Lobbying Carmarthenshire council against Plaid Cymru's cuts March 2020 (uploaded 11/03/2020)
Lobbying Carmarthenshire council against Plaid Cymru's cuts March 2020 (uploaded 11/03/2020)

Alec Thraves, Socialist Party Wales and delegate from Swansea Trades Council   

The 2024 biennial Wales TUC Congress, meeting in Llandudno on its 50th anniversary, will yet again be debating the continuing attacks on the wages, jobs and conditions of trade unionists across Wales, and the devastating impact these are having on working-class families and communities.

The crisis in the public sector will be highlighted, particularly in those areas of government that are devolved from Westminster to the Senedd (Welsh government).

Despite 25 years of collaboration with a Labour-led Welsh government, the Wales TUC public sector unions are understandably angry and frustrated at the deterioration of their members’ pay and living standards, imposed by an austerity Tory government in London but implemented by a weak and passive Labour government in Cardiff Bay!

The education unions demand that “schools need more funding” but “expect that the settlement for the next financial year will not address the detriment which has been experienced in real terms since 2010”!

They also add: “In our colleges, significant cuts are having an impact, including to the apprenticeship programme”. Their conclusion: “Enough is enough”!

Public sector crisis

And that general sentiment is reflected across the public sector!

Audit Wales has published devastating figures on the crisis in the Welsh NHS. 6,800 vacancies at the end of March 2022, with more staff leaving the NHS than at any other time in the last five years, resulting in overall levels of sickness absence growing to an estimated 1.4 million working days in 2022-23!

The health union members, feeling undervalued and still furious at having a wage settlement imposed on them last year without any consultation, are ready to take up the battle again this year, and will not accept any lack of funding excuses from a Keir Starmer-led government holding the purse strings in Westminster.

Local government services are on the cliff edge across Wales after Labour and Plaid Cymru councils have dutifully implemented Welsh government budget cuts, passed down from the Tory government.

Local government delegates will be calling for the linking up of the Labour government in Wales, alongside the Wales TUC and community campaigners to organise and fight for a ‘no-cuts budget’ strategy and to demand that a new Starmer government replenishes council finances to provide the local services so desperately needed after more than a decade of austerity cuts.

Every area of the public sector in Wales has faced devastating cuts!

So much for the alleged benefits of ‘social partnership’ which, unfortunately, is now legally binding in Wales! Trade unions must rely on their own organisation and strength when confronting employers and governments, whose objectives will always be to undermine militant action and prevent trade union solidarity.

Those Socialist Party members who are delegates at Congress will be to the fore in the debates supporting public sector workers in their fight to protect our services and their jobs.

Save our steel

As will be the case in the dominant trade union struggle taking place in Wales at the moment – the battle to save steel from being butchered by Tata.

The motion by Swansea Trades Council calling for nationalisation of Tata Steel has received growing and widespread support amongst the workforce and local residents over the past several months.

The motion is clear in what is necessary to save the 2,000-plus jobs at the Port Talbot plant, particularly as Tata has now reconfirmed the closure of the two blast furnaces.

The central demand of the motion explains:

“If as trade union leaders and politicians proclaimed, that UK Steel is of ‘critical’ economic and strategic importance for the Welsh and UK economy then Tata should be brought back into public ownership, renationalised under democratic workers’ control and management, with compensation paid only on the basis of proven need”.

Unfortunately, the Community steel union is attempting to negatively amend and remove this clear demand for ‘nationalisation’ with a call to just:

“Condemn the UK government and Tata’s bad deal for steel and support the credible and costed multi-union plan…” which has already been firmly rejected by this vicious multinational company.

Delegates will undoubtedly weigh up whether it will be ‘condemnation’ or ‘nationalisation’ that will ultimately save all the threatened jobs and secure a real future for Port Talbot and the other Tata plants.

50 years after its formation, the Wales TUC meets at a crucial time, with the Tory government on its last legs and a ‘business friendly’ Starmer government waiting in the wings.

Trade unionists in Wales, particularly those newer shop stewards and reps who have participated in the recent industrial battles against the privatised employers, the Tories in Westminster and the Labour-led government in Wales, will have learned many lessons from those disputes.

Every victory against an employer or government has to be fought for by determined action and trade union solidarity. Delegates to this Congress must ensure that the Wales TUC and its affiliates are to the fore in leading the inevitable struggles that lie ahead!

Another steel union votes for strike action at Port Talbot 

Community, which has more than 3,000 members at Port Talbot steelworks, has announced that 85% of its members have joined Unite members in voting for strike action. See ‘Tata Steel: Strike to fight jobs massacre in Port Talbot’ for more