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Now that the Labour-led Leeds City Council have presided over the proposed £55million pounds worth of cuts, and as the end of year budgets are signed off, a final proposal to be presented to the unions is imminent.

A Leeds UNISON steward

Council services have been decimated already from the £90million pounds worth of cuts from last year which has culminated through a combination of voluntary redundancies, not taking more staff on and reductions in other local service resources as well as a pay freeze. So you can tell that as staff are stretched to do the work of what was previously more hands members generally feel exhausted and moral has been low. This is particularly acute in both Children’s and Adults Social Services.

At our recent AGM, held over four meetings over two weeks, members backed a proposal for a strategy for action to defend our jobs and services. In proposing the motion I summed up what ordinary members felt about the cuts – that they have been through a lot and felt betrayed by their employer, that they could do this to us, and helpless – that it was no wonder that many have opted for voluntary redundancies.

For the branch, I argued that a fight back was absolutely necessary – a campaign for industrial action would tap into the anger felt by members, and would revitalise the branch. If members see that the Branch is determined to fight, it would encourage greater membership and more activism, lifting the heads of many stewards and then we would get members to the lobbies and protests that are necessary to build the momentum.

I warned the Branch that if we don’t act we are in danger of haemorrhaging and that would have a detrimental effect facility time for Branch activists, convenors and branch staff.

As part of the proposal I argued that we should put pressure on Labour to stop and reverse the cuts through a programme of investment in more jobs and improvements in the services we provide by setting a needs budget – using the millions of pounds the Council sits on to spend on what is socially needed in Leeds.

There was also a proposal to have a debate about why Unison should continue to support the Labour Party. This was overwhelmingly popular as was the proposal to maintain the pressure on our national leadership to bring the pensions dispute back to the members.

What now?

Now that the Branch AGM has adopted a campaign for industrial action to defend jobs and services, it is important that pressure must be maintained to ensure it is carried out, because it will be argued that members are not ready. Our response will be that it is never automatic that members will be prepared, but we must be confident for action and that through joint action any form of redundancies can be defeated in the first instance.

It took us two months to build a successful campaign for strike action over pensions. We must build now for an indicative ballot against these cuts.