May 27th and campaigning with them after that.”

Leeds For Free Education Adds Support to M27 Anti-Austerity demo

Leeds for Free Education in March

Leeds for Free Education in March

We’re delighted to have received a statement from Leeds for Free Education (https://www.facebook.com/leedsforfreeeducation) announcing their support for the upcoming ‘No To Five More Years of Austerity’ demonstration in Leeds organised by Youth Fight for Jobs.

“When the Conservatives came to power in coalition in 2010, they trebled tuition fees to £9000, forcing an even bigger burden of debt onto UK students. Now they’ve won the 2015 election with a slim majority, they’re discussing raising the cap on tuition fees even higher. And they’re not stopping there. Their track record on education has been increasing privatisation, from university campuses all the way down to primary schools in the form of academisation, not to mention the brutal funding cuts they’ve implemented.

“Now more than ever, students need to fight back, and link up with workers to do so – which is why Leeds For Free Education is joining Youth Fight For Jobs to make it clear that we won’t take five more years of austerity sitting down. A united movement with the right strategy can win the fight against austerity, and that fight begins on the 27th May!”

Why We’re Demonstrating on May 27th

YFJ/Fast Food Rights protest in Leeds

Fast Food Rights protest in Leeds

The Leeds branch of Youth Fight for Jobs (YFJ) has organised a demonstration on the day of the state opening of parliament and the reading of the Queen’s speech – 27th May. On that day the horrors the Conservative government with it’s slim majority have in store for us will be definitively revealed.

Iain Dalton, Yorkshire Youth Fight for Jobs organiser

Already offered up are further anti-union laws restricting the right to strike, limitations to the right to protest, an expansion of workfare aimed at young people, abolition of housing benefit for under 21s, abolition of the Human Rights Act, as well as the £30bn more cuts they pushed a pledge to implement through parliament before the election.

This will be a disaster for working class people – our public services have already been decimated, with closures of libraries, day centres and care homes in Leeds as well as other cutbacks. The NHS faces further privatisation moves robbing the most prized possesion away from us. Meanwhile more and more people are expected to work on zero-hour or other short-hour contracts not knowing day-to-day whether they will have enough money to survive, as the safety-net of benefits to give people the opportunity of securing decent jobs is whittled away through the imposition of heavy sanctions.

It’s no wonder the Tories won the election, given Labour only offered austerity-lite with a few crumbs sprinkled around the edges. Whilst things like ending the bedroom tax would have alleviated the suffering off many, they seem set to continue peddling the pro-big business line of the Tories and mainstream media that now sees corporation tax at an all time low of 21% – if they even bother paying it at all.

Austerity assists big business and the rich by heaping the costs of the economic crisis and the bank bailouts onto the the rest of society, the middle class, workers and the poor. Whilst corporation tax has gone down, VAT, a regressive tax, has gone up.

But contrary to the media lies, the money to fund decent jobs and services is there. The problem is that the last few governments, Labour and Tory-led have chosen to help big business syphon that money out of our pockets.

Not only is there around £120bn in uncollected and evaded taxes each and every year (more than the deficit alone), but we are paying back a whopping £60bn more pounds for PFI hospitals than they cost to build (£12bn). Then there’s the scandal of the East Coast mainline privatisation, where a service that was putting money back into the treasury was sold off to Virgin Rail and will become like all privatised railways, one where we subsidise the profits.

A tweak here and there isn’t enough, we need radical measures to end austerity. Why after bailing out the banks with public money, are they then allowed to carry on with much of the same people in charge drawing much of the same if not bigger bonuses? The banks as well as previously privatised public services should be brought back into public ownership, but this time under democratic control of ordinary people. Then we could decide where the wealth of uch organisations is invested, into jobs, homes and public services rather than gambled away in stock markets and other speculation.

But the big question would be how do we acheive this? Youth Fight for Jobs believes we have to start with organising against the oncoming attacks, but using the campaigns we build to offer an alternative vision to austerity which the main political parties and the media tell us we have to accept.

