Welsh social partnership is an attempt to shackle trade unions and prevent industrial action

Lobbying Carmarthenshire council against Plaid Cymru's cuts March 2020

Lobbying Carmarthenshire council against Plaid Cymru’s cuts March 2020   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

Mark Evans, Carmarthenshire County Unison branch secretary (personal capacity) and Socialist Party member

The workplace report by the Labour Research Department in its March 2020 edition published a two page article with the headline ‘Social Partnership approach is way forward in Wales’. It claimed that the devolved (Labour) Welsh government, working closely with the Wales Trade Union Congress, has developed a social partnership approach that “is starting to really pay off at workplace level – at least in the devolved public sector”. This will come as news to public sector workers in Wales!

It further claims this approach “reflects common understanding that trade unions are more integral to workplace and community culture in Wales than the UK as a whole”. This approach will now be enshrined in law through the Social Partnership Bill, but this is only formalising the approach the tops of the major unions like Unison, Unite and GMB (all affiliated to the Labour Party) have been engaged in for years. They jump through hoops to shield the Labour Welsh government from criticism from their members but this is becoming an increasingly impossible task particularly given the government’s actions during the coronavirus crisis.

While some of the aims of the social partnership are laudable they will not be achieved through partnership – we have no common goals with the employers or a Welsh parliament that is a conveyor belt for Tory cuts.

This social partnership is an attempt to shackle the trade unions from taking industrial action in defence of their members’ interests. It will have the same result as for Sisyphus who, among other things, was punished for his deceitfulness by having to push a rock up to the top of the hill only to have it roll back down when near the top.

Rank-and-file trade unionists and the public in Wales will question why we are in partnership with a Welsh government that has underfunded the NHS in Wales by £1 billion and passed on devastating cuts to councils in Wales. The article lets the cat out of the bag when it says: “The Welsh government adds that social partnership has helped avoid some of the strike action that has taken place in England – on firefighters’ pensions, junior doctors’ contracts, NHS pay and teachers’ workload.”

The performance of the Welsh government in tackling Covid-19 has been woefully inadequate and has no doubt cost the unnecessary loss of life of frontline staff. The Welsh government has tail-ended the Tories in their failure to provide sufficient PPE and testing.

A number of full-time union officials including Unison’s Bethan Thomas are quoted to support this policy. She claims the proposals to “extend collective bargaining are exciting and have the potential to transform the livelihoods of thousands of Welsh workers and their families”. But these claims have no basis in reality – if the Labour Welsh government is going to transform the lives of working class people, why haven’t they done it already? They have been in power for over 20 years.

If the Labour Welsh government does not adopt socialist policies and continues to work within the confines of capitalism and the inadequate funding it gets from Tories, it will continue to fail working class people. Wales will remain a low-wage economy with high levels of poverty.

Grasping at straws, the article and those that support the Labour Welsh government at all costs cite that it did not apply all the Tory anti-trade union legislation. But why would they seek conflict when they believe they can control the trade unions through ‘partnership’?

The mists of partnership will dissipate soon under the heat of the class struggle that is impending. Public sector and other workers in Wales will be forced into struggle due to being forced to pay for the corona crisis and the crisis of capitalism. It will become clear that what is in place is not a partnership but an abusive relationship that exploits workers.

It will become clearer that we need socialism if we are to meet our needs.