Around 30 people attended a meeting on Tuesday 15th March to publicly launch Harrogate Action, a local anti-cuts campaign. The chair opened the meeting by reading out a letter from the Tory council leader of North Yorkshire County Council to Eric Pickles, bemoaning the devastating impact that the cuts will have even in this apparently more affluent part of the country.
A Harrogate Socialist Party member
Dave Houlgate from Harrogate UNISON spelled out the devastating impact of some of the cuts locally including at the Harrogate International Centre (HIC) where they estimated around 40-50% of posts will be lost through redundancies and non-filling of vacancies, as well as the continued threat to libraries, despite a stay of execution for the time being. Yet the HIC is currently undergoing an extension and one of the threatened libraries was only recently refurbished. He said that UNISON members will be lobbying the council over the cuts to the HIC over the coming months.
Daniel Maguire, chair of the local UNITE branch representing bus workers explained that some of the cuts in North Yorkshire to bus services could be devastating, with several towns facing having no services running after 6pm or on Sundays. He also praised the recent student movement which included walkouts of around 300-400 in Harrogate.
Other trade union reps took up points around the need to oppose all the cuts and support other workers and local community groups in fighting against cuts. A PCS rep explained how her union had been highlighting the huge amounts of uncollected taxes within society.
One point of debate within the meeting was on the question of the local elections. Harrogate Borough Council has no Labour party councillors, and indeed there is only one in Selby on North Yorkshire County Council either. There was general agreement that councillors who were opposed to cuts should vote against them and use their position as a tribune to build the anti-cuts movement. However, several Labour party members said they were likely to be candidates in the election, with one raising the prospect of trying to commit the party locally to opposing all cuts and arguing that councils should be defying the government like in the 1980s. This would bring them into conflict with other labour councils and councillors across the country who have voted through the Con-Dem cuts package, and most likely also with the party leadership. But they would find a huge pool of support if they followed such a course through from the anti-cuts movement and indeed many ordinary workers.
Discussion also focussed on more practical matters, including organising local anti-cuts protests as well as formally constituting the campaign with discussion on that at the next meeting. The Youth Fight for Jobs campaigns 75th anniversary Jarrow march, which will pass through Harrogate, also got a good reception, with trade unionists offering to put on something to welcome the marchers to the town.