Sunday, 16 June 2013

Industrial Dispute in Brighton and Hove and the Green Party

With industrial action starting last Friday, Green Party members across the country face an immense dilemma – the choice between supporting our own minority Green council or hundreds of workers going on strike for a week against proposed pay reductions.

Some of the workers could lose up to £4000 a year. That’s a choice most Greens would a few years ago have never thought they’d face. In the midst of massive local authority cuts, the Greens are in office but seemingly not in power.

Many local parties and individuals – including the local Brighton & Hove Green Party, Caroline Lucas (who has pledged to join the picket lines), and university branches such as my own – have spoken out against the bin worker pay cuts.

It has thus-far been a shambolic dispute where a noble attempt to equalise pay between male and female staff has turned into idiotic comparisons to the winter of discontent, accusations of potential strike breaking, and outsourcing the pay proposal decision altogether in order for Greens to claim ‘it wasn’t our decision’. Yet the council leader, Jason Kitcat, seems determined not to budge.

Serious internal discussion about this sorry state of affairs has sadly been minimal at best, stifled at worst. The party is coming under attack over this from all other sections of the left, and Labour will exploit this to its fullest unless the Green group in Brighton change tack and handle the situation properly. If Greens don’t tackle the issue head on, other parties will do so.

Neither is it good enough to say, as some have, that since the Greens are a federal party ‘it’s up to Brighton’. Brighton Greens – both the local branch and our only MP – have spoken clearly on this issue. It’s now up to the rest of the party nationally to back them up in this. Brighton is, bar a sizeable number of honourable exceptions in the likes of Alex Phillips and others, a rogue council, refusing to cede to the wishes of its local party, its constituents, and (from what I gather) the rest of the party nationally.

Disappointingly, the Green Party Executive (GPEX) and leader Natalie Bennett have appeared quiet on the issue.

Worthy though bringing in a Living Wage, leading the ‘no evictions’ fight over the bedroom tax, and attempting to equalise pay between male and female workers is, a Green council should never cut the pay of some of the least well off. That should be a given, particularly after enshrining social justice into the party’s Core Values last conference. As a party which has the strongest record on workers’ rights in terms of policy, strike busting should never have even been rumoured, let alone a potential possibility.

There are some hopeful signs however. Leading figures in Brighton & Hove Greens have at last made public statements about the strike action, though still seemingly refusing to back down over the pay proposals. The GMB has agreed to re-enter negotiations. And the candidate for the Hanover & Elm Grove by-election, David Gibson, is a solid trade unionist who opposes the measures to equalise pay down instead of up.

There needs to be a serious discussion about the possibility of setting ‘needs budgets’, and if not, discussing whether we should be in office at all if we are forced to act as a mere smoke-screen for Tory-Lib Dem cuts.

At what point does the party start to consider that to stay in office and continue to implement cuts would be to breach fundamental principles? As the Green Party conference in Brighton approaches, it’s time to get backtracking on the proposed pay cuts, and time to start talking.

Josiah Mortimer is a Green Party activist and student based in York.

And here nine of the Brighton and Hove Green Party councillors plus Green Party activists argue in an open letter against Green group's leadership on the issue:

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