Labour has Turned its Back on Trade Unions

1st March 2014

Today, on Saint David’s Day, the Labour Party’s special conference took two hours to eradicate much of the little remaining influence of trade unions in the party they founded.

A rare case of turkeys actually voting for Christmas as the biggest affiliated unions all accepted the proposals of Miliband - the Labour leader who referred UNITE to the police for recruiting people to his own party.

Wales played a significant role in forming the Labour Party. The Labour Party won its first MP when Keir Hardie was elected to represent a Welsh constituency, Merthyr, in 1900. Labour’s greatest success, the creation of the NHS, was overseen by Welsh MP, Aneurin Bevan.

Welsh Labour has often claimed to be on the left of the Party and during the Blair government, leading Welsh Labour figures, even publicly proclaimed there was “clear red water” between Labour in Wales and the Party in Westminster. 

So if there was anywhere that you might be able to expect widespread opposition to Miliband's proposals to further water down the already extremely diluted union influence in the Labour Party then surely it would be Wales.

If Welsh Labour representatives didn't make such a big fuss on social media, it was probably because to talk of one nation on Wales' national saint's day would have been extremely foolish rather than political disagreements. But all talk of one nation-ism is foolish anyway - the Labour Party is adopting a 19th Century Tory ideology, from a time when trade unionists had no party of their own.

That we have no party of our own is a conclusion that trade unionists are increasingly drawing now. There are additional reasons for trade unionists in Wales to turn from Labour.

Unlike the rest of the UK, Wales has a Labour government. More than half the population lives in Labour-run local authorities. So the chances are that if you're a trade unionist in Wales or live in a Welsh working class community, then Con-Dem cuts have been passed on by Welsh Labour, twice!

Wales' different election cycle led to a back loading of cuts but this year Welsh councils, with Labour ones leading the way, are making up for lost time by making deep cuts to jobs and services. Welsh Labour councils are also outsourcing services on a grand scale.

The clearest indication of how far Welsh Labour has moved from its trade union roots is the decision by Labour-led Carmarthenshire Council to remove all trade union secondments. Officially this is a cost saving measure but there has to be a suspicion that it is motivated by desperation to head off opposition by attempting to silence the UNISON branch in particular. This is a union branch which has exposed the Council's willingness to pass on Con-Dem cuts by publishing a 'no cuts' budget and demanding the Council's Labour leadership implement it. Welsh Labour? Ych a fi!

As Welsh Labour has turned its back on trade unionists, Plaid Cymru has tried to position itself as the anti-cuts party, even finding trade unionists to take on Labour in its heartlands; the prospective parliamentary candidate for Cynon is the chair of the FBU in Wales.

When you examine their positions closely though, it's clear that Plaid Cymru's main argument with Welsh Labour is over what to cut and maybe the scale of some cuts, rather than whether to cut in the first place. The Welsh Government's cuts budget was only passed by agreement with Plaid Cymru, who had themselves entered into an agreement with the Welsh Liberal Democrats to negotiate and speak with one voice on the issue.

On the day that Labour turned its back on trade unionists, the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition invited trade unionists to join in building a socialist political alternative. I'm confident that trade unionists in Wales will play their part, just as they did at the start of the last century in the formation of Labour, in building the political voice the working class needs, TUSC.
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