Walsall ‘socialists’ booted out

LABOUR’S national executive committee last week suspended from party membership three Walsall councillors, including the council leader, Dave Church.

Church and his ‘comrades’ have led vicious attacks by the council against its entire workforce. Tony Blair was stung into intervening after the attacks provoked widespread strike action and led Tory chairman Brian Mawhinney to ludicrously depict the council as “loony left” last summer. The NEC decided that the three, along with 12 other councillors - all members of the misnamed Walsall Socialist Group - were operating as a party within a party, “a tight and disciplined group”.

Those accusations are just as ridiculous as Mawhinney’s. They highlight Labour’s craving for respectability, rather than showing any inclination to genuinely defend the council workers.

The row began last summer when Walsall council announced plans for large scale redundancies and immediately gave notice of dismissal to 30 community workers. This was in pursuance of its policy of reorganisation to “empower the people” by creating 55 neighbourhood councils.

Unison, the main public sector union, mobilised the entire council workforce and organised two 1,000-strong meetings at the town hall. A 70% ‘yes’ vote was obtained in a strike ballot. All 2,500 workers were called out on six separate days, and in addition a rolling programme of action saw between 26 and 70 workers on indefinite strike at any one time.

Bob Piper from Walsall Unison’s number one branch told me:

“The national Labour Party tried to talk us out of the action. They didn’t want the embarrassment and the fuss. But the redundancy notices were issued without warning or consultation and our members were furious.”

The council withdrew its threat to sack more workers, but the 30 community workers’ dismissals came into effect on December 1. They are continuing to work on a voluntary, unpaid basis in the expectation, shared by just about everybody, that the full council, meeting on December 11, will now reverse the reorganisation plans and reinstate them. The strikes have now been called off.

Bob Piper explained that the philosophy of “empowerment” was just back door privatisation. The council was to fund the local community associations, run by unpaid, voluntary trustees, without offering either trustees or employees any kind of legal protection.

“They were trying to ‘empower’ people against their will,” he added.

“It was all about empowering individuals rather than communities. The Liberals put forward a motion of no confidence in the Labour council, but the Tories actually abstained. The National Front congratulated the local Labour leadership on its reorganisation plans. They saw it as opening the door to them to take control in one or two of the neighbourhood councils, without interference with their right to be racist.

“Dave Church might be loony, but he’s certainly not left. If he is leftwing, then so are Portillo and Lilley.”

Peter Manson