The three trade unions representing the majority of Brighton & Hove City Council employees came together this week to start a campaign against the latest round of cuts.
More than 50 people attended a public meeting called by Unison, the GMB and the NUT to discuss what the impact of the cuts would be and how we could resist them.
A local representative from the teachers union described how the cuts to pre-school special needs children’s services would mean children not being given the early support they needed at a crucial age. This could make it harder for them to fit into mainstream secondary education when they were older, damaging their life chances and potentially costing more from future budgets. It was suggested that even though in the long run these cuts would cost more money, the cuts were happening here because unlike with the over fives, under fives special needs care is not a legal requirement. He also described how their campaign had rapidly won widespread support, with nearly 9,000 signing a petition to the council in a few weeks
A representative of Brighton & Hove Unison members working in adult social care described how she was “fuming” with anger about the way older people and adults with disabilities were going to be treated. As well as day centres being earmarked for closure, home support work was being cut and hundreds of care workers faced redundancy. It would mean the elderly being left alone for longer periods, those who needed help going to the toilet being put into nappies as they would not be visited after 6pm
She also explained that as with the pre-school special needs teachers, the staff do the jobs because they care, not for the money. They would fight to save services not primarily to protect themselves, but because the people they looked after needed care and support.
Finally, a representative of workers at Hollingbury Depot described how an out-of-touch management would end up wasting money by taking bad decisions without asking the people who really understood the job – the workers. He also said they’d been kept in the dark so far about the planned cuts, perhaps because management were scared to provoke another strike, especially when other unions were discussing what action to take. He also apologised for the amount of leaves left unswept, which he said was due to many street sweeping rounds not being covered, or being “reorganised” as management liked to call it.
There was a wide ranging discussion from the audience. Many comments came from other council workers, some of whom were too afraid of management reprisals to say their name or be photographed. However, there was a determination to get things moving. A wide range of ideas from petitioning and street stalls to local and national strike action was proposed. The general feeling of the meeting was that while the problem of Cameron’s government slashing spending of local councils was a national one, that needed a national response, we also had to act locally.
The audience also made points which backed up what the union representatives had argued, about how short-term savings would cost more in the long run. A special educational needs coordinator in a secondary school described how the early years special needs teams made it easier to help children as they got older. But she also described how the cuts, especially to services for young people’s mental health needs, were making it impossible to do her job properly. Health workers, including campaigners from Sussex Defend the NHS, backed up the claims of short termism – explaining how cuts to adult social care would lead to the elderly and people with disabilities spending longer periods of time in hospital and adding to the NHS’s funding crisis.
Campaigners also spoke from the Brighton People’s Assembly, which pledged to work closely with the unions to unite campaigns to save individual services. Others pointed out that the People’s Assembly had been able to mobilise over 100,000 people on the streets, including hundreds from Brighton. Members of the Labour Party and Green Party spoke in support and it was pointed out that as well as 100,000 on the streets, over 200,000 had joined Labour because they wanted to do something to resist austerity.
If they all got involved in campaigning at grass-root level and helped to strengthen their unions, it was possible to turn back austerity. After all, the council’s own survey only last year had shown that the majority of local people didn’t want any services cut.
Finally, while no councillors attended the meeting, it ended with a plan to go to the councillors and have the voice of service users and service providers heard. There would be lobbies and protest at the next Policy and Resources Committee. Further plans were made for lobbies of the full council and a “Stop the Cuts” march through the city on a Saturday.
The three unions will act together on 3rd December at 3pm at the Brighthelm Centre in North Road as members join other campaigners for a lobby of the next Policy and Rescources Committee. The lobby has been called by Brighton People’s Assembly – come and join in!