Around 90 people attended the second Leeds Anti-Cuts Convention held at the Swarthmore Centre. The Convention was organised by Leeds Against the Cuts and brought together a whole number of different campaigners from across the city and slightly farther afield.
Leeds Socialist Party reporters
The convention was opened with Richard Wilkinson, author of the Spirit Level, who gave an interesting talk about inequality and its effects on society. He presented a series of graphs, pointing out how if inequality hadn’t increased since the late 1970s then most individuals would be around £2,000 a year better off, with only the top 20% of society having seen their relative incomes increase over this period.
Further to that he demonstrated how in the US the gap between the wages of CEO’s and production line workers had gone from 20x in the 1970s to over 200x now, with the pay of the top 0.1% increasing by 362% from 1979-2007, the top 1% by 156% whilst the bottom 90% saw only a 17% increase.
Following this the convention heard from Dean Kirk and Gill Kennett from Councillors Against the Cuts, both of whom are councillors in Hull who will be voting against the cuts budget being proposed by Labour-led Hull City Council. They explained how two of their group of three in Hull had already been hauled before the Labour whip and 42 other councillors for 3 1/2 hours after they left the room during a vote over council tax rates. Their sentence suspending themselves from the Labour group was itself suspended, although the councillors have been told they will be definitely suspended if they vote against the cuts on the 28th February. However, as Dean Kirk put it “We won’t vote to carry out their (the Con-Dems) dirty work.”
After lunch the convention broke up into seperate workshops on the NHS, housing, education and benefits led by local activists and campaign groups such as Hands off our Homes and Keep our NHS Public, before returning for a final plenary session which heard reports back from these sessions and passed motions calling for a general strike against austerity and linking up the anti-cuts movement.
The final speaker was Mid Yorks Unison Branch Secretary and Socialist Party member Adrian O’Malley who spoke about the recent strike action at Dewsbury, Pinderfields and Pontefract Hospitals taken by admin and clerical workers against attempts by trust managers to downband their pay. He spoke of how inspirational the strike had been to many people, including Unison General Secretary Dave Prentis who attended the picket lines on the 9th day of strike action and promised full support to the branch to escalate their action by balloting the whole workforce.
He also noted how the confidence of these workers had grown throughout the action as well as the numbers of other Unison members that had sent messages of support to the strike whilst they bemoaned that the Unison leadership, including Prentis, was organising action across the health service against the current onslaught of attacks. He reported how the South East region of Unison had recently voted to support a general strike and urged the need to link up different struggles against the cuts with co-ordinated action. A collection at the convention raised £30 to support the strike fund.