Saturday 30th April saw the biggest May Day demonstration for some time in Leeds with around 500 participating with contingents from the GMB, UNITE, UNISON, PCS and others, as well as local anti-cuts campaigns across the city and even from nearby towns and cities.
Iain Dalton, Hyde Park & Headingley Socialist Party
The presence of some many community campaigners alongside trade unionists shows the links that Leeds Against the Cuts (the local anti-cuts body set up by Leeds TUC) has made with all those wanting to fight back against the cuts that will devastate Leeds if implemented.
The Socialist Party had one of the loudest and most vibrant contingents on the demo, chanting anti-cuts slogans down the streets of Leeds (a tradition on the May Day demo which we started last year and has now been taken up by others too).
Following this, on Monday 2nd May, Leeds Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) hosted a public meeting bringing together candidates standing on a platform of opposing all cuts in Leeds. As well as the two TUSC candidates in Headingley and Horsforth, the Alliance for Green Socialism is standing five candidates across the city and there is also Stuart Long, an independent anti-cuts candidate in Kirkstall ward.
Andy Smith, Horsforth TUSC candidate and Socialist Party member spoke first explaining the role that TUSC saw itself playing in challenging the cuts agenda of the mainstream parties and as a step towards a new mass workers party. He was followed by Mike Davies of the Alliance for Green Socialism who outlined some of the attacks facing public services in Leeds from privatisation of services, such as the plans to put GP consortia in charge of NHS spending or the plans to introduce more academies, to more direct cuts to jobs and services themselves.
Rob Williams of the PCS National Executive (speaking in a personal capacity) and a Socialist Party member, explained the attacks his members were facing, particularly in regards to pensions, and that PCS was balloting it members for strike action over this, and aiming to co-ordinate this with the teaching unions with the plan to come out on strike on the 30th June. Rob also explained that although PCS and its predecessor trade unions had always been non-political unions, over the last few years the union has been engaging in a consultation process about supporting candidates in elections that support PCS’s policies, a vote on doing so would be taken at the forthcoming PCS conference next month.
Stuart Long, rounded off the top table speakers explaining his background, campaigning mostly on issues of public transport, against high fares in Leeds and against cuts to the Free City Bus service. He reported on a recent victory in dropping the fares on the 95 bus.
After this a discussion opened up with various points raised about the scale of the cuts locally and what is being done to fight against it. It was clear that all in the room saw an electoral challenge to the cuts agenda as a vital part of fighting the cuts. It was noted that some on the left remain indifferent to this or advocate a vote for the Labour party, which speaker after speaker noted were the ones implementing the cuts in Leeds. The logic of this led one of these groups to recently propose that one of the main speakers at an anti-cuts rally should be Keith Wakefield, the leader of Leeds City Council. Such a move would repel many workers, especially those in the city council whose jobs Wakefield and others running the council are cutting.
Furthermore, whilst most candidates were not sanguine about their prospects of winning a seat, all saw it as fundamental that a marker was put down to say that ordinary people were opposed to the cuts and prepared to challenge the establishment politicians. Several people expressed the aim of next year, on the basis of further growth of the anti-cuts movement, of standing anti-cuts candidates in every ward of the city rather than just the eight this year. We hope that when reality hits on the head those who are currently advocating a vote a Labour party implementing the £90m cuts in Leeds they will join us, alongside the hundreds and thousands that will be drawn into the anti-cuts movement in the coming months.
But in the meantime it was clear from both the speeches at the May Day demonstration and the public meeting that the key date is the 30th June which with four unions out on strike against the attacks on pensions (amongst others) will be a big step towards a 24 hour public sector general strike, especially if Leeds Against the Cuts goes ahead and organises a public demonstration over lunch time to allow those who their union has not, at this stage, called out on strike to support the action, as well as other anti-cuts activists. Although in the run up to that date there are various protests, lobbies and direct actions taking place which the Socialist Party will support and be a part of, it is mass action such as that which will raise the confidence of ordinary working people that this government can be challenged and defeated.