A Breath of Fresh Air

16 Oct
LURally 001

Eduardo Maura

 About 150 turned up to the Birmingham Left Unity rally last night, including a lot of new people, and also including a small delegation from CATC. The event can only be described as a big success; it is fair to say that people went away uplifted at being presented with an alternative to the appalling British political scene. Without a viable alternative from the left, the protest votes go to the dangerous clowns of UKIP instead.
 After Sharon McCourt welcomed people to the rally, the first speaker was Dr. Eduardo Maura of Podemos (Spain). He said the success of Podemos has been to unite people in the streets with people in the home. They were both fed up with old style politics and Podemos had led the way in organising and doing politics differently, building on the people’s demands not on identities. They were building a new common sense. The problems in Spain include a lack of real democracy; a lack of accountability and transparency permeates the system. Corruption is everywhere. Democracy has been hijacked; we can no longer choose our preferred economic system. People need to reclaim their rights.
 Ken Loach posed the question – why has there been no left breakthrough as there has been in other parts of Europe? He talked movingly about young people he had met who were choosing whether to heat or eat, being on the receiving end of zero-hours contracts or working part time on the minimum wage. He contrasted the war on benefits to the £85 billion that has been handed out to big business. He suggested a new TV series – “Corporate Benefits Street”!
Labour was not opposed to the privatisation of Eurostar or the Royal Mail. Business was only concerned with profit. We need common ownership, democratic control and a planned economy as our core politics. But our day to day work was getting involved in struggles; sharing the people’s demands, not imposing them.
Marina Prentoulis (Syriza – Greece) stressed that the left and the social movements are one in Greece. When the austerity offensive began, the national debt as a proportion of GDP was 120%, now it is 175%. Austerity was not “working” over there, nor would it anywhere else.
The movement in the streets and squares encompassed many strands of politics, from the left to the far right, but when the squares were eventually cleared by state forces, Syriza grew dramatically. It began as a coalition of 12 parties, but now hopes to be the next government. It organizes on a local level and is part of the solidarity network which provides essential support to people. As against the populism of the right we should be the populists of the left. The left needs to unite to take power.
 Kate Hudson, the national secretary of Left Unity informed the rally that Syriza are now in the lead in the opinion polls on 35 %. Podemos only began a few months ago and were now on 20%, and could well overtake the traditional pro-austerity “socialist” party, as has already happened in Greece (with Syriza and PASOK). She said that we need a party in this country, as in Spain, Greece and the rest of Europe. Policies and vision are important, but we must be based on the people. We must do politics differently compared to the parties of the right and left, and that includes breaking from the flawed model of democratic centralism that has been on offer. Left Unity is one-member-one-vote.
 There then followed about 45 minutes devoted to contributions from the floor, of which there we so many that they could not all be taken by the time we had to leave. To big applause the meeting was wound up with a description of how Left Unity has been working in Birmingham, and how people should consider joining.
 It was interesting to note that so often the description of the new ways of doing politics being described by the foreign speakers resonated with the kind of thing that CATC has been pioneering; acting with the people not for them, horizontal democracy, militant action and of course putting clear red and green water between ourselves and the parties of austerity.
 The next meeting of Birmingham Left Unity is on Saturday 1st November, 2-4pm.

Doing Politics Differently

9 Oct
Left Unity Rally_page_001
While Communities Against the Cuts has shown that it is possible to challenge cuts to public services and the politicians who implement them, it is a phenomenon local to SW Birmingham. That gives it strengths, but also weaknesses, as the austerity onslaught is city wide, national and indeed European in scale.
The strengths of a local formation can be shown more clearly by the example of Lewisham People Before Profit. This long established group has an impressive record of campaigning, particularly on housing, but also picked up 19,000 votes in the May local elections, coming second to Labour in many wards.
There are various other groups dotted around the country and they play an invaluable role.
However, to look at the other end of the scale, there is the lack of a national coordination, at least when compared to other European countries.
The explosive growth of Podemos (“We can”) in Spain has seen it based on one thousand self-organised “circles” and 100,000 people who have joined on the internet. It features regularly in the media and has elected MEPs.  In November there will be a national “Podemos Citizens’ Assembly” to establish itself nationally.
In Greece, the origins of Syriza, an anti-austerity party that is challenging for governmental power, are different. Its success has been built up through years of work, uniting radical left groups, recruiting independents, taking part in the many protests as well as an electoral approach.
The situation in other countries will be different again, and that includes this country.
Supporters of Communities Against the Cuts may well be interested in the opportunity to hear representatives of Podemos and Syriza in Birmingham next Wednesday, as well as Ken Loach and Kate Hudson, to discuss how we organise to end austerity over here.
7-9pm. Quaker Meeting House. 40 Bull St.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Keep the Birmingham City Council logo

