Wales TUC: "If it wasn't for the Socialists..."

26th May 2014

“If it wasn’t for the trades councils there wouldn’t be any debate here.” This was one delegate’s comment to me whilst I was selling the Socialist on the last day of Wales TUC.

It’s true that the most debated resolutions or amendments at Wales TUC are often moved by trades councils but there are clear divisions, on a number of issues, between the 3 biggest Labour-affiliated unions - Unite, Unison, GMB - and some of the more militant of the unions not affiliated to Labour. 

What is clear is that the main political opposition to Labour in the Wales TUC comes from Socialist Party members. While the issues varied, the positions adopted were consistent. 

The majority of the leadership of the Wales TUC wants to work in partnership with the Welsh Labour Government, even as they implement deep Con-Dem cuts. Time and again, we were told we have to accept ‘reconfiguration’, ‘modernisation’ and ‘centralisation’ of services, ie cuts, and be realistic. 

The Socialist Party demands a fight against all cuts regardless of who is implementing them. We pointed out that Labour leads 11 of the 22 local authorities in Wales and the Welsh Government. If they had the political will, Welsh Labour has a position to be a powerful force against Con-Dem austerity. But to date, not a single Welsh Labour council has refused to make Con-Dem cuts. For that matter, not a single Welsh Labour councillor has refused to make Con-Dem cuts.

Cardiff Council has forced a severe pay cut by reducing all workers hours from 37 to 36 a week with almost certainly, no reduction in workload. Bridgend Council attempted to withdraw from national bargaining and was only forced to drop this proposal because of the outcry from unions. Carmarthenshire was forced to retreat, at least for now, from proposals to end all union secondments by the campaign of the fighting Unison branch there. All three of these local authorities are Labour-led; these are the people we’re supposed to enter into partnership with! 

When the Vale of Glamorgan Health Board proposed compulsory redundancies, the Welsh Government washed their hands of the affair, saying that they were satisfied that there would only be a small number (at the time estimated at 20-40) compulsory redundancies. Are these allies trade unionists can rely on in defending our members’ jobs and terms?

It was Socialist Party members who moved a resolution calling on Labour councils to stop implementing Con-Dem cuts and instead to build a movement of strike action to end Con-Dem austerity and win back funding stolen from Wales. We were the only ones to oppose a motion calling on trade unionists to work with the Welsh Government to implement NHS re-configuration in line with reduced finances; essentially passing on Con-Dem cuts to our NHS.

First Minister, Carwyn Jones, addressing Conference, said that Welsh Labour is opposed to outsourcing; we showed Welsh Labour councils are outsourcing services on a grand scale. Welsh Labour is opposed to zero-hours contracts he told us; we explained Welsh Labour councils use thousands. Welsh Labour is opposed to Con-Dem cuts but still implements them. The First Minister obviously isn’t expecting any better from a Labour Government, as he prophesied a further decade of austerity to come.

As well as providing the main political opposition, Socialist Party members enriched debates including those on social housing, bedroom tax, zero hours contracts and moved a resolution, unanimously carried, criticising the Welsh Government for subsidising poor working conditions at  Amazon, demanding union recognition be made a condition of Welsh Government subsidies and calling for a drive to unionise.

8 Socialist Party members, attending as delegates from 2 trades councils and 2 unions, spoke over 20 times in debates. While our positions often didn’t attract large numbers of votes – some delegates admitted privately that they agreed with our positions but were bound to vote against by their trade union mandates – we did sell over 30 copies of the Socialist. We were the only party to sell our paper at the Conference; the Morning Star was there but paid for by a different trade union on each day and distributed free to all delegates, containing the views of the very union leaders that we were opposing throughout conference. 

If it wasn’t for our comrades, pretty much a single political viewpoint would have been heard at Conference. This year’s Wales TUC was the last as an annual conference; from now on the Wales TUC will meet for a full conference only every 2 years, a move we opposed as reducing democracy, lowering the profile of the Wales TUC and hindering the potential for trade unionists to fight cuts. We need to find other ways next year to get the ideas of socialism and fighting cuts, to trade unionists in Wales.
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