Britain needs a Pay Rise!

18th October 2014

Wales will be under represented at today's TUC-organised 'Britain Needs A Pay Rise' demo. As far as I know there is only one coach from Swansea.

That doesn't mean that workers in Wales are any less angry about falling real wages than anywhere else. It does reflect confusion on the part of many workers over the strategy being pursued by our union leaders and a lack of confidence in them being able to halt the attacks on our living conditions.

In march 2011 we saw one of the biggest trade union demonstrations Britain has ever seen. That march took place right at the start of the fight back against Con-Dem austerity and was an important stepping-stone in building confidence for the strike action that followed over public sector pensions.

Part of the reason why demonstrations since, although often large, have been smaller than 2011 is, that once millions of workers have taken joint strike action, as they did in November 2011, then a demonstration not accompanied by industrial action is seen as a step backwards.

If today's demonstration is small then a lot of the responsibility lies with the leadership of the big 3 Labour-affiliated trade unions who suspended local authority strike action this week, over the heads of their members, for talks on a proposal, not even an offer, no better than what was on offer before members took strike action in July.

The thought of getting up early on a Saturday to travel for hours and then march round London again, only to hear Dave Prentis make the same speech, telling us how much our real wages have fallen, is hardly appealing to UNISON members. Particularly when, to many members, it looks like he's hell-bent on preventing us fighting falling wages, not only for the rest of the life of this Government but also in the first year of the next. This has to be a factor in why my UNISON local government branch which was prepared to fund 5 coaches to tomorrow's demo, won't be sending any.

In the rest of the country, the disappointment at the suspending of local government action was balanced by the first NHS strike action over pay in 30 years. Enthusiasm for action amongst health workers and the huge decline in pay even brought out the Royal College of Midwives for the first time in their history.

That hasn't happened in Wales even though health workers in Wales face the same attacks on pay. The fact that health is devolved to Wales (but not pay) means that the Labour leadership of the Labour-affiliated health unions, particularly UNISON, are desperate to shield the Labour Welsh Government from any criticism of health cuts. It seems more than likely that played a major role in UNISON's health leadership in Wales first deciding not to ballot then balloting too late to co-ordinate with England. 

The only coach that I know of going to the demo from Swansea is the one organised by ABMU UNISON Health Branch. But seeing as this is a branch that represents thousands of health workers in 4 major hospitals, 2 of them in Swansea, it can hardly be claimed as a success.

The Wales TUC is running a train to London for the demo but with tickets at over £50 head, it's an option only to workers whose union branches are willing to pay for places.

There is a deep hatred of the Con-Dems and anger at continuing falling incomes. A determined fight against all cuts could quickly draw together workers and the public across Wales. When 2,000 trade unionists marched through Swansea on the day of the public sector strike in November 2011, people came out of shops and cafes to applaud us or join the march. If anything there would be more support now for workers taking action as the effects of cuts have hit harder. 

If, as Socialist Party Wales members suspect, the cosy relationship between the Labour Welsh Government and the tops of the trade union movement in Wales is one of the main factors holding the movement back, then breaking that link is one of the main tasks facing militant trade unionists in Wales. That includes:

  • Calling for our unions to stop funding Labour and instead to fund only candidates committed to voting against all cuts.
  • Where individual members have a choice, as in UNISON, encouraging them to switch political funds away from the Labour-affiliated one.
  • Building TUSC as a serious, socialist, no-cuts political alternative, standing as many candidates as we can in the General Election and any council by-elections.
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