Are you still Blairite? The Southend Against The Cuts meeting this evening

SATCAt the Southend Against The Cuts meeting tonight I was greeted by one supporter with “are you still Blairite?” SATC is a broad church of lefties, and to the gentleman who made this inquiry I am the wrong side of this coalition – he being a Communist Party member. I am no Blairite, although I thought he an excellent Prime Minister – despite my disagreeing with some of the things he did in his decade in power.

I am on no wing of the party, although I guess I am too close to the centre ground for some. I am, in reality, a mix of different strands, and do have some left-wing views on some subjects. However, I am proud that I have always described myself as Labour, and not slavishly allied to a particular camp.

I belong to Compass and the CLPD at the moment, and have been a Fabian and Progress member. I have also been described as a Brownite. If forced to pick a label I’d go for Pragmatic Labour.

The meeting tonight was not a discussion on where I sit on the left-right spectrum but rather about the upcoming SATC AGM, and recent events. I have been SATC’s Treasurer since it was created in 2010, but I have decided not to seek re-election this year. This is largely to do with deciding to handing on the mantle and wanting to tackle new challenges. It has to be said that whilst definitely unhappy with the way the Tories have implemented the cuts, I think I am more prepared to take a realistic stance than some others. I also, as a councillor, have to implement the cuts whether I like them or not.

SATC is also looking for a new Secretary as Julian Esposito is too busy to continue in this role. Anyone fancy doing this role, or Treasurer, can contact me.

The AGM is scheduled for 14th July (see flyer) and I have asked that amongst the topics discussed is voter engagement.

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UKIP to be shut out of unions hustings

Just come back from a Southend Against The Cuts meeting. This was pretty well attended. This organisation brings together those who are broadly opposed to the austerity regime of the current Conservative and Liberal Democrat Government. It would be fair to say it has a fair mix of views, and a number of political parties are represented. Labour usually has the most representatives in attendance, but there are a smattering of Greens, Communists, and Socialist Workers Party activists as well. I do not know everyone’s allegiance, but I know most. It is a broad alliance of trade unionists (mostly) who want to change the Government’s direction, if not a change of Government.

Tonight a number of decisions were made.

There will be a hustings arranged for the week commencing April 20th. The exact date and venue has yet to be set, but a start time of 7.30pm is almost certain.

There will be one representative from each of the parties contesting the General Election in the two Southend constituencies; well, almost. There was a bit of a debate over whether UKIP should be invited to attend.

I thought UKIP should be invited. Unfortunately I was heavily out-voted and they will not be asked to attend. Whilst I respect the democratic decision (it was carried on a decisive show of hands) I am still convinced it was the wrong decision.

Those present felt that UKIP’s anti-union policies ruled them out. Having unfriendly policies should not exclude anyone from a public debate, not in my opinion anyway. I can understand a no platform policy for parties like the BNP, NF and English Democrats, but despite my view of UKIP’s policies I can see there is some daylight between what they stand for and fascism.

Hustings organisers are free to include or exclude who they want; I am not sure how this decision will encourage the undecided along. I am very supportive of trade unions, I belong to one myself. The debate was not acrimonious, not at all. However, I am keen to ensure that this is not seen as a decision endorsed by me. I repeat, I am still convinced it was a mistake. At our next meeting I will ask for this decision to be reconsidered.

There is going to be a May Day celebration on May 2nd (Saturday), with a stall of some sorts at the north end of Southend’s High Street. Southend Against The Cuts annual general meeting will be held after the General Election, and is likely to combined with a public meeting of some sorts (possibly examining what the election results means for trade unionists). There is also going to be some leafleting on Saturdays in the High Street, with an emphasis on the future of the National Health Service.

Connecting. Homelessness, made with love, campaign organising, the bedroom tax

Me with India Witham

Me with India Witham

On Wednesday I went to my first meeting at The Forum, this was for #connectingmilton. This was organised by the Milton Community Partnership and was an opportunity for various people and groups in Milton to get together.

There was music laid on, and I did not initially notice that this was being provided by my long-standing friends Graham Burnett and Wayne Avrili (who, amongst other things, are members of The Stripey Zebras). It was good to catch up with them, and to jam with them too.

I had a long chat with someone who had spent many years on the streets. It was really interesting to hear firsthand about life for the homeless. Amongst the stories was that they had subsisted on wild rabbit for three months (just rabbit, no vegetables, no bulky carbohydrates, no drink). It was a fascinating and thought-provoking conversation. Homelessness is definitely on the rise in the town; I am told that there are between fifty and a hundred rough sleepers. As the winter nears and the weather turns one cannot but wonder how the homeless will deal with it. It certainly makes you think that being able to sleep somewhere warm and dry is a real treat for some people – and this is taken for granted by most. I mentioned to my once homeless conversationalist the number of long-term empty properties in the borough; they responded with the idea of the council purchasing a number and allowing these to be done-up and lived in by the homeless – an idea worthy of further consideration. One thing was evident from our chat and that was the good work being done by many of the churches and charities in the town – real life-savers for some of the most desperate in the community.

