About forty people turned up last night to the meeting hosted by Communities against the Cuts. This included welcome representatives from the campaign to save Moseley baths, but did not include any local Councillors. One would have thought that the Liberal Democrats, who are defending their Selly Oak seat next May and have come out publicly against the closure, would have turned up to commit themselves to reversing the closure decision if back in power next elections, likewise the local Tories. As for Labour, maybe it was not surprising that they did not turn up to defend the indefensible. They have no mandate for their actions.
No one present defended the closure decision. There was instead a series of supportive speeches and comments about how local residents and pool users thought it essential that this treasured public service should continue. The health issue was highlighted; swimming is one of the best all round exercises one can take. Swimming is very therapeutic for those with mental health issues. Many schools depend on this local and accessible pool and the new university one would not be a suitable accessible replacement. The pool is essential for students who cannot afford the high fees of the current university pool. The pool is the last heritage site is Selly Oak. The “Be Active” programme was coming to an end and would be replaced by free activities in the parks, yet the parks themselves were being subject to huge cuts. Would the building be left derelict and an eyesore for decades, as happened to the Stirchley baths? There were several other personal stories about how the pool was important to people.
It was mentioned that local shopkeepers had been very keen to put our leaflets in their windows.
We were told that the Raddlebarn school had already been told to cancel its booking for next year, yet most people do not know about the decision taken in the Council House by the Selly Oak District Committee on July 18th, let alone had been consulted over the matter.
The question of funding was touched upon. It was mentioned that Councils across the country had £1 billion in their reserves and how the pool might need some money for renovation yet the council was handing out fortunes to private contractors such as Capita that dwarfed the relatively small amount required. It would be useful to enquire about the finances of the pool and the details of the Service Asset Plans in this regard.
The meeting took two votes by a show of hands; the first was to agree that the pool should remain open and the second was to agree to begin a campaign group. Both were passed overwhelmingly, if not unanimously, and the meeting ended on a high note with a round of applause. People were encouraged to hear how the Moseley pool had been kept open by the efforts of its supporters and were keen to repeat that experience. The idea of standing a candidate in next year’s local elections was floated.
The first meeting of the campaign was agreed for Wednesday 15th January. All friends of the Tiverton pool and gym are encouraged to attend. Details later. In the meantime, please start the letter writing and the talking to other people. And keep the names rolling into the online petition!
Last night, a petition calling for a reversal of the vote to close this essential public service was presented to the Selly Oak ward committee. In a short space of time, over 570 names had been collected, from pool users, the community and from our online petition. A round of applause greeted the handing over of the petition to the councillors present (two Labour and one Liberal Democrat).
The closure decision was taken by the Labour-dominated Selly Oak district and they are primarily responsible for the decision, by meekly implementing government austerity. However, in a typically cynical move, both the Tories and Liberal Democrats have publicly opposed the closure. Firstly, of course, it was their government imposed austerity that deprived Birmingham city council of the resources it needs to meet the needs of its citizens, and secondly, if they are serious about opposing the closure, where is the commitment to cancel this decision if elected to power in the Council chamber next May? So far there has been a deafening silence.
Tomorrow night, there will be a public meeting to oppose the closure, 7.30pm at the Elim Church Centre on Exeter Road, Selly Oak. Communities against the Cuts has called this meeting in the hope that pool uses and the local community can get an action committee together to step up the fight until the decision to close this centre is reversed. It will be open to people campaigning against other proposed pool closures across the city.
In the meantime, keep the names coming in to the petition.
Today marked a national strike by UCU members over their own severe grievances with the universities. At Birmingham, their action was given full solidarity by the students, who held an outdoor rally, marched around the campus and . . . (wait for it . . . ) occupied the senate again, but this time with even more students. They had only been thrown out of the senate by bailiffs and police five days ago, so it was good to be back. During the occupation, news came in of students occupying at Warwick, to big cheers.
In case you did not get to hear, the students occupying the senate at the University of Birmingham were ejected by bailiffs and police at 7am last Thursday.
They deserve congratulations for holding out against the university authorities for over a week, it could not have been easy to defy the injunction and face violent eviction, or arrest and fines at any time. As it turned out that worst scenario did not come to pass, but the high-profile symbolism of the occupation is now over.
It has become clear that the university management are fully signed up to the neo-liberal agenda for higher education; they have no interest in listening to the views of their students or engaging in any kind of dialogue. Their only reply has been repression, as they have absolutely nothing to say. The gulf between the two sides is irreconcilable.
However, that has not deterred the students. The support for them amongst other students has been strong and growing and their demands have been popularised far and wide. For the latest in their plans to maintain the momentum of the occupation, see
The next action will be at 2pm this Tuesday, when the UCU strike will be supported by the students, and there has been a call for a student strike as well. They will be assembling at the clock tower.
How should local democracy work?
As a start, the competing parties at election time publish their manifestos with a broad vision of their intentions, some major specifics of what that vision would entail and a fair amount of detail. Putting aside for a moment the democratic deficit of the first-past-the-post system, the party that wins the election then attempts to fulfil its pledges.
Let us look at the Birmingham Labour manifesto of 2012 in that light. Firstly, it is entitled “With You” (!), and in the introduction, Albert Bore talks about how “older people have no certainty on future care provision”. Well that uncertainty has been removed; with the huge cuts to Adults and Communities since taking office, there is a certainty of much less provision for a growing community of needs. For an excellent overview of the destruction check out this presentation;
“There has been little progress in meeting the demand for new homes.” Well, eighteen months into the new administration, to what extent has this chronic problem been addressed? With a waiting list of 26,000, the small schemes underway are not likely to make much of an inroad.
