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Housing, TUC

Brent TUC Public Meeting – The Counihans Need Action, Not Empty Words!

This meeting on 11th October organised by Brent TUC, was to discuss the campaign against austerity both locally and nationally, and the demonstration called by the TUC on Saturday 20th October. There were approximately 40 people in attendance, the majority belonging to groups such as Brent Fightback, Kilburn Unemployed Workers’ Group, Counihan Campaign, Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, Socialist Party, Socialist Workers Party, Labour Party and Socialist Fight. However, there were a small number of “non-aligned” members of the public.

Supporters of the Counihan Campaign, including TUSC, felt it would be pertinent to get platform speaking rights for the meeting because the Campaign provides an example of how the cuts are affecting ordinary people, but also of how the campaign has become a serious force in Kilburn amongst the working class community, especially after the march through Kilburn on Saturday 6th October. Unfortunately the Counihan Campaign were denied platform speaking rights by the meeting chair, Pete Firmin. See Appendix A below for Jim’s response.

The first speaker was George Binette, chair of Camden TUC. George described the Con-Dem agenda as the biggest assault on the working class since WW2. He linked the assault facing us in Britain to the struggles of working people in Europe and the world, such as in Greece. Interestingly, he tried to rebut the Marxist idea that this crisis was an intrinsic problem of capitalism, and instead posed it as a crisis caused by lack of investment. He pointed out that corporations were sitting on hordes of wealth (over £750 billion to give it a figure based on profits and existing savings), but weren’t investing it in developing the economy and creating jobs. Indeed, he explained the reason why they weren’t investing is because it wasn’t profitable to do so. Yet here lies the actual underlying cause of the crisis, even though George would not admit it!

The next speaker was Jean, a Community Nurse from Hammersmith and Fulham. Despite admitting that she was new to speaking at meetings, she spoke very well of the state of the NHS today and the effects of the cuts on the most vulnerable people. She explained that the internal market in the NHS forced her organisation to bid against private companies to provide services. Yet we know it was the last Labour government that accelerated the creation of the internal market in the NHS and pursued Private Finance Initiatives (PFI) and internal privatisation, such as outsourcing NHS logistics to DHL. The Con-Dem government are simply continuing the Labour policy and taking it to its logical conclusion: the dismantling of the NHS as a state-provider of healthcare.

The third speaker was Matt Wrack, General Secretary of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU). Matt spoke the most consistently and convincingly of the three speakers, linking the struggle of the FBU, even under the previous Labour government, and the struggle of the working class generally against the Con-Dem capitalist agenda and for an alternative based on public ownership and democratic control of the wealth in society, although he didn’t use the term ‘socialism’. Like George, he linked the struggle of workers in this country to the struggle internationally. He called for the TUC, using the 20th October demonstration as a springboard, to take concrete action against austerity, although he didn’t explicitly outline what this should be, other than to organise discussions on how to take it forward. He was critical of the lack of leadership from the Labour Party, although didn’t put forward any alternative.

Afterwards, the discussion was opened to the floor. The first speaker was Jim from the Counihan Campaign, who at least was allowed to speak from the floor. He briefly explained that the campaign was a real working-class and grass-roots campaign, fighting Brent Council for the Counihan family to be re-housed, but also providing a platform for all those affected by benefit cuts. He said that everyone should attend the Counihan Campaign public meeting on Wednesday 17th, 7.30pm at the Marian Centre, Kilburn. He expressed frustration from the lack of substantial support from Brent Fightback and Brent TUC, with only a few Brent Fightback members regularly attending events. At this point an argument broke about between several Brent Fightback supporters and the Counihan Campaign, and Jim was denied from speaking further. When a member of the public asked for more information on the campaign, the discussion was cut off by the chair. See Appendix B below for Sarah Counihan’s response to this anti-democratic procedure.

Several speakers from the SWP outlined the importance of building for the 20th October as a show of mass strength and to build confidence in the workers’ movement. Additionally, it was explained that the UCU were supporting the demonstration from a more environmentalist point of view by opposing austerity and the need to control the world’s resources to overcome natural disasters and climate change.

Steve from TUSC talked about how the National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN) lobbied the TUC Conference in Brighton last month calling on all Trade Unions to support Motion 5, which called for the practicalities of a General Strike to be discussed. This motion was supported by multiple Unions including the Prison Officers Association (POA), Unite, Unison, RMT and FBM, and a majority voted in favour at the conference. Therefore, it was crucial that local Union branches passed motions in support of this and started to organise around this. The demonstration on the 20th October was a step forward, but should be used as the basis for calling for generalised strike action to defend public services from the vicious Con-Dem cuts programme. He explained that the Unions and the Labour Party had to stop simply talking about opposing cuts and actually take action, such as by supporting the Counihan Family and their campaign against Brent Council to get rehoused. Steve pointed out that Jim’s frustration with Brent Fightback, despite their formal support, was due to their lack of urgency and practical support in taking action.

