Let the people decide: Merseyside FBU considers standing in elections

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Once again public services are under attack. The current round of government grant settlements, essential money for local authorities from central government, has been decided.

As a result fire and rescue services around the country, but particularly in the north west, will receive funding which represents as little as 1 percent of the overall budget for this year, and 0.5 percent for the next two years running. It is significantly lower than the current rate of inflation and clearly a cut in the budget in real terms.

With such low grant settlements all public services are then under immediate financial pressure. How will they resolve the financial predicament? The usual solution is to slash firefighters' or other public service jobs. So the attack on our public services continues unabated and is as relentless as ever.

Local councillors who sit on the public service authorities such as health, travel and fire authorities are meant to be locally accountable representatives. They now have to make a decision: are they going to continue to support the job cuts agenda, as they have in the past?

Many of the authorities are under the control of Labour. It's time for Labour politicians who continually vote in favour of the jobs cuts agenda to explain why they expect thousands upon thousands of public servants to continue to consider voting for them.

I say "consider", as it is evident that turnouts at local and national elections are now at a historic low.

Low turnouts are not necessarily an indication of apathy as some New Labour apologists are keen to claim. Instead they show the lack of a genuine political home for a lot of voters who are crying out for a valid left alternative.

They want an alternative determined to represent, and represented by, workers and trade unionists. It is all too clear that New Labour is content with low electoral activity-as the electoral battlefield shrinks, so the problem of the vote diminishes.

That is one of the reasons the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) in Merseyside is to seek permission from our union committee to stand candidates in future elections.

Voters are sick to the back teeth of their public services being slashed year upon year by Labour politicians who have long lost their links to workers and trade unions. We want to be able to give them the ability to cast their vote with integrity and purpose and so are going to stand against those determined to hurt us.

The FBU are also meeting a number of trade unions with similar concerns to be able to stand under a public service coalition banner, in a collective attempt to give voters a genuine alternative once again.

This is not to say that previous efforts at left alliances and coalitions were wrong or in any way doomed. This is simply an attempt to provide an alternative for the voters who do not wish to, or will not, vote New Labour - for the same reasons that former party members have deserted in droves.

Local Labour councillors who have long denigrated the worst vagaries of the New Labour programme all too often vote for the same programme they condemn.

That protectionist strategy has always been doomed to fail and they cannot now complain about trade unionists who have lost faith and trust in them. It is time for trade unionists to advance the very same left agendas that many councillors have jettisoned in a search for self-preservation.

For those Labour councillors who genuinely believe in the New Labour agenda, that is fine too, as we seek to give the electorate the chance to decide that they are wrong. It is not about Labour versus Tory or Liberal Democrats, but New Labour versus workers.

This is a party that is clearly ashamed of the very notion of nationalisation and that cannot even bring itself to use the term because it considers it an electoral liability.

When it relies on the softer "temporary public ownership" phrase, then we draw the line. The choice is stark: more and more cuts to essential services or a call on the electorate to support and vote for workers and trade unionists prepared to stand in local elections, who are determined to defend those services and fight against those cuts. It is now for the people to decide.


Les Skarratts is the FBU Merseyside brigade secretary