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Monday, 24 November 2014

Once again on Parking Tax (Published readers letter)

The Labour/Lib-Dem Cumbria County Council has been forced into a humiliating defeat on what we dubbed the "Parking Tax", a stealth tax as part of their austerity budget. The front page headline in theNews & Star read "Parking charges victory - climbdown in face of opposition"  and their editorial announced "Victory for people power." 
While they naturally focussed on their own campaign and the interests of city centre businesses, there can be no doubt that the highpoint of the opposition to the council was the 150-strong public meeting of "Denton Holme Stop the Parking Tax" organised by Socialist Party members. 
This was a broad movement of opposition,  with residents in different areas spontaneously collecting signatures from neighbours on their own petitions. Its the sort of protest against particular aspects of public spending cuts which we have been preparing for.
Local SP members systematically leafleted the working class area of Denton Holme, organising the public meeting where they explained the issues and coordinated the wider collection of signatures with other residents, organising the street protest outside the council offices and successfully spreading the message further afield through the local press and regional TV.   

The N&S editorial made some pertinent points for future battles against the cuts: "People power today claims its victory...councillors have surrendered to intense public pressure and completed a U-turn...for a long time the fight was deemed futile by a council determined to see through its plans to claw back cash when faced with massive central government funding cuts...But overwhelming public opinion is never futile." 
This shows that the council can be forced to retreat if enough pressure is mobilised. Labour Carlisle city councillors had pointed out that it was illegal to use a Traffic Regulation Order to raise money to cover a budget deficit rather than for traffic management, but then went silent. But it became clear that a movement of residents outside their control and with a political alternative wouldn't be so compliant.

This is just one small victory, and of course Labour will now either look for other ways to take money off the working class(eg increasing Council Tax or other charges, which we will also oppose) or coming back to the Parking Tax better prepared, but it does set a positive precedent for other anti-cuts campaigns.

In particular it raises the question about what the local government unions, with far bigger resources than us, could and should now be doing to stop the 1,800 jobs slaughter which Labour have announced. 

Brent Kennedy,
Carlisle SP

Parking tax letter (published readers letter with omitted text in bold)

“Parking Charge Victory”

As one of the organisers of the “Stop the Parking Tax” campaign in Denton Holme, I am very pleased to learn that Cumbria County Council has put on hold its plans to charge for residents’ parking permits, and I would like to thank everyone who supported the campaign.  But I do not think we can be complacent at achieving what the News & Star (18 November 2014) calls “Parking Charge Victory”.

The Council has not abandoned its proposals, merely deferred implementing them until it has sorted out some legal or procedural problems, which Councillor Little says may take 12-18 months.  Council Leader Stewart Young also does not say the proposals have been scrapped, only that there will need to be “further public consultation” before they are brought back.

He now says “Having asked local people for their views on these matters, we must listen to them.”  Does he think that the public will have different views if the Council decides to “consult” them again in a year’s time?  And why did the Council not listen to the public during the last round of consultation on the budget?  The Council claimed that 58% of “people” supported charging for residents’ parking permits and only 26% disagreed.  But only a small proportion of the people of Cumbria voted in that consultation, and most of those who did, almost certainly did not live in residential parking zones.  In the same consultation, the Council admits that more people voted against town centre parking charges than for them, but the Council added those who did not vote to those who were in favour, and declared that the majority were not opposed to the charges.

Councillor Young and his colleagues only “listen” to the people when it suits them, and they distort the results of consultation to support their own plans.  John Stevenson MP claims this shows “how out of touch the Labour-run Council have become.  I do not think the politicians are speaking to people.”  This is rich coming from him.  The County Council is now a Labour-Liberal Democrat coalition, but it was previously a Conservative-Labour coalition, and both regimes claimed they had to make cuts and impose charges because of orders from the national government – a Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition, elected by absolutely no one!

The Council’s retreat on these charges is indeed an achievement for “People Power” (as your editorial states), but the only way to ensure that the Council does not impose the charges at a later date would be to elect councillors who will really represent the people of Cumbria, who are prepared to fight for the resources which the county needs to provide the services which the public has a right to expect – councillors who will oppose central government’s austerity programme and refuse to implement all of the cuts in jobs and services.  None of the existing political parties offer candidates pledged to fight for the people, so we have to look for alternatives from within our own local communities.