5 Oct

West Heath logo 017

 At the last Northfield Ward Committee, a packed meeting once again heard encouraging news regarding the West Heath library. Councillor Randal Brew declared that the capital and revenue funding had been allocated to rebuild the new library on the current site. There would be a public consultation in November and the rebuild would start in the new year, probably in January or February.
The fact that revenue funding has been found, suggests that we are not just talking about lighting and heating, but staffing as well. So, one might assume that it would open as a council-owned and council-run community library, complete with properly trained and paid staff. Job done.
 However, the background to all of this is less encouraging. There is the unclear talk of mutuals being responsible for community libraries in other parts of the city and of course there is the looming city financial crisis, which threatens to be even worse next year.
 So, the detail of what is being planned will be of the utmost interest. For example there are rumours of the book fund and the Community Chest being raided to pay for the new library’s upkeep.
 Another point needs to be made. Even with these qualifications and fears, would a new library on the current site have been pledged at all if there had not been sustained campaigning in the community over the last year or two? Had it been viable would it not have been shoe-horned into Hampstead House or some other location? That was certainly the indication at various points, with other rumours circulating that the land on which the current closed library sits had been ear-marked for housing development.
 The saga, including the various meetings, the rally and the demonstration around West Heath can be checked out by using the tag West Heath library on this site’s search box above. It is the opinion of Communities Against the Cuts that these actions provided a great impetus in getting us to where we are now. Hopefully such measures will not be needed again, but it is worth keeping them in reserve.

“Trojan Horse” – a view from Birmingham

30 Sep
This article is reprinted from the current issue of CASE notes (Campaign for State Education), with their kind permission. In it, Sarah Barton comments on the story so far. Further comments are invited.

Trojan-Horse

 On Trojan Horse, the danger of unaccountable academies, the importance of ending the climate of school take-over and reversing the funding cuts to the city of Birmingham.

It is with some sense of relief in Birmingham that the final two investigation reports into the Trojan Horse affair by Ian Kershaw and Peter Clarke have been published. The Islamophobic media-frenzy focused on east Birmingham schools since the Trojan Horse letter came to light has done untold damage to children’s prospects and to community cohesion. The unnecessary number of separate but overlapping reports, by Ofsted, the EFA, the City Council and the DfE has without doubt contributed to a sense of persecution within the Muslim community. Has it been irresponsibility or malicious intent that has seen every report except the City Council’s being leaked to the press, further feeding the frenzy?
The two final reports, one by Ian Kershaw commissioned by Birmingham City Council, and the other by Peter Clarke commissioned by the DfE, have much in common. This is unsurprising since the two men agreed to share their evidence. However, where Clarke concludes there was a plot, Kershaw could not find one. Nevertheless both investigations found evidence of all the behaviours described in the Trojan Horse letter and it is clear from both reports that there has been a pattern of very similar disruptive behaviour by a small interconnected group of men across a number of schools to which they are connected and that the Park View Academy Trust was the source of much of these behaviours. There have undoubtedly been unacceptable attempts to restrict the educational experience of Muslim children, to impose a narrow view of Islam that is not shared by the wider Muslim community in East Birmingham, to pressure children to attend prayers and to comply with conservative Muslim behaviour, to impose a homophobic and sexist agenda, to bully and force the resignation of headteachers and to appoint and promote friends and relatives.
Neither investigator found evidence of violent extremism or radicalisation of Birmingham school children. Peter Clarke was at pains to make clear that he neither set out to look for this, nor expected to find it.
Both investigations found problems of accountability within the academy system. Clarke warned that the accountability of academies to the DfE is ‘inadequate’. Kershaw found that it “is not possible to discern a relationship between BCC, Ofsted, the DfE and the Education Funding Agency in the process of sharing critical data and intelligence.”
Both investigations found numerous failings on behalf of Birmingham City Council. The Kershaw report found that the cuts imposed on BCC in recent years, which devastated school support, reducing staff from over 170 to just 20 has resulted in ‘gaps in oversight’. Both reports found that senior officers at BCC were aware of Trojan Horse behaviours as early as 2012 and concluded that BCC had failed to act appropriately out of fear of damaging community cohesion or being branded Islamophobic. Both investigators found that instead of supporting headteachers, BCC eased them out of post with the profligate use of compromise agreements.
Both reports conclude with a number of recommendations, including a particularly welcome one from Clarke that the DfE review the process by which schools are able to convert to academy status and become Multi Academy Trusts, and also ‘consider urgently how best to capture local concerns during the conversion process, and review the brokerage (and re-brokerage) system through which schools are matched with academy sponsors to ensure that the process is transparent and understood by all parties.’
With respect to the maintained schools involved, without addressing the devastating cuts to Birmingham City Council, the measures proposed cannot hope to be implemented effectively.