Steve explained that the anti-strike and “One Nation” approach from the Labour leadership was repulsive to most workers and trade unionists, and therefore the crisis we face was not just economic, but also a crisis of working class political representation. For example, despite Labour having 2,158 councillors elected in 2012, only 5 had voted against cuts (This is 0.23% of all Labour Councillors!)  Two of those Labour councillors were on Southampton City Council and had been suspended by the Labour Party for voting against cuts. In response, they have set up their own council group “Labour Councillors against cuts”. Steve talked about the role of TUSC in supporting the call to stand anti-cuts candidates in elections, and for supporting all those who vote against cuts, such as the two rebel Labour Councillors.

A Labour Party member spoke and criticised Steve, saying that we should not try to gain political power by waiting for elections, and instead to try to influence those already there.

John from TUSC replied to this point, saying that Brent Labour councillors had the power now to oppose cuts, and yet over 99% refused to do anything! He pointed out that Councillor Butt, Labour leader of Brent Council, had consistently failed to meet with the Counihan family and resolve their housing crisis (caused by the Council), despite personal reassurances in public on multiple occasions! He also reiterated that the NSSN had model motions supporting the TUC’s call to discuss general strike action that all trade unionists could take to their local branches.

Gerry from Socialist Fight reiterated that the Labour Councillors must refuse to carry out cuts and instead adopt a needs budget to meet the needs of the people of Brent – also a policy that TUSC have consistently supported.

Robin from Brent Fightback expressed his disgust of the Labour Party leadership adopting a Tory “One Nation” agenda. Robin’s belief was that nationalism and racism were the biggest blocks to working class unity. He explained that it was not enough to simply be anti-austerity, and that we should put forward the positive alternative of socialism to give people something positive to fight for, rather than to always be on the offensive.

At the end, the speakers were allowed the last word. George sighted the struggle of the Quebec students taking to the streets to defeat the proposed rise of tuition fees, linking it to the idea that a General Strike could win immediate concessions for workers. Matt took a somewhat contradictory stance compared to his previous speech, where he sighted doubts that the TUC could be pressured into calling a General Strike, and that he felt that the nature of a General Strike had to be explained and explored before any action could be taking.

Afterwards, several members of the public expressed their interest in TUSC and signed up to join the contact list.

Appendix A – Jim’s response to Pete Firmin after being denied speaking rights from the platform:

Hi Pete,

I am disappointed that Brent TUC have not agreed that the Counihan Family Campaign should speak on the platform of tonight’s meeting. Many Brent Fightback (BF) members have given us tremendous support but it seems that BF and Brent TUC as an organisation are reluctant to give support to our campaign.

This is a meeting about jobs and austerity and although you have lots of speakers about jobs, there are no speakers representing local working class people facing the full force of the cuts such as the Counihans. We are a local open campaign with tremendous support in the local area so it is strange that we are being denied full speaking rights.

We hope that your decision not to allow us speaking rights is not because our presence may embarrass the Unison rep who is in the same union as the appalling Rose McIntosh of  the Brent Housing team or because our speaking may damage possible alliances with Labour councillors. We are sure that the general membership of BF would not agree with either reason for us to be excluded in this way. I hope that you will reconsider.

Jimmy Mac, Counihan Family Campaign

Appendix B –Sarah Counihan’s response following the meeting:

I am Sarah Counihan, I attended the Brent Trades Council last night with my father Anthony Counihan, brother AJ Counihan and some members from the Counihan Campaign. We were a bit upset not to be given the opportunity to speak on the platform. People were sighing when Jim was asked questions and not allowing him to answer questions. If we had been given the opportunity to speak on the platform, then the discussion would have been based more on what you wanted, as it was clear some people in the meeting did not want to hear about us and what we had to say.

I don’t know what’s going on in terms of making deals with Muhammed Butt, but if this is the case, I’m not the first to say that this is pointless. He has promised my family so much, about helping us and sorting things out, and when our backs are turned he pulls out in his word. In front of a lot of campaign members, myself and POLICE, Muhammed Butt agreed to organise a meeting with my mother and father about the case and current situation. Not surprisingly, he pulled out on this meeting, despite making a promise to keep it in front of many, many people. He is even on youtube saying that he is working on a plan of action with my family. This is a LIE as he has not kept any appointments he has made with my parents.

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About tuscbrent

THE TRADE Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) was set-up in 2010 to enable trade unionists, community campaigners and socialists to stand candidates against the pro-austerity establishment parties.

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