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Wolverhampton – the home of the once mighty Wolves football team and the former workshop of the world in manufacturing, has been dealt a crushing 21st century economic body blow.
Council bosses revealed to their stunned workforce this month that 2000 of them will almost certainly be made redundant following the latest round of cuts to council spending.
They will join the 10,000 plus seeking work in the city. The claimant rate amongst the city’s working population stands at 6.6 percent, more than double the national average of 3 percent.
But trade unionists and anti-austerity campaigners are not taking the situation lying down.
Tonight Unison members and the campaign group the People’s Assembly will lobby the council to change its mind and reverse the cuts.
Wolverhampton Trades Union Council secretary Nick Kelleher, said if the 2000 jobs are lost it will push not only those workers into poverty but have a knock on effect on already struggling local businesses.
He said: “Their loss of income will mean shops and local business will also suffer making many rely on benefits which means loss of tax revenue for the country increased housing benefit going to landlords and for those who end up in part-time or even lower paid jobs, increased in-work benefits which subsidise employers who pay their workers less than is needed to live on.”
He added that a consultation for an industrial action ballot by Unison will go ahead if the council pushes through with cuts to national terms and conditions.
The city has been punished severely by central government cuts, amounting to £147 million pounds over four years.
Public sector workers stand to lose secure jobs, vulnerable service users from the elderly to the mentally ill, face the possibility of their services being cut or being outsourced to private companies and the social security bill further increased as the newly unemployed join the job seeking ranks.
Despite being opposed to government austerity, Leader of the Council Roger Lawrence insisted there was no other choice.
He said: “It is painful and difficult, but it is unfortunately necessary. We will manage through these difficult circumstances; we have no choice but to take these measures in order to produce a legal and balanced budget.
“More job losses are hugely regrettable, not just for the individuals who face losing their livelihoods but also for the city because many of these people live here and spend their money here.”
So who is to blame – the council or the government? And aside from moral indignation and protest, are there any practical alternatives?
Wolverhampton University Professor Roger Seifert thinks it is a bit of both.
He said: “The cuts are clearly the responsibility of the coalition government and its false economy packages under the umbrella of austerity. That said the Labour council has some blame attached as well … indirectly through its association with the last Labour government and support for their public sector reforms and move to privatise; and directly as the employer.”
He suggests Labour councils should band together and expose the government agenda.
He added: “The council has known of the cuts for some time and should have and it should have consulted more fully with the unions, made common cause with other Labour councils to really fight against the cuts rather than going along with the economic logic of deficit reduction.”
Andrew Fisher, Coordinator of the Left Economic Advisory Panel – a group of leading alternative economists, agrees that Labour councils should join up with other councils facing austerity.
But controversially he argues drastic action such as setting illegal budgets should be considered.
He said: “In principle I support calls for setting an illegal budget and forcing Pickles to either give more money or send in officials to set a budget if, and only, if it comes in the context of a local struggle that involves the local community, local government unions and led by a politically united Labour group.”
Whatever the answer, government reliance on apathy and public acceptance of austerity is a risky strategy.
If lions lie in slumber, it is best not to wake them.