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Talking about the 'real world' at Wales TUC
AT THE Wales TUC, the challenge facing rank and file members, with Socialist Party members to the fore, was to inject the everyday struggles of workers into the conference.
While many union full-time officials remain welded to New Labour, their members are facing the brunt of New Labour's policies of privatisation and the continuation of the anti-trade union laws. Therefore, there was a big echo for our ideas. These particularly came through the resolutions inspired by the trades councils of Swansea and Cardiff, where the Socialist Party has long had a base.
The conference took place in the aftermath of New Labour's setback in the Welsh Assembly elections on 3 May. All the triumphalism of the last 10 years was replaced by the uncertainty caused by Labour's worst Welsh election result since 1918. In fact, when Assembly First Minister Rhodri Morgan addressed conference on the Wednesday, it looked as if a rainbow coalition of Plaid Cymru, the Tories and Liberals was about to form the government.
However, by Friday he was sworn in as Labour formed a minority government. Undoubtedly, this helped to widen the audience for our ideas as delegates looked for answers for Labour's failures.
In fact, the shadow of the Campaign for a New Workers' Party (CNWP) lurked over the conference. Bob Crow of the RMT railed against the Tory policies of New Labour. He reminded delegates of the role of the railworkers' union in the formation of Labour over a century ago and how a similar process may be necessary now. Even Peter Hain, in a blatant New Labour deputy leadership speech felt the need to say: "I warn against those trying to initiate a new workers' party. The Socialist Party left Labour and has got nowhere."
He was proved wrong by the new people who attended the successful CNWP fringe meeting, including the whole delegation from the UCU lecturers' union.
Of course, behind members' questioning is their experience of coming up against New Labour's policies on the war, anti-trade union laws, privatisation and civil service job cuts. While the motion on the anti-trade union laws from Swansea trades council was defeated on the command of the full-time officials, it was supported by the RMT and civil service union PCS and won sympathy from many delegates.
Throughout the conference, the RMT and PCS, with Socialist Party members Katrine Williams and Sarah Mayo prominent, provided a militant alternative to the Wales TUC leadership, and the regional leaders of UNISON and UNITE (TGWU/Amicus).
Amicus' regional secretary Cath Speight told me: "To get in the real world". But because of the unions' refusal to break the laws, individual stewards like myself, face the reality of the threat of dismissal if unofficial action takes place.
Again motions from Cardiff and Swansea trades councils, with Alec Thraves, Bernard Roome, Andrew Price and Ramon Corria speaking, sharpened up the debates on civil service job cuts and the crisis in the health service. In the latter, the UNISON regional secretary played down the NHS cuts so much that Alec congratulated him for speaking like a prospective New Labour health minister!
Through an emergency composited motion, Swansea Trades Council committed the Wales TUC to organise demonstrations against the BNP in their target areas of Swansea and Wrexham during next year's council elections.
As usual, the interventions from Socialist Party members livened up the conference. Our support was shown by selling 30 copies of the socialist and raising over £270 for our Fighting Fund.