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Local government :: Council tax
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Joe Ejiofor, leader of Haringey council in north London, wrote to all Labour Party members recently, informing them the council would "have to" make 10% cuts in its budget - on top of 40% already inflicted by the previous administration.
When socialists stood as Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) candidates in the local elections this year, we said we wanted to work with Corbyn-supporting councillors to defeat the cuts and kick out the privateers.
When asked by TUSC candidates to clarify their opposition to implementing cuts, Labour candidates publicly told voters that they "should read between the lines." Six months later that clarity has been provided.
This bombshell has shocked Labour Party activists who had deselected the previous pro-cuts administration only last year.
The new council, led by two Momentum national coordinating committee members, Ejiofor and Ermina Ibrahim, was widely seen as a 'Corbyn council' - a test case for Corbynism in power.
It is urgent that anti-austerity councillors and the local trade unions call a conference of all those inside and outside the Labour Party who want to end austerity.
This cuts policy is a betrayal of hopes and every effort must be made to prevent it. It is imperative that the local council unions, especially Haringey Unison, discuss this change of policy as an emergency.
Council leaders have raised the spectre of financial collapse, leading to officials taking over the council and the Corbynistas being blamed for bringing it to bankruptcy.
But if this council inflicts £23 million further cuts and misery on the working class of Haringey, it is that which will discredit the Labour left in Haringey and the Corbyn project nationally.
The council leadership claims that there is no alternative. But, according to the council website, there is £14 million in the council's unallocated general fund reserves, and over £100 million in usable reserves overall.
This, along with borrowing, can be used to buy time to build a campaign to force the government to return the £140 million stolen from the council each year, and provide the funds required to meet the needs of the borough.
The council should involve the council workers' unions in planning a campaign of action. The national local government committees of unions Unison and Unite, as well as the GMB general union's national conference in 2016, have all agreed support for no-cuts budgets.
They could hold public meetings in every part of the borough, and workers' meetings in every major workplace. They could call a major demonstration in support of a fighting council policy.
The huge demonstrations of the Glasgow equal pay strikers (see 'Glasgow's equal pay uprising shows power of working class' at socialistparty.org.uk) give a hint of what would be possible in Haringey if all the workforce and community came together in such a struggle.
Do these Momentum council leaders really think that this crisis-ridden, weak government will send in the commissioners in the face of such local community and trade union defiance? Do they really think that this would discredit Corbyn?
This approach would be greatly strengthened if John McDonnell committed the next Labour government to replenishing reserves and underwriting all debts incurred by councils opposing cuts.
It could spearhead a national fight and help bring a swift end to the Tory government. In the six months since the new council took office, it has not done anything to build such a campaign.
Neither the council nor the Labour Party have issued a single leaflet or organised a single meeting, never mind a demonstration.
Instead, some prominent councillors and Labour Party leaders are proposing that the financial shortfall is filled by a rise in council tax.
They propose to make council tax more 'progressive' by giving rebates to residents on the lower bands.
A fairer tax would be welcome. But in law, a significant rise in council tax requires a referendum of residents, and this referendum can only ask them to approve an across-the-board percentage rise.
The council would need to convince the residents on lower bands to trust the council to provide them with rebates.
If the majority of residents had their net council tax frozen, then the universal rise would need to be very high, with figures as high as 100% mentioned.
One can imagine the headlines in the national press if a Corbyn council proposed such tax hikes.
The council should set a needs budget, fulfilling the policies decided in the February 'Haringey Manifesto' conference, including reopening youth centres closed by the previous regime, ensuring that all social care staff are immediately brought back in-house and paid the London Living Wage, and ending all regeneration projects involving privatisation and expensive housing.
It is not too late for the council to change course. Such a campaign would show that Labour under Corbyn is serious about doing what is needed to end austerity.
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Article dated 14 November 2018
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