Ryde and East Wight Trades Council hosts election discussion
Release: 2nd March, 2010
Members of the Ryde and East Wight Trades Council held a deeply significant discussion and debate last night. In attendance were key Vestas workers including Ian Terry, main spokesperson for the Vestas campaign. Mark Chiverton, Unison secretary and Isle of Wight candidate for the Labour Party in the coming General Election. At the heart of the debate was support for the Labour Party or support for the alternative. This has to be seen in the context of post Vestas occupation and impending struggles affecting the island and nationally and includes Council workers, jobs and Public Service Cuts and also tax office workers faced with closure of island tax offices and associated job losses. It is also in the conditions of an impending General Election.
Also taking part in the debate were most major unions operating on the island represented by secretaries of UNISON, PCS, RMT and ordinary union members including council workers involved in parks and local education auxiliary staff, retired workers and workers made redundant or sacked.
The discussion started by accounts of the tax office impending strike and pickets and also the ongoing working to rule and impending actions of council workers. It has also to be seen in context of the widescale discontent by citizens across the board on the island over the savage cutting of services proposed in the Tory budget.
Following on in the Trades Council forum discussion was the view put forward by Mark Chiverton that the “alternative” budget was better and that there were difficulties in the dispute marked by the ludicrous actions against him and UNISON representation by the council and the difficulties of maintaining adequate support for the dispute over employees’ car allowances.
The main advocate of the ‘politics of the alternative’ kicked off the main debate by pointing out the main context of the dispute and how this was part of the wider movement across Europe and in particular Greece at this moment in time against public spending cuts and shifting the burden of the crisis onto the backs of the people. That this was due to governments and specifically this Labour government supported by all the main parties who were passing on the burden of the deficit, the banking crisis and the recession onto the localities and that the issues of budgets was not just local but national such as the recent budget in Birmingham where there are cuts and a growing movement against them. There are many council issues and struggles taking place up and down the country.
The Isle of Wight Lumley/Labour “alternative” budget was not a genuine alternative after all but just a variation of the original budget. It was pointed out that the 2.5% Council tax increase was to remain and this in itself was a burden on the people who could not easily afford it in this recession, the principle of “No Cuts” was discussed as a principle and the wedge was been driven in with the Lumley variation with only a shift as to where cuts should be. The situation was left and alterations made to the existing Tory budget where next year even more cuts could be inflicted.
The Labour Party disagreed that it was altogether different because the cuts that were to be made shifted away from the most vulnerable. This of course is a pragmatic stance because as the spokesperson said, the issue is not a question of taking a militant stance for the sake of it but a genuine issue of cuts as a principle and an issue of a genuine alternative from the people’s standpoint where on the one side you have the notion that services should be kept and developed but on the other side they could be compromised. It was raised that some time back the unions had attended a consultation and put forward the view that they were not there to discuss an agenda of “What type of Cuts?” but had insisted correctly then about “No cuts at all”. This stand shifts the ball back into the court of the powers that be and the government and says, “You sort it out, don’t make us pay!”
Mark Chiverton deftly argued that the Labour Party was the lesser of two evils. The Tories would savagely cut if they came in. He pointed to “increases in spending on Health and education”, which could not be argued. Without taking the debate into discussion over Education or Health and the Government’s record at this juncture, the advocate of the alternative said that this was a dangerous red herring. Even though Mark could give his “old labour” views and socialist principles the advocates for the alternative were challenged as to whether they think Labour is more dangerous than the Tories.
The advocates of the alternative were not to be caught in this trap because it was preposterous to suggest such a thing. The problem though, it was pointed out was that it is more dangerous to advocate, yet again, the continuity of supporting labour and not seek the alternative. The alternative is a trend, with people’s politicians taking it up, that has to start somewhere and develop but supporting labour is an easy option. It does not solve the problem but condemns the people to a continuation of the falsity and somewhere a call to halt this perpetual return to labour has to be stopped. One person in the discussion said that the conflict in his head was probably somewhat about getting a result even if in the end Labour would not produce the goods.
The debates about whether the “spending” on Health and education will more than likely continue in future. Teachers etc. will probably have more to add to this as well as the advent of trusts and privatisation schemes inside hospitals will no doubt be taken up from the alternative standpoint but not immediately.
The discussion continued for some time about how the alternative politics is developing in various ways, from the standpoint about the environment and particularly the experience gained by Vestas workers and their dealing with Miliband and other New Labour politicians and how alternative economics around sustainable technology has exposed the Government position. Also how tax workers have added value and how the closure of schools on the island is affecting not only teachers and caretakers but everyone else too and how an alternative point of view can be developed on this issue.
One very poignant issue was raised by the Secretary of the Trades Council that these forums should develop across the island and indeed the country to discuss the alternative.
The discussion concluded later than usual and in a comradely fashion without reprisals over people’s individual political standpoints and went on late with informal discussion until finally everyone dispersed. This was a very significant evening in the life of the Trades Council and an important milestone in its work.