I was asked recently by ALP Mayor (of Yarra City) Kay Meadows as to how our party views the role of a Councillor: “Are you still an activist or are you now part of governing Yarra?
It’s a fair question and has been discussed inside the Socialist Party itself and between SP and our other Councillors and MPs worldwide in our sister parties in the Committee for a Workers International.
We believe that the job of a Socialist Party Councillor is to be the voice of ordinary people, raising their concerns on a bigger stage than would be normal; to use the position to help mobilise the community to affect change; and to raise the socialist alternative to the neo-liberal mantra of the major parties.
The Socialist Party is starting this process in Yarra City Council but obviously similiar concerns and the same kind of response would apply in councils and at other government levels throughout Australia.
Where I (as 1 socialist councillor amongst 9) can affect change directly I will obviously do so and we are very proud of the many small victories we have won since the November 27th election (see web site details below) – however big victories will only come as a result of community mobilisation.
A SP Councillor can fast-track such mobilisation (be a catalyst even), but they cannot replace it.
The number one task for me at the moment is reflecting the needs of the public housing tenants (there are over 94% people unemployed on the Collingwood estate!).
I chair a new Youth Advisory Committee that intends to present to Council in April a series of actions to help find jobs and training for working class youth, boost youth programmes and services, and most importantly involve young people in the provision of services.
Another huge issue is Child Care, with over 600 families on the waiting list for a place in Yarra. The local community is beginning to organise a campaign to get more child care places in Yarra and SP has been part of this process, and I will fight on the inside for big improvements to child care in this years budget.
Council held a big public meeting on the Banco development in Collingwood on March 23rd and planning department officers presented their alternative for the area. This meeting came about because of SP pressure and we support the resolution that was passed on the night from the floor that rejected the top-down approach of the Council and demanded community control of the process (a 9 person committee was elected to this effect).
We intend to work with the local community, in particular the Collingwood Action Group, to ensure Council?s alternative plan has strict legally enforcable limits on heights etc and strong guidelines in favour of low cost housing and big developer contributions to social services in the area.
Much of my time is taken up with bread and butter issues of planning, parking, noise and traffic issues. By being responsive on these issues, I can build up the credibility for socialism and our way of operating. However I also get calls on issues as diverse as apprentices, Aboriginal rights, and even a call on what Yarra Council intended to do to stop China invading Taiwan!
Our weekly stall outside Safeways in Smith St, Collingwood is getting a better response everyweek.
What’s clear is this: we have done some good work, but we need more socialist councillors and more community action to take things to the next level.
By Stephen Jolly