“Councillors say they are ‘trimming the fat’. However, the fat went years ago and they have been gnawing on the bones ever since”.
Cuts and closures are already being felt in Surrey, which people usually see as a place of leafy suburbs and stockbrokers. However the county’s less well-known trade union struggles and local, grassroots campaigns are beginning to fight back.
Across Surrey, people are mobilising against the cuts. Brooklands College was saved after a huge local campaign by staff, students, parents and local people. Parents, governors and staff at Shortwood School turned out in their hundreds at public meetings. They organised street stalls and collected a petition of over 1,000 signatures in a campaign to save their school. Working peoples’ creativity and organising ability has shocked the local council.
March 15th saw the launch of the Save Our Services in Surrey (SOSiS) campaign, sponsored by Surrey Unison. The campaign will coordinate anti-cuts activity, support local campaigns, and bring local trade unionists together to defend jobs and services.
Paul Couchman, Tusc Parliamentary Candidate for Spelthorne, West Surrey and founder of Save Our Services in Surrey said at the launch rally: ”We face threats to close Shortwood infant school in Staines, threats to hundreds of essential bus services, a ‘review’ of fire services with a clear intent to reduce the number of fire stations -and swingeing cuts to community hospital services. -And this is before the county council’s £180 million cuts package over the next few years.”
Paul Couchman is also the secretary of the Surrey County Council Trade Unions (SCCTU), representing all trade unions within the council. They have formally affiliated to the campaign. Speaking at a joint SOSiS and SCCTU lobby of Surrey Council, at Kingston Town Hall on 23rd March, Paul said: “Public sector workers and local communities who need public services, will be asking who to vote for in this year’s general election. Most trades unionists already see that New Labour no longer represents working class people and that whoever wins, the next government will take the axe to public services.”
Richard Jones, Surrey FBU branch secretary spoke at the lobby. He said: “We’ve reached a point where fire crews are turning up at emergencies and having to tell the public that they cannot make a rescue because they have to wait for more staff to turn up. These cuts put lives at risk. We turn up to incidents without enough crew and have to wait for back-up before we can safely enter the building. Fire-fighters are going in understaffed and risking their lives. The public is in danger, fire-fighters are in danger, enough is enough!”
Richard Jones continued: “If these cuts go through, Surrey will be spending less per head of the population on fire services than any county in Britain. It will mean the loss of fire engines and station closures. It’s life or death in the fire services and if these cuts continue the Grim Reaper will be taking up residence in Surrey.”
After the lobby, Paul Couchman told the rally: “We’ve sent a message to the councillors that our public services are vital and we won’t tolerate cuts to them. The politicians spent billions bailing out the bankers, and they want us to pay the price. The local hospital has lost most of its wards including the A&E Dpt, local fire stations face the axe and bus routes are being slashed.”
Paul is Chairman of the Elmbridge Care Homes Campaign. Reffering to the Campaign he said: “We have decided to draw a ‘line in the sand’ and say no more sell-offs. We are fighting to preserve the excellent services provided by the care homes”.
Paul explained the importance of working class people having a political voice, now that New Labour has joined the Tories in cutting and privatising public services. “Its necessary to fight together, trade unions and the community, to maximise the pressure on politicians and councils to fully fund public services.”
Alan Greenspan, head of the US federal reserve during the boom years – once treated as a god by capitalists and now reviled as being responsible for the crisis – recently excused his role by saying: “Unless there is a societal choice to abandon dynamic markets and leverage for some sort of central planning, I fear that preventing bubbles will in the end turn out to be unfeasible. Assuaging their aftermath seems to be the best we can hope for.”
Greenspan is right, capitalism, an unplanned blind system driven by profit and not by social need, will always have periods of crisis like at present. Anxious to restore their profits, the capitalists’ way out of the crisis will always be to try to trample working class people a bit further into the dirt. All of the things won through struggle – are under attack. The NHS, education – the list is considerable, The crisis is being used to unravel and dismantle all of those social gains. We’re told that poverty must now increase and that we should meekly accept the growing gap between the richest and the poorest in society. However the public are not fooled.
A Mori survey in the FT showed the public was utterly unconvinced of the need for cuts. Only a quarter believed there’s a need to cut services to reduce the national debt. 50% don’t think cuts are necessary at all -and 48% think more, rather than less, should be spent on public expenditure. The recession is the result of massive market failure. It’s entirely technically and financially feasible to create at least a million new jobs, by investing in insulating homes and public buildings, investing in renewables, through a sustainable publicly run transport system, and utilising the skills and know-how in society for socially useful production. None of this will happen if we leave it to the market.
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