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Leeds anti-cuts convention challenges leaders to fight

Over 100 Leeds activists gathered on 9th April for the Anti-Cuts Convention, an event aimed at building and uniting the anti-cuts movement and decide our next steps after 26th March, writes Rebecca Anderson

It was supported by organisations such Leeds TUC, Leeds Tenant’s Federation, Leeds Uni Against Cuts, the Coalition of Resistance and campaigns around local cuts and closures.

The day started off with speakers giving the big picture of the cuts and the resistance, and we heard from a local convenor of the Communication Workers Union about their recent victory in Crown Post and the wider threat of privatisation. Leeds Tenant’s Federation raised the threat of the Localism Bill and its potential to decimate working class communities, and Michael Tippett a Unison health rep and member of Workers Power spoke about the fight to save the NHS. Joana Pinto from the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts spoke about the student movement and the next steps in the fight for free education as well as the links that must be built with the trade unions and community campaigns if we are to stop all the cuts.

Workshops looked in depth at the questions of cuts to different sectors as well as the right to protest, climate change and the national anti-cuts movement. These workshops developed various proposals that were later agreed by the Convention as a whole in the final plenary. This included a proposal from Revolution member and school student Joby Hart for a campaign against academies, and proposals for action around the NHS, the establishment of a Housing Emergency group and to send a delegation to the 9th July Coalition of Resistance Conference calling for the anti-cuts groups and trade unions to unite in a single campaign to take action against the Tory cuts.

The final plenary also passed a founding statement for Leeds Against the Cuts, which supported co-ordinated strike action up to and including a general strike, the establishment of local anti-cuts groups across the city and a single united anti-cuts campaign at a national level.

Workers Power put forward the amendment “we will fight with the official leaderships wherever possible but without them where necessary”, the principle followed by the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts when they called a 130,000-strong walkout after the NUS leadership refused to continue the fight against the hike in tuition fees. In the trade unions we are currently facing a situation where the onslaught of cuts is being met with a mediocre response from our official leaderships – 26th March was a fantastic demonstration but took months to get to, and strike action to defend our jobs and services is just as slow in coming. Where workers are forced to take action without their leaders in order to fight the cuts, an anti-cuts group will have to decide whether it supports that action or not.

We support all those fighting the cuts, whether their struggle is officially sanctioned or not, and recognise that when faced with a sell-out or inaction from their leaders rank and file workers must take matters into their own hands if they are to win their demands.

The Secretary of Leeds TUC spoke against the amendment, making clear that the trades council would not sign up to it. Faced with the threat of a split at such an early stage of the Leeds anti-cuts movement, we decided to just hold an indicative vote so that those present could indicate their support or opposition without the amendment going into the statement. The vote was overwhelmingly in favour of the amendment, with mostly just the local Socialist Party branch and some members of the TUC voting against it. Clearly the question of where we stand on wildcat strikes and sell-outs will have to be raised again in the future and the fight against cuts develops, but the vote and the statement as a whole laid a great foundation for fighting austerity and building a mass movement in Leeds.

The next steps are now being taken to establish local groups of Leeds Against the Cuts, campaigns around housing and NHS cuts are being organised and Saturday’s Convention has played an important role in bringing the activists together to plan the next steps after 26th March and launch a mass movement in Leeds to defend our jobs and services.

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