The Council’s “U-turn” is only a tactical retreat.  The people may have won the first round, but the fight is by no means over, so let us keep up the attack.

Grahame Higginson, Denton Holme, Carlisle           

Letter on Labour and wages (Published readers letter)

Lee Sherriff rightly calls for higher wages and less inequality, but a Labour government will give neither, too afraid of the rich and powerful whose sole interests they now represent.

Britain is the only industrialised country where inequality has worsened since 2000, with the richest 10%  increasing their share of  national wealth from 51% to 54%.

Since the recession the richest 1,000 have doubled their wealth to £519bn, equivalent to 2/3 the annual earnings of the entire workforce. Top CEOs now “earn” as much as 170 average workers. The richest 5 families now own more than 20% of the population.

Meanwhile, the real wages of average earners has fallen 10%. The longest and deepest period of real wage cuts since the 1860s has left the typical worker £50 a week worse off. 

This is the first decade when absolute poverty has risen, affecting 8.7m adults and 4.1m children. But even the government’s commission on social mobility castigates ALL political parties for having secretly abandoned their legal obligation to halve child poverty by 2020 – just too dishonest to admit it. 1in5 children in Carlisle suffer poverty, but Labour will extend the Tory freeze on child benefit even longer.

Its chair, Alan Milburn, even shows that Labour’s pledge of an £8 minimum wage by 2020 (!) is 23p lower than at the current rate of increase. By contrast, the TUC has adopted the Socialist Party’s demand for a £10 an hour minimum. 

Everyone is now “against” inequality – even the IMF, CBI and Institute of Directors, whose members enjoyed a 21% salary increase this year – but none are willing to act. Here are two litmus tests for Lee Sherriff:

The Labour-led local government employers have just rejected a modest demand for a  £1 an hour wage rise and offered the Labour-led unions Unison, Unite and GMB a rotten deal which would extend another real wage cut until 2016. Will she condemn that?

And Ed Miliband has even refused to support the low paid women care workers in his Doncaster seat exploited by an American private equity company which cut their wages by 35% when “caring” was privatised. Will she give them her public support?

State Management Scheme (Published readers letter in News and Star)

Readers have only until Friday left to see the exhibition in Carlisle’s Old Town Hall on the successful State Management Scheme, the 200 nationalised pubs and brewery in our area which was destroyed by the Tories in 1971.
The SMS was living proof of the superiority of public ownership, paying a profit to the Home Office every year since 1927. A table shows the award-winning Carlisle State Bitter, Keg and Mild offered a higher specific gravity and alcohol content than the usual bland brews for a third cheaper.
It would have been even more successful under democratic control by the staff and customers instead of the Whitehall bureaucrats who prevented it from advertising and selling outside the area. The 20 beers from other brewers on sale in our pubs  were no match.
The state pubs were real social centres for local communities, with their own sports teams and regular entertainment (my Dad, Tommy, performed in many of them). Sadly, “entrepreneurial free enterprise” has since managed to kill most of them off.
The 1970 Tory election campaign was largely funded by the “Big Seven” brewery companies, who got their payback with the privatisation of the SMS (today they are financed by the hedge funds). The Labour Party, then a workers’ party, answered “We believe that if a few firms are able to dictate to the government in this way they should be taken over.”
This was the first privatisation which paved the way for Thatcher and Blair/Brown to plunder the common wealth, but it was fought against by the working class of Carlisle. I wrote the leaflet for the LP and trade union campaign which was distributed all across town.
How far Labour has since abandoned its socialist principles and the interests of workers is shown in the contrast between its support for privatisation today and its stance then. A regional conference of the LP held in the Viaduct Hotel adopted my resolution, including the following: “The denationalisation of the Carlisle pubs and brewery is part of the Tory plan to hive off all publicly owned industries and hand them over to their friends in big business...We demand not only the retention of the publicly owned pubs and brewery, but the extension of nationalisation to all the breweries, in particular the big seven brewery monopolies, under democratic workers’ control, with compensation being paid only on the basis of proven need.”
As passengers, utility consumers and even as socialisers we are paying the price for this failure every day.
Brent Kennedy,
Carlisle Socialist Party