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Wales TUC Congress: socialist opposition challenges conservative leaders

By Roger Butler, Swansea Trade Union Council delegate

In probably one of the most passive and smallest attended Wales TUC Congress, it was Socialist Party members who brought some life to the Congress last week by intervening in numerous debates and  appealing for basic democratic rights that went down well with delegates.

Nine Socialist Party Wales members attended the biennial congress in Llandudno as delegates representing Trade Councils and PCS as well as USDAW’s newly elected President and Socialist Party member, Amy Murphy. A number of us were first-time delegates.

Our delegates were involved in proposing action to end local authority cuts and outsourcing, public sector pay cap, housing and mental health and re-nationalisation of rail, some of which were defeated on the recommendation of the General Council after their failure to persuade our delegates to remit their motions. However, the response from the floor, with consistent applauses, showed that there was considerable support from delegates whose hands were unfortunately tied by their delegation leaders when it came to the actual vote.

Usdaw’s motion on fighting low pay, scrapping zero-hour contracts and for a real living wage of £10 an hour was passionately moved by Amy Murphy, who highlighted the devastating impact, that poverty pay and zero-hour contracts are having on workers, particularly in the retail industry. Even a right-wing General Council couldn’t oppose this motion which was passed unanimously.

During the debate on Brexit Mia Hollsing from Cardiff Trades Council stressed the need for a ‘Socialist Brexit’ as well as highlighting Jeremy Corbyn’s   opposition to the neo-liberal European Single Currency. We are in favour of a genuine workers Brexit which retains workers’ rights but which opposes the present restriction on state aid, opposes the neo-Liberal procurement laws and opposes the ‘posted workers directive’ which uses migrant labour to undercut trade union negotiated pay and conditions in the UK.  If the steel industry in Wales is threatened again we must have the powers to nationalise, which is illegal at the moment under present EU regulations! The motion from Unite was passed unanimously

It wasn’t surprising that motions on the crisis in the NHS, social services and council cuts dominated the agenda.

Numerous delegates highlighted the crisis in the Welsh NHS but social care for the elderly is also facing an unprecedented crisis with local authority spending declining by 15% over the past 7 years. It was pointed out that the Welsh Government does actually recognise the crisis in the current system of social care in Wales with Vaughan Gething, the Wales Health Secretary, admitting that present funding “isn’t going to offer the quality and dignity of care that all of us want” as more of us live into old age.

And that is why a new ‘Social Care Levy’, a new tax, to fund social care has been raised by the Welsh Government as a possible solution to this crisis! After almost a decade of austerity, after 8 years of pay restraint and after a 14% cut in living standards, you have a Labour led Welsh Government seriously considering proposals to increase taxation on working class people in Wales in order to finance a social care system that has been robbed of millions by the Con/Dems and Tory Governments! The initial estimate of this new Welsh tax on workers is upwards of £300 a year in the first instance.  Our delegates argued that instead of planning how to squeeze Welsh workers even more the Welsh Government, along with Welsh Councils and the Wales TUC should be organising and campaigning to get that money back from the Tories. Delegates were told that this idea of a Social Care Levy is up and running as Mark Drakeford, The Wales Finance Secretary, has already had initial discussions with the Chief Secretary of the Treasury about the introduction of this new tax in Wales. And guess what – she is interested in Wales carrying out ‘experimental work’ as the funding of social care is such a difficult issue for all governments! Scandalously, our opposition to a new Social Care Levy was voted down by Congress.

Similarly, the motion calling on the Wales TUC to organise an anti-cuts conference to put into action their previously agreed policy that Welsh anti-austerity councils implement ‘No Cuts’ budgets was also dismissed.

On the day that the Welsh Government announced the handing over of the £5bl Wales & Borders franchise to KeolisAmey (see separate article), the General Council opposed Cardiff Trades Council motion to make the franchise a not-for-dividend railway and to bring back into public ownership all railway services and tracks devolved to the Welsh Government. It was a double disgrace that the General Council member opposing this motion was an RMT delegate using the excuse that the Welsh Government didn’t have the legal powers to carry it out!

Because of the limited amount of debate and the bureaucratic attempts to stop opposition speakers having the right of reply to the General Council, this three day conference finished over two hours early!

The biggest applause of the three days came when Swansea Trades Council delegate Alec Thraves intervened to protest at the General Council continually asking our delegates to remit motions without allowing the proposers a right of reply. Alec protested that it was a matter of basic democracy to be able to respond to criticism and outright distortions. This struck a big chord with rank and file delegates who will be submitting rule changes to prevent such bureaucratic obstacles being repeated at future Congresses.

As a first time attendee I agree with the observation made by one of the delegates who commented that our SP speakers were ‘fearless’ in confronting a right-wing dominated General Council.