Having declared itself effectively insolvent last month, Croydon Council has now announced a tsunami of cuts. These will drastically slash much-needed local services down to the bone. This approach of providing the ‘bare legal minimum’ ensures the council’s complicity in the Tories agenda: to place the financial burden for the coronavirus crisis squarely on the shoulders of the working class.
Croydon Council’s bankruptcy is symbolic of the bankruptcy of the capitalist system – unable to provide even basic services to increasingly impoverished communities. This crisis in local government will disproportionately impact the most vulnerable layers of society.
Libraries and children’s centres are set to be closed, in a move the council has admitted will impair the development of children from the poorest households. Already, 30% of children in Croydon are living in poverty.
Underage asylum seekers under the care of the council are set to be moved on. Elsewhere, the welfare benefits advice team is due to be scaled back – despite experiencing a 300% increase in demand since the beginning of the pandemic.
Leisure centres and recycling facilities are to be closed. And further job losses are on the cards, on top of the 400 positions axed earlier this year.
Break the law, not the poor
As if these callous austerity policies weren’t punishment enough, council leaders have parroted the farcical line that Croydon’s desperate situation is simply the result of poor financial management. In the future, everything will be fine; they will learn to “balance the books” and “live within our means”. And this from a Labour council!
This spineless attitude is a far cry from the defiant and militant resistance shown by Labour councils such as Liverpool and Lambeth to Thatcher’s rate-capping in the 1980s; or by the Labour councillors who led the Poplar rates rebellion in 1921.
When faced with imprisonment over this rebellion, the response of Poplar’s Labour mayor George Lansbury was clear and unwavering: “If we have to choose between contempt of the poor and contempt of court, it will be contempt of court.”
This same sentiment was expressed by the Militant-led Liverpool District Labour Party in 1982, with the slogan “Better to break the law then break the poor”.
Sadly, it is clear to see that Labour councillors in Croydon have chosen the latter option. This demonstrates the need for bold leadership at the head of the labour movement. We must sweep out the careerists and cowards, and replace them with genuine class fighters.
If Paul Holmes’ campaign for Unison general secretary is successful, this would mark a huge turning point in this process of transforming our unions.
In the months and years ahead, the bankruptcy and austerity facing Croydon Council will be replicated across the country, as the crisis of capitalism deepens.
The money clearly exists to pay for this crisis and provide proper services for all. But it sits in the hands of the super-rich, whose fortunes have grown ever more bloated throughout the pandemic.
The strike action undertaken by local government workers in Tower Hamlets and refuse workers in Bexley show that the mood is there to wage a mass united campaign – across the unions and the Labour Party – against the cuts.
What is needed is a fighting leadership to organise and lead this struggle, and make the case for a bold socialist alternative to austerity.