“We will not allow the needs and aspirations of Birmingham’s residents and businesses to be brushed aside.” Regarding the commitment to business interests, you can say that again (Capital, Veolia and Amey), but for the citizens of this city it is another story.
“Our priority must be to deal with the financial ‘black hole’ created by the Tory Lib-Dem coalition in the City. A Labour Council will challenge all political parties, together with all the MPs that represent the city, to make a united bid to government for Birmingham to have its fair share of resources. One of our first acts will be to take our case to Downing Street.”
The first act? No, the last. When the Labour delegation went to London and had the door slammed in their face, they packed up and capitulated to the ConDem austerity plans. Where were the rallies, the demonstrations, the attempts to mobilize the service users, the service providers, the trades unions and citizens in a huge united campaign for a just budget for Birmingham? Instead, we were given five “consultation” meetings which consisted of the Council leader giving hour-long-and-greater monologues which were in fact selling-of-austerity exercises. Even the simple democratic principle of letting the consultees put forward a resolution, which was granted under the previous ConDem administration, was banned. (That tragic “consultation” is set to be repeated this year, as a farce.)
In the summary of the manifesto, it says “Tough choices have to be made when there is less money to go round . . “
Not so tough really, the choice is do you implement austerity or oppose it? Earlier this year the opposition was left to groups such as ours to hold the big rallies, to organise the demonstrations, to lobby Councillors, to blockade and occupy the Council House etc. Labour had made the opposite choice.
So now, hard on the heels of the announcements to slash the Adults and Communities budget and to vandalise the library service we have the latest plans to close, or privatise local leisure services. Birmingham Labour is going in the opposite direction of the Chamberlain government of the 1870s. Municipality is being destroyed.
In May 2012, with a turnout of 28%, Birmingham Labour achieved 50% of the vote (but 64% of the seats). There was a positive vote for Labour from 14% of the total electorate. These simple figures alone deny Labour a mandate for what it is doing. But when we look at its manifesto and compare it with its actions today, we see another lack of a mandate.
If Labour had gone to the polls in 2012 saying it would ‘oversee the end of local government as we know it’, that it would give lavish hand-outs to corporations and prioritise private business and investment, that it would put business interests up front in the new Library of Birmingham, that it would replace trained and paid workers with volunteers, that it would close or privatise leisure services, that it would devastate the Adults and Communists service, that it would evict bedroom tax defaulters etc, those figures quoted above would have looked even more dismal.
Birmingham is a young, increasingly non-white, working class city. Its people want affordable homes, decent jobs, fulfilling education and training, good public services, affordable public transport and a future to look forward to. That is what the people want. It is quite simple really. The job of political parties worth their salt is to champion those aspirations and implement them when in office.
People want the Moseley Road, Northfield and Tiverton baths, they want the Kingswood Bungalows, they want the leisure centres, they want the libraries, they want the CABs and Neighbourhood offices. Why can’t they have them?
Given all that the mainstream parties have done, nationally and locally, it is clear that in order to achieve what the people want, they will have to look elsewhere.
The occupation of the Birmingham University senate continues and there are no plans to end it anytime soon. This is because of the intransigence and intimidatory tactics employed by the university and their refusal to negotiate over the student’s demands.
Let us remind ourselves of what the students want;
1) Free and open access to the occupation by all students and non-management staff, without victimisation or punishment. Senior management staff should be excluded from entering the occupation so that it can remain a strong and safe organisational space.
2) That David Eastwood and the University of Birmingham should publicly take back their position that fees should be increased and that bursaries should be cut. Instead, they should lobby the government for fees to be reduced, and bursaries to be increased.
3) That the University of Birmingham make a public statement against the privatisation of student loans and in defence of the public university. The Vice Chancellor should sign up to the Council in Defence of British Universities or the Campaign for the Public University.
4) That the University’s total income per student place from halls should be frozen next year, and that the cheapest fifth of halls should have their prices decreased.
5) That all staff working for the University of Birmingham – including those employed in-house, by external contractors, and the Guild of Students – should be paid a living wage.
6) That the pay ratio between the lowest paid and the highest paid staff in the university should be reduced to 10:1.
7) That a body should be set up made up of elected students, academic staff, and support staff. This should have ultimate oversight over the restructuring of departments, the University’s investment decisions, and its lobbying positions.
8) That the University produces a publicly available Ethical Investment and Procurement Policy which is reported on annually with plenty of opportunity of engagement with staff, students and other key stakeholders.
9) That financial statements of the University’s academic departments, and non-academic services should be published so that they can be scrutinised and the University’s decisions be properly held to account by the community.
10) That the Nursing course faces no loss of investment and no redundancies.
11) That the University should allocate none of its access income to compulsory fee waivers and instead spend it all on Bursaries, or give students the choice.
Following the successful demonstration on Monday, the support for the occupation has grown.
Yesterday the Defend Education occupation extended its solidarity to those Unison, GMB and Unite members of staff that demonstrated on the campus over their own grievances against university austerity.
At Sussex, another occupation has begun, of the Bramber House Conference centre, against privatisation moves down there. Slavoj Zizek has sent solidarity greeting to both occupations.
And, to escalate the action further, a demonstration is planned in Birmingham next Tuesday 3rd December, assembling at 2pm by the Clock Tower. This will coincide with a strike called by UCU for that day, and the Defend Education occupation is calling for a student strike to complete the picture.
Let us also remind ourselves that the occupation is continuing in the face of an injunction telling the students to leave. They are making a very brave stance against the administrators of austerity and privatisation who are running the university. They deserve our support.
Keep yourself up to date by following the Defend Education site;
In the senate occupation this afternoon. That pesky CATC banner gets everywhere!