More than 200 local campaigners gathered at a Bethnal Green community centre on Tuesday to launch a fightback against proposed cuts in the borough and oppose what they see as the creeping privatisation of public services.
The Coalition government has announced planned cuts of £6.2 billion, of which local government’s share will be just under £1.12 billion. Councils in London are therefore predicting cuts of 24 per cent to their services over the next three years. Taken alongside comparable cuts in health care, benefits and other services, there are real fears about the impact this will have on Tower Hamlets, which currently receives one of the largest government grants. Tower Hamlets already has the highest youth unemployment rate in London at 27.7 per-cent – well above the London average of 23.9 per-cent – and is subject to widespread deprivation.
The new organisation, HOOPS – Hands Off Our Public Services – was inaugurated at a meeting in the theatre of Oxford House. The meeting was addressed by veteran left-wing Labour campaigner Tony Benn, Matt Wrack, general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union and local GP Kambiz Boomla. After the speeches, local campaigners and activists discussed the impact the cuts would have locally and how best to oppose them.
From the platform Matt Wrack and Kambiz Boomla talked of the move to force privatisation upon the Fire Service and further privatisation on GP practices. Kambiz said that this was the biggest threat to the welfare state in 50 years. Matt talked about how cuts and changes in working hours mean the fire service can’t provide proper night cover.
Len from the Pensioners Forum proposed that over 65s should occupy buses and busy tube stations to defend free travel and other similar actions to increase the winter fuel allowance. Alex, a teacher from Stepney Green School and Kaye, a lecturer from Tower Hamlets College said that cuts in the education budget would affect the most needy in the borough in terms of the provision of support for literacy, numeracy and ESOL.
Richard, a teaching assistant in Stepney Green, told East London Lines that campaigners are concerned about the sense that the government is moving away from the principle of universal entitlement to basic rights like housing, education and health care and replacing it instead with a philosophy of conditional rights. He cited the example of the proposal to end lifelong tenancy of council housing. He said ‘If it’s not an obligation on the state to provide basic entitlements, that it paves the way to opening these services up to the market”. The campaign emphasises that public sector cuts will fall hardest on the working class and poorest sections of society – and some consider this a politically-motivated attack. Richard said activists feel there is “an ideological blame against the working class to divert attention away from those who are responsible for this crisis”.
There was a call for demonstrations on 20 October, when the full Coalition cuts agenda will be announced and support for the planned mass demonstration in Birmingham when the Conservative Party conference starts on 3 October. Tower Hamlet coaches will be leaving from Mile End tube station at 8am and cost £15 waged / £7.50 unwaged, You can get your ticket online from HOOPS or by calling 0781000 0083. Speakers at the demonstration in Birmingham will cinlude: John McDonnell MP; Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the PCS; Romayne Phoenix of the Green Party; Dr. Jacky Davis from Keep Our NHS Public; Birmingham Respect councillor, Salma Yaqoob; Linda Burnip, campaign co-ordinator Local Housing Allowance Reform Group; a Greek trade unionist and Portuguese Left Bloc MP, Jorge Duarte Costa.