Newham council has no will to fight cuts

by James Ivens, London Socialist Party

The Labour council in Newham, east London, pushed through another £7.6 million of austerity on 28 February. But not without a fight by local people! This latest brutal onslaught follows a mammoth £47.9 million in ‘savings’ (cuts and charges) over the past two years.

On the way into the budget-setting meeting, we challenged a Labour councillor: “Will you vote against the cuts?” He said: “I can’t!” We explained: “When the chair calls for those against, raise your hand!” He refused. These councillors have no will to fight austerity.

Protest against Stratford Circus closure
Protest against the closure of Stratford Circus theatre
in Newham — Photo: Mary Finch

The rally of community campaigners and trade unionists on the steps of the Town Hall heard about the alternative to cuts and charges. Newham Council increased its total ‘usable’ reserves to £616 million during the pandemic.

It could use reserves and borrowing powers to end austerity tomorrow, and fight for the funds from Number 10. Newham Labour would then be working alongside the unions, not against them.

This is the programme of the Socialist Party, part of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC), which will be challenging Labour austerity in the local elections on 5 May. It is also the programme of Newham Resists, an alliance of local unions and community campaigns. Socialists forced out of Newham Labour, forming Newham Socialist Labour, will be standing on this ‘needs budget’ platform too.

Security tried to stop us

Security tried to bar us from the public gallery. We got in – but no wonder the council wanted to stop us. Their finance lead smugly explained he’s overseen an extra £13 million in ‘savings’ this year. His comment that the council has “proudly defended families” met with laughter from the gallery.

Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz, moving the budget, insisted the council had defended “people of colour” against “middle-class privilege and working-class privilege.” Newham’s austerity has devastated the whole working class – but hits black, Asian and minority ethnic workers hardest. And what is ‘working-class privilege’?

The only peep against the budget came from councillor Quintin Peppiatt, a right-winger who opposes the cut to Newham City Farm and has resigned the Labour whip (see ‘Newham City Farm – closed with no consultation’). He told the meeting that Newham spends three times as much on ‘non-disclosure agreements’ – undemocratic gagging orders on ousted staff – as surrounding boroughs. This alone could cover the farm’s £250,000 shortfall.

After the council declined to hear from the unions and campaigns about the alternative, protesters erupted into chants of “no more cuts!” The chair was forced to adjourn.

Labour councillors gathered behind security to chatter and titter, waiting for the room to clear so they could vote for more attacks on the working class. You can adjourn your meeting, but you can’t adjourn the fightback against austerity.