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From: The Socialist issue 495, 12 July 2007: Fighting low pay, defending jobs and services

Search site for keywords: Wales - Wales Assembly - Welsh - Labour - NHS - Fees - Students - PFI - Universities

Wales Assembly

New coalition no answer to workers' problems

LABOUR PARTY Wales and the Plaid Cymru party have reached an historic agreement and formed a new government in Wales, the One Wales coalition. But the course of the Assembly government will change very little.

Dave Reid Cardiff

How long the coalition will last remains to be seen. Its programme promises more of the same, which will provoke growing opposition. As resistance grows to its policies the coalition could unravel.

The coalition document presented by Rhodri Morgan and the leader of the nationalist Plaid Cymru, Ieuan Wyn Jones, contains a number of pledges to slightly improve public services in Wales and marks a (very) small step to the left. But what is omitted is more significant than what is in it.

Working-class people searching for a way out of the problems of declining public services and poverty will look in vain for solutions in this document.

Plaid promises merely to slightly ameliorate the Gordon Brown government's right-wing pro-capitalist policies. It is business as usual for the fat cats in Wales.

On the key issue of hospital cutbacks, (the main reason Labour got its worst result in Wales since 1918 and allowed Plaid to gain seats) the document puts on hold existing plans to cut back hospital services but does not shred them. Instead it promises not to implement them until community services are in place and there is an "evidence base" for them.

Nevertheless the election's outcome has resulted in a partial victory for health campaigners across Wales by this retreat from carrying through the cuts immediately. It allows the campaigns breathing space to mobilise opposition to the new round of cuts through the consultation process.

The document claims to "move purposefully to end the internal market" in the NHS and rules out using the expensive Private Finance Initiative (PFI) for NHS capital projects in this government's term, but it does not rule out PFI in other areas of public services like schools and transport.

It also begs the question: how will the government finance NHS building projects without PFI? Will it issue bonds which allow private capital to make millions out of the NHS? Or will it freeze vital NHS building projects?

Unanswered questions

THE LABOUR-Plaid government does not promise to stop the programme of dozens of school closures in Wales. Any commitment to reduce class sizes and develop community schools is hollow without a promise to change the funding for schools to keep schools open. The day after the announcement of the One Wales agreement, Cardiff council announced the closure of two high schools in the city.

The agreement promises to keep underwriting top-up university fees for Welsh-domiciled students until 2009/10, which marks a victory for Socialist Students and other student campaigners against fees in Wales. However working-class students from Wales will still have to struggle without an adequate grant (or any grant) and pay over £1,000 a year in fees.

And it is very unclear about what will happen if Brown's UK government lifts the cap on top-up fees which is likely. There is a vague commitment to do "whatever is possible to mitigate the effects" of a rise in fees in English universities on Welsh students.

There is no mention, either, as to how Welsh universities can secure sufficient funding to compete with English universities and fund pay rises after 2009/10.

Similarly unclear is the commitment to hold a referendum for the Assembly to gain law-making powers. There is plenty of wriggle room for Labour leaders to refuse to call the referendum. Labour's Welsh MPs are adamantly opposed to more powers for the Assembly because their prestige and influence will be reduced proportionally and they will vigorously oppose a referendum.

Socialist Party Wales supports a multi-question referendum to allow working people in Wales to determine their relationship with the UK including the right to vote for independence. We would support a vote in that referendum for a Welsh parliament with law-making and tax-adjusting powers, with the ability to pass legislation to transform Welsh society.

But, as the last eight years of the Welsh Assembly have shown, the crucial issue is what party and what kind of politicians are in power in Wales. What is desperately needed is a new party to champion the rights of working people and fight for socialist policies in the Assembly, linking up with a campaign of militant action by working people across Wales.

Whatever powers the Assembly has, a struggle needs to be conducted to rebuild public services and to change society. Clearly neither Labour nor Plaid Cymru are capable of carrying this out.

An expanded version of this article can be found on the Socialist Party Wales website at www.socialistpartywales.org.uk






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