What next for the anti-cuts lobby?

By Helen Le Caplain

“Andrew Lansley, greedy, Andrew Lansley, tosser
The NHS is not for sale you grey-haired manky codger.”

A wall of sound greeted me as I entered the anti-cuts rally at Central Hall in Manchester on a cold April evening.

Protest footage, workers’ songs, and what I later discovered to be the Andrew Lansley rap, was blaring out of the loudspeakers on a loop.

Heated exchanges were unfolding as people shouted from one person to the next, partly out of a passion for the cause, and also out of necessity – so they could be heard over the loudspeakers.

Each group brought brightly-coloured banners stating who they were and screamed a message of protest.

Save the NHS!

Books not bombs!

Save Levenshulme Baths!

Here I was at a Manchester Coalition Against the Cuts (MCAC) rally attended by over 100 local cuts activists, who were gathered to plan their next line of attack.

The group formed in January 2011, its aim is to coordinate and mobilise Mancunians to oppose cuts to jobs and services.

Mark Krantz, a campaigner for MCAC, opened the meeting by introducing the panel members and reinforcing why they had come together.

Cuts history

The 2010 general election result was unusual as an unconvinced electorate delivered the first hung parliament the UK has seen since 1974.

The Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition, or as it’s known in anti-cuts circles, the ‘ConDem’ government, identified the need to reduce the deficit and restore economic growth.

The Chancellor’s emergency budget in June this year outlined a deficit-reduction plan which aimed to reduce the country’s £156bn debt.

It promised to deliver £6.2bn of savings in 2010-11 in an attempt to reduce so-called waste and inefficiency across the public sector.

This resulted in drastic cuts to local authority spending, which saw the axe fall on many local services and public sector jobs.

Arguably, nowhere has felt the cuts as keenly as the people of Manchester.

The council was told it must save £109million this financial year, and a further £170million the year after, resulting in a 25% cut in its total budget.

Members of the public booed and shouted at the Labour-led council from the public gallery as the budget was approved last March.

The cutbacks, along with a national freeze on council tax rates, mean that libraries, leisure facilities, youth services and public toilets in Manchester look set to close.

Sure Start provision will transfer to external providers and bin collections are now fortnightly.

Sir Richard Leese, leader of Manchester City Council, said: “The scale of the cuts makes it impossible to put together a balanced budget – which we are legally obliged to do – without it having an impact on frontline services.”

MCAC action

MCAC delegates, along with an estimated 500,000 people from across the country, descended on London on March 26 to attend the TUC’s March for the Alternative.

The event was hailed a success by campaigners and gained extensive national media coverage.

MCAC is keen to maintain the momentum through a series of campaigns and demonstrations.

The Save Levenshulme Baths campaign succeeded in over-turning the council’s decision to close them down.

This proved to be a big insipiration to the wider anti-cuts movement.

Marie-Angelique Bueler, Friends of Levenshulme Convenor, and Chair of the Save Our Baths campaign, said that those involved in the campaign had won a significant victory in stopping the closure.

She said: “Our community has demonstrated that it deserves a better future than has been offered and we will keep fighting for it.”

The Access 2 Advice campaign, is long-term initiative which aims to repeat Levenshulme’s success and prevent the closure of a city-wide, free legal advice service.

It was earmarked for closure but the council is now reconsidering after receiving a petition signed by 4,000 people.

Steph Pike, a campaigner and spokesperson for the Access 2 Advice campaign, said that the council’s plans to transfer the 80,000 service-users over to Manchester Citizens Advice were untenable.

She said: “These cuts are nothing but an ideological attack on public services.”

The Manchester joint chair of Black Activist’s Rising Against Cuts (BARAC), Colette Williams, agreed with the sentiment.

She said: “It is another example of the government trying to smash down the public sector.”

The Liberal Democrats have come under a lot of pressure for forming a coalition with the Conservatives and implementing unpopular policies.

This anger has been reflected locally, with many activists lamenting at the direction they have taken.

Lee Jasper, British race equality campaigner for BARAC, and former advisor on equalities to the Mayor of London, took a tougher stance.

He said: “The 5th of May is important – we need to decapitate the Liberal Democrat party.”

This was a message that activists, and other Mancunians, took to heart when they went to the polls. Manchester City Council alone saw 34% of Liberal councillors swept away.

Now that the electorate have held councillors to account for their role in approving the controversial budget, campaigners are prepared to continue to do more.

Ms Pike reinforced the message that anti-cuts campaigners must maintain a political presence by attending councillors’ surgeries, meetings and events.

She said: “We need to show the city council and the government that we will be there day after day, week after week, month after month.

“We will not stop until they start representing the ordinary people.”

Lee championed other methods to get the council’s attention.

He said: “Civil disobedience and occupation is the way forward.

 “If they shut Sure Start, we’ll occupy the nurseries.

“You sack the lollipop lady, we’ll occupy and close off the road.”

Colette added: “These are our services, and we’re going to defend them by any means necessary.”

The anti-cuts movement has a busy few months ahead of them.

Their blog and numerous Facebook pages list a relentless number of action days, protests and public sector strike action.

And there’s no sign of protest fatigue setting in just yet.

The next event is a Save the NHS! March in Chorlton, which is in response to Manchester NHS being told to cut its spending by almost £1billion.

Related Articles