The Labour Representation Committee (LRC) debated what Labour councillors should do about the cuts at its annual conference last Saturday.
After a debate, the Labour left group passed a motion saying that “refusing to make the cuts is a strategy that Labour councils will sooner or later have to face up to”.
However, the motion added that “one or two councils refusing to make cuts will not be able to take this government on and stand any chance of winning”. It called for a national conference of Labour councillors to discuss a strategy.
Islington Labour councillor Charlynne Pullen claimed that it is no good setting illegal budgets because “we need socialists at the table… rather than standing on the outside complaining about cuts”.
She pointed to Islington’s success in paying the living wage and giving free school meals to all primary school children. “If you’d rather stand outside on the steps then do that,” she added.
At the end of this session a statement was read out from Lambeth councillor Kingsley Abrams, one of the handful of Labour councillors in Britain who has voted against cuts.
It said, “After nearly three years opposing cuts in Lambeth council, and getting myself suspended from the Labour group, I have decided to return to Lambeth Labour group and follow the discipline of the Labour group.
“Clearly at this moment it doesn’t appear possible for a Labour councillor to oppose cuts at full council meetings and remain a member of the Labour group and party. I have decided to remain a member of the Labour Party.”
This theme ran through the debate on the motion that followed. Andrew Berry, a Unison union member in Islington, was the motion’s proposer. He said Abrams statement was a “setback” that shows anti-cuts councillors “are feeling isolated”.
“This motion is about recognising the reality of where we are,” he said. “We don’t have the huge anti-cuts movement we’d like to have in this country.
“We don’t have action on the level we need to have to defeat this government. Those go hand in hand with calling on councillors not to implement the cuts.”
LRC co-vice chair Susan Press said that Abrams’ position “is the reality Labour councillors are facing”. She added, “The only way we are going to change that, as this resolution says, is by building solidarity with councillors who are doing their imperfect best.”
A minority of the 200-strong conference opposed the motion. Ted Knight was leader of Lambeth council during the 1980s ratecapping revolt.
He said, “Comrades, I do not find it a difficult decision to vote against cuts. I don’t find it difficult if you’re in a position of representing working class people to vote against cuts that are going to damage their lives. There is no two ways in this situation.”
The motion passed, meaning that the LRC will now organise a conference of Labour councillors to discuss a national strategy to fight the cuts.
The LRC meeting also discussed trade union strategy with FBU general secretary Matt Wrack, and heard guest speakers from Greece’s Syriza and France’s Front de Gauche, among others.