The Milton Ward Community First Panel have up to £2500 match funding available to fund a project in the ward. So, if you have an idea about a project to address one of local priorities get in touch. The MCP are also holding an Ideas Fair on Sunday, 8th December (3-5pm). There is £50 available for each person to develop their idea.

Last night I paid a visit to the opening launch of India Witham’s new shop: Made With Love. Fizz and nibbles were advertised – I stuck to orange juice and just a few of the nibbles. I had a quick chat with a couple of people there, and I hope that this venture is a success.

My stay at Made With Love was brief because I was had to leave to chair a Labour campaigns meeting at our headquarters in Sutton Road. I found this very useful, and I hope that my stewardship of the campaigning this year bears fruit come next May’s elections. We are cautiously optimistic.

Earlier in the week I managed to get to a Southend Against The Cuts organising meeting – albeit that I was late and it was nearly finished by the time I had negotiated the traffic. The one thing I can report is that there will be a public meeting on the Bedroom Tax in the near future.

Music and cuts


Last night’s cosy Southend Against The Cuts meeting somewhat resembled a gathering of music promoters as two items of discussion were the Leigh Folk Festival (23rd and 24th June) and a music event at The Ship (14th July – see flyer).

We also discussed this Thursday’s public meeting, the annual Burston Rally (2nd September) which I have yet to visit, and the TUC day of action on 20th October. Despite this full agenda we were done in under an hour – for which I was grateful.

Southend Against The Cuts is not affiliated to any political party. It is a trades union created body that was set up to oppose the Coalition Government’s agenda of cuts to public services. You do not have to be a trades unionist, or particularly political, to get involved. Our meetings are public, and if you want to be put on a mailing list please send me your name and email address. I am not the Secretary (I am SATC’s treasurer) but will pass on your details.

Two AGMs

My last two evenings have been taken up with Annual General Meetings. Wednesday saw the AGM of the Southend and Rochford Co-operative Party, held at 268 Sutton Road. I was re-elected as secretary, and Ian Gilbert was re-elected as chair. Ron Kennedy is the new treasurer. We decided to move our AGM to the second half of the year, and so there will be another in September. I am keen to move some of our meetings out of the campaigning season, which although goes on all year definitely steps up in intensity as May comes closer.

At the Central Library last night Southend Against The Cuts held a public meeting, the first part of which was its AGM. Julian Esposito was voted in as the new secretary (replacing Doug Rouxel who has moved out of the area). Tim Sneller and I retained our roles as chair and secretary respectively. The business part of the meeting was followed by three speakers: Martin Gould (SERTUC), Claire Wormald (UNISON), and Rachel Heemskerk (PCS).

I was impressed by the turnout on a very cold evening, and more impressed that they stayed the course as the hall was quite cold. The tenure of the debate was that there is a lot of anger about the Government’s cuts, and that there is an alternative. I expect more industrial action and protest.

I do not agree with everything my fellow travellers in the anti-cuts movement say; I do not, for instance, see the current woes as a sign that capitalism is about to be replaced. I also think some cuts were inevitable; to state opposition to every and all cuts is to ignore reality. Where I think this Government has got it badly wrong is that they cut police numbers whilst indulging in an expensive top-down reorganisation in the NHS, the cut the tax on bankers bonuses whilst targeting those on DLA, they should be cutting Trident renewal and not putting VAT up … you get the picture.

To punish the poor and vulnerable whilst ignoring the unpaid and avoided taxes of the rich is not demonstrating that we are all in this together.

Pensions public meeting

I attended the Southend Against The Cuts public meeting on pensions, held at Southend Central Library last night.

Chaired by Rachel Heemskerk, there were three speakers: Martin Gould (President of SERTUC), Tim Sneller (Southend Unison, who also chairs SATC) and Chris Baugh (Assistant General Secretary of the PCS).

They all gave robust talks which I broadly agreed with (I do not subscribe to any allusion to class war, nor do I see issues in terms of ‘them’ and ‘us’) and this was followed by questions and comments from the good-sized audience.

There was mention of the November 30th day of action, the cuts, the scandal of the uncollected, avoided and evaded tax, a general feeling that we were not all in it together, and, of course, pensions, especially for public sector workers.

It would be fair to say that many in the trade union movement are not happy with the government.

Fighting for the ones I love

ArtGruppe


Afterglow

A Saturday meeting and the weather combined to deny me any doorstep encounters this weekend. I paid a visit, though, to The Railway Hotel in Clifftown Road last night, venue for the Southend Against The Cuts music event.

When one of the acts sang “this one goes out to the one I love” a part of me wondered rather whimsically whether it was a reference to the National Health Service or some other public service under attack from the Tory-led coalition government.

I saw three acts and chatted with some good friends in an event well supported by both Labour Party members and other members of the community. The next event is scheduled for the end of August (28th) at The Ship in Leigh, and I hope to be at the one too.