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Children before profit

26 Sep

SWAN meeting 23 oct 14 A4 flyer front_page_001

For more information;

swan Meting 23 oct 14 back page A4 flyer (2)

Birmingham Privatisation Briefing (1)

 

Cut carbon not jobs!

23 Sep
 This was one of the slogans shouted by environmental activists who gathered outside of the Council house last Sunday. The rally was part of the global demonstrations to coincide with the UN Climate Change Summit in New York.
Hundreds of thousands marched in New York, an impressive turnout of tens of thousands in London and the two hundred or so who assembled in Chamberlain and Victoria Squares did their bit for the People’s Climate March Birmingham.

Climate rally 023

 There was quite a range of environmental groups and individuals who organised and took part in the rally, but the main theme was to demand that the Birmingham City Council upped its game in terms of a drastic cut in the amount of carbon pollution produced in the city. A petition was accordingly handed to Councillor Lisa Trickett at the end of the rally.

Climate rally 029

 One of the best things the council could do to head towards a “fossil free” Birmingham would be to oversee a massive increase in the use of public transport via ownership, control and investment, plus a huge investment in the insulation of homes and other buildings alongside building affordable green housing for all that needed them. Such things would of course mean a major challenge to the current role of the city council as a transmission belt for government austerity and privatisation.
 As we know too well, the Labour run council has no such intentions – a further massive job loss and an onslaught on public services is projected to happen on their watch. If we wish to achieve a green and social Birmingham, such mobilisations as happened on Sunday will have to be repeated and expanded greatly.

Climate rally 021

A Bankrupt Vision for Birmingham

17 Sep
Birmingham Council House PLC

Birmingham Council House PLC

 So, it has come to this. The Labour leader of the city council has just announced that another 6000 council jobs are to go over the next four years. By 2018, there will only be 7000 employees left, one third of previous levels. The jobs slaughter will be double that lost over the ending of mass car production in Longbridge.
At the same time, it is announced that the replacement swimming pools will be privately run (and owned?) Community libraries will be pushed towards “mutual” management and ownership, representing another great loss to municipal assets.
The vision for local government sketched out by the Tory Nicholas Ridley in the 1980’s, in which councils would meet once a year to hand out contracts to private providers, is heading towards fruition. Massive cuts, privatisation and the consequent decimation of essential public services is the bankrupt vision on offer for a bankrupt Birmingham. Alongside this, what remains of the council will bend over backwards to accommodate private business and investment, via the unaccountable Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership.
 Does it have to be like this?
  Just imagine, that instead of hiding behind the excuse of ‘an unfair cuts allocation for Birmingham’, there was a defiant reply that once Labour came to national power next May, this devastation would be halted in its tracks; cuts would be cancelled and money restored, A new vision for Birmingham would be on offer; one that built affordable social housing for all those that needed it, one that made local transport publicly owned and benefiting from massive investment, and one that drew up a budget to meet the needs of its citizens via democratic public consultation.
Alongside this there would be a plan of action uniting service users, trades unions and Labour councillors to begin the campaigning in the here and now. The howls of protest from the super-rich and powerful would be faced down; a massive redistribution of wealth would be organised in order to pay for this new vision.
 Alas, the passive acceptance of the cuts by the local Labour administration over the last two years and the commitment to austerity by Miliband and Balls for a future Labour government make the alternative scenario outlined above about as likely as a Tory majority in Scotland.
The National Picture
 We all want to see a defeat of this Tory led government next year, based as it is on austerity, class hatred, war mongering and bigotry, but don’t we also want to see an end to their policies as well?
 And there is the problem.
 While Communities Against the Cuts (and our predecessor Stirchley and Cotteridge against the Cuts) have put up stiff, and often successful, resistance to public service cuts for over four years, we are only a local phenomenon, based in South West Birmingham as we are. If  the Labour  Party had acted in a similar way to CATC and to other similar groups, things would have been so different. But it didn’t and there is no sign that it will.
  Like it or not, we are faced with the need for a national alternative to Labour, one that fights austerity on a day to day basis, locally and nationally, and one that promotes policies in the interests of the vast majority of the population, and not the “1%”. We need an alternative that is active in the community, in the workplace, in the streets and at the ballot box.
  CATC is proud to have set an example for the kind of organisation that is required. Even with our tiny resources, we have shown that it can be done.
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