LOCAL government trade unions fighting against council budget cuts face a Groundhog Day scenario. Once again, across the negotiating table sit councillors who despite standing for election on an anti-austerity ticket, wring their hands saying they do not want to make these budget cuts, but they have no choice, their hands are tied by Holyrood or Westminster, therefore they have to implement a legal balanced budget and make these “savings”.

Sitting looking on are the senior council officers making sure they do just that.

In West Dunbartonshire the trade union conveners have been granted the opportunity at full council meetings to put the trade union case where they are listened to politely, but ignored.

It is the trade unions’ belief that public and staff consultations are used to take the heat off the guilty parties by asking: “what cuts do you want us to make?”, allowing a response by the politicians of: “we are carrying out your wishes”. They then go on to cut services and attack terms and conditions. In essence, what they are doing is merely managing the decline of the area by implementing the cuts as opposed to defending and promoting the interests of the people who elected them.

Outrageous cuts are floated as either management adjustments or proposals for the councillors to consider. The elected members then appear to soften the blow by backtracking a bit (though they are less able to do this as austerity continues) by ruling out some of the more crazy ideas. Allied to the usually poor uptake levels in these public consultation, the final budget announcement (which ignores the paltry participation rate) is seen as best that could be done in the dire circumstances they faced. And it can be spun in management speak as “more from less” or such nonsense.

There appears to be no interest by local politicians, in almost all cases, to take the trade union arguments into their respective party structures. For instance, they might nod their head at the suggestion of Parallel Budgets being a good campaigning tool, but it goes no further. Any talk of a “no cuts budget” is heart attack material for officers and councillors alike.

The attempt by The People’s Assembly Scotland Against Austerity to engage by contacting every local councillor in Scotland, putting forward practical campaigning alternatives to the cuts such as using reserves, scrapping pre-devolution debt, alternatives to council tax, implementing Unite’s Construction Charter and Unison’s Ethical Care Charter, attracted just two replies from all Scottish councillors with some claiming conveniently they never received it (as happened in West Dunbartonshire).

There is no genuine consultation, no meaningful engagement with the trade unions and communities, no assessments of what these cuts – or as they prefer “savings” – will mean for workers and their communities. Rather consultation schemes are used as cover.

In West Dunbartonshire sustained attempts have been made to build a local mass movement against the cuts, with large meetings held regularly made up of trade unionists and community activists, and the unions here did have an impressive victory when an attack on trade union convener facility time was reversed.

But it must be recognised that the trade union movement has not been able to reverse the cuts in services inflicted on local government, or won the workforce to take action on the loss of real wages, although at time of writing the teachers might prove to be an exception to this.

Some say it is because members fear putting their head above the parapet in case they are targeted. The “partnership” approach between the employer and unions has been seen by the trade unions as a one-sided partnership leading to more cuts and has been dumped by them.

How do we build a local mass movement of trade unionists and communities to combat attacks on jobs and services, and indeed local democracy?

High on the agenda must be combating the all too often cries of “we must keep things local” and “we should not be political”. The opposite needs to be the case. We need to join up across the land with our campaigning and pose political alternatives in the interests of our class.

The enemy of the public sector have a nationwide strategy to attack the social wage and they are of course very political.

We need to bring together the local trade union movement and their communities across the country to agitate against austerity and plan alternative strategies through our parent body, the STUC, and have direct access to MSPs and MPs. We need to build a national movement to assist the growth of a working-class consciousness.

However we need to go further, it requires a qualitive leap which recognises the need to transform class consciousness into a political understanding of the need to struggle for social change as any advances and victories face continual challenge from the neo liberal agenda, meaning the same battles need to be fought over, and over again.

To end exploitation and oppression altogether, the fight on economic issues is therefore insufficient in itself, rather it requires to be linked with a political perspective if it is to produce lasting gains for our class.

Along with economic campaigning there requires to be participation in the battle of ideas, giving an explanation why workers need to support and participate in the fight to elect and defend a future left Government which will turn the tide in favour of workers and their families.

Please come along to the next meeting organised by the trade unions. Tuesday February 19, 7pm in Concorde Centre, St Mary’s Way, Dumbarton.

Tom Morrison, on behalf of West Dunbartonshire Joint Trades Unions and Clydebank TUC