David E Lowes
How do we fight back against local government cuts? How do we bring industrial campaigns together with anti-cuts protesters? How do we build a broad anti-austerity movement? As the Bedroom Tax campaign gathers steam all these are key questions. They are also the main questions David Lowes seeks to address in this book.
This is a useful appraisal of the growth of local government and its developing role. Taking up the story in the 1970s, Lowes documents how greater accountability and more direct democracy in local government were offered as false hopes, while the reality was the prevention of working class representation. As the neoliberal model was embraced by both Labour and the Tories, the battle for centralised control of local services resulted in a decisive step change that limited local power and brought about sweeping cuts.
Perhaps most useful is Lowes's detailed account of fighting local authority cuts in the 1970s. At this point trade union membership was growing steadily. Many of these members brought with them their rank and file campaigning experiences of the student and women's movements of the 1960s, as well as the shop stewards' movement. When they joined campaigners to fight cuts implemented by the Labour government they created a broad movement which included local government trade unionists, students and those bearing the brunt of the cuts. They were not afraid to use industrial action either, arguing that opposition to cuts must go further than just wage negotiation and should include trade union action on a broad political front.
The main drawback of this book is that the author's "privileged" access to trade union records at times results in an excessively bureaucratic reporting style which can lose sight of the wider picture. There is a tendency towards unnecessary detail of who moved which motion and when at the expense of a broader analysis of the successes and weaknesses of the anti-cuts movement. There are very few links to the present, or even to the poll tax battles.
Nevertheless, Lowes's tremendously detailed account of the fightback against local authority cuts provides a serious contribution to our understanding of how the political context influences the strategies and tactics of the anti-cuts movement. Its account of the development of trade union militancy, and its links with activists' campaigns, will surely help us in determining a strategy to win in the current context.
Cuts, Privatization and Resistance is published by Merlin Press £15.99