We’ll be inviting local campaign groups and trade unions along to the demo, to take part and also to have stalls with information about how to get involved, and urging people there to join them as well as joining Youth Fight for Jobs. We’ll be doing the same ourselves and opening up our next monthly Youth Fight for Jobs meeting to people to discuss how we take forward the fight, not just against the latest austerity measures, but for an alternative to the rotten profit-driven system they are part and parcel of.

Join the facebook event for the demo – https://www.facebook.com/events/807414962676055/

Fast Food Rights Global Day of Action

April 15th was a further global Fast Food day of action with strikes and protests in a whole number of countries worldwide. In the UK, Youth Fight for Jobs helped organise and supported around 30 Fast Food Rights ‘Join a Union’ protests and activities, including several in Yorkshire, with a few more to come over the next week (reports posted once recieved)

Leeds

Fast Food Rights protest in Leeds

Fast Food Rights protest in Leeds

In Leeds, Youth Fight for Jobs worked closely with members of the local Greggs of Yorkshire branch of the Baker’s Food and Allied Workers’ Union (BFAWU) to plan our day of action. Eight members of BFAWU join us on the day, alongside members of Unite Community.

Iain Dalton, Leeds Youth Fight for Jobs

A week beforehand we had gone round leafletting fast food workplaces in the city centre, although we had expected just a few of us to do this, we ended up with 9 supporters of the campaign coming out so we managed to cover almost every fast food workplace in the city centre.

Youth Fight for Jobs activists & supporters pre-leafleting fast food outlets across Leeds

Youth Fight for Jobs activists & supporters pre-leafleting fast food outlets across Leeds

On the day itself  we spoke to loads of people working insecure hours or zero-hour contracts about trying to organise and join a union. Low paid young workers spoke through our PA system explaining their situation and encouraging those passing-by and listening to support the campaign.

Sheffield

Sheffield protest on 15th outside McDonalds

Sheffield protest on 15th outside McDonalds

Sheffield Fast Food Rights occupy McDonalds on 18th April

Sheffield Fast Food Rights occupy McDonalds on 18th April

#A28 Fast Food Rights Campaign Day of Action

Leeds Fast Food Rights protest

Leeds Fast Food Rights protest, photo courtesy of Erika Sykes

Youth Fight for Jobs activists alongside other supporters of the Fast Food Rights campaign, initiated by the Baker’s, Food & Allied Workers Union, took part in a day of action up and down the country on August 28th.

Iain Dalton, Yorkshire Youth Fight for Jobs Organiser

Protests were organised in 8 towns and cities across Yorkshire and  coincided with a day of strike action amongst fast food workers in the USA in their campaign for secure jobs, decent conditions and a $15 an hour minimum wage.

Signing petition for an end to zero hour contracts at the Sheffield protest

Signing petition for an end to zero hour contracts at the Sheffield protest

Where we ran stalls, they were often mobbed by people agreeing with our demands to scrap zero hour contracts and to raise the minimum wage to £10 an hour.

5 local radio stations interviewed YFJ and BFAWU activists, whilst several local newspapers covered the protests in a number of towns and cities, including Huddersfield, Pontefract & York where the first ever Fast Food Rights protests were taking place.

In Grimsby, which also had it’s first ever Fast Food Rights action, activists divided up and went in cars to leaflet outlying McDonald’s stores, before heading back into the city centre to leaflet McDonald’s there.

Bradford Fast Food Rights campaigners

Bradford Fast Food Rights campaigners

Sheffield Fast Food Rights activists report hearing several zero-hour horror stories including one lift engineer on a zero hour contract doing 60 hour weeks with no overtime, whilst a woman told them her son on a zero hour contract hadn’t had any work in 4 weeks!

In cities where Fast Food Rights protests had taken place before, such as Leeds, Bradford and Wakefield, activists had several conversations with McDonald’s staff, as well as other nearby fast food workplaces including KFC and Costa Coffee.