Socialist Party Wales Conference February 16th 2014

Without a shadow of doubt, this conference was the most important in our party's calendar here in Wales. We are entering into a period of colossal attacks on the working class as the austerity measures brought in by the ConDem Government made up of old Etonian Posh boys and Roedean Ladettes. Throughout Wales, Local authorities are setting their budgets for the coming financial year and without exception, these budgets will be based on cuts in services and jobs as the Tory, Liberal, independent, and shamefully, Labour councillors vote through measures that will be a tsunami of misery for service users and job losses within the authorities.

Alec speaking to the conference

Against the backdrop of cuts, environmental catastrophes in the shape of extreme weather and flooding, the battles won recently by the Bakers Union in Wigan against Hovis on the issue of zero hour contracts and the forcing of London Underground and Boris Johnson to get back around the table by the RMT/TSSA two day strike in London two weeks ago and other issues such as Scottish independence, the continuing crisis in the Eurozone and the economy in general, party members met in the Holiday Inn in Cardiff to discuss and debate the priorities for the coming year and how to build up the party and build TUSC (Trade Union & Socialist Coalition) in readiness for the coming battles.

The morning session centred on British Perspectives and the leadoff was given by Hannah Sell, Deputy General Secretary of the Socialist Party. Hannah covered a very wide range of topics from the floods to Scottish independence and was keen to hear from delegates, how the debate in Scotland was being viewed by trade union members and workers here in Wales. Hannah emphasised the importance that we play, as a party in disputes and she also made the point on several occasions that where workers have a strong and militant leadership, they will take action and fight back. The will by members to fight back, however, shamefully, is not matched by the leadership and bureaucracy of the bigger unions who does not plan strategies for winning of disputes, illustrated by the Unite stance in the Grangemouth dispute.

The leadoff inspired much discussion with around 13 or 14 delegates speaking. Mark Evans spoke of the Unison Carmarthenshire County Branch's decision to fight all cuts and reported back on the activities of the branch to win the hearts and minds of the people by holding public meetings and supporting campaigns to stop closures of services. Mark also criticised the inaction of the other unions involved who had decided not to take the Unison stance of fighting all cuts.

Jamie speaking from the floor

Steve Skelly from The RMT gave an update on the RMT London Underground dispute emphasising that the dispute was not won but the two day strike and the support of the vast majority of the public had brought London Underground and Boris Johnson back to the table. The option for further days of action was still very much on the table and would be utilised if needed.

A member from the Caerphilly branch outlined the importance of being involved with community-led initiatives and that no protest activities should be overlooked. She recounted how a large demo in Merthyr Tydfil was overlooked because it was organised by the Urdd a Welsh language youth group who were protesting at the cutting of school buses by the local authority which take pupils from Merthyr to a Welsh-medium school some distance from Merthyr.

The afternoon session focused on how we build the party, recruit new members and increase our visibility in the battles ahead. The leadoff was presented by Ross Saunders and centred on the building of branches, increasing our finances and increasing activism throughout Wales. Ross encouraged all members to review their contributions and if possible to increase their contributions to the party, but he also emphasised the importance of being active and contrasted our party to the mainstream parties who are much bigger but less active and have large "paper memberships" who are in the main inactive.

There was lively discussion on how to raise finances, without which we cannot survive, and how to encourage more workers into the party. Many contributors spoke of the need to be accessible to all members of society and to be imaginative in the way we conduct branch meetings that make them more attractive.

Ian Pattison gave a comprehensive report back on the building of the party within colleges and Universities and the success of the “Cops off Campus” campaign. Young members are the life blood of our party and the need to build on our youth membership is of paramount importance.

Alec Thraves summed up reiterating the importance of recruitment, branch development and increasing finances. The fighting fund appeal made by Scott Jones from Llanelli and West Wales branch before lunch raised over £800. The conference ended with a rousing rendition of the Internationale.

Les Woodward, photos also by Les

Around fifty Socialist Party Wales members from as far apart as Milford Haven in West Wales, Rhyl in North Wales, Llanwrtyd Wells in Mid Wales and Newport in East Wales held a very successful annual conference in Cardiff last weekend.

After an inspirational opening speech by our Deputy General Secretary, Hannah Sell who outlined the impact of the economic crisis in Britain and the inevitability of a fightback by the working class, the discussion then highlighted the key role our members are playing in the trade union movement in Wales. Comrades from Unison are battling against the vicious cuts being implemented by Labour led councils across Wales with Carmarthenshire Unison branch pointing the way forward by fighting for a 'no cuts budget'. Our members in PCS continue to fly the flag of resistance despite fighting on their own in many instances because of the failure of the TUC to initiate the popular demand for a one day general strike. Steven Skelly, RMT Executive member for Wales and the South West brought greetings to the conference and re-emphasised the importance of industrial action against class enemies such as Tory London Mayor, Boris Johnston who is licking his wounds after being forced to step back from his attacks on London underground workers. Further action by RMT members may to necessary but it is a lesson and inspiration to millions of workers that militant action can stop these attacks.

Ross Saunders introduced the Party Building session by recording our successes in Wales over the past year and also explaining the methods and determination necessary to recruit more new members to our Party. Our young student members reported their initiatives in building Socialist Students across the colleges and universities in Wales and our finance organisers are launching the 2014 subs campaign to increase our Party resources to help us intervene in the anti-cuts campaigns and our youth and trade union activities.

Our 2014 Socialist Party Wales conference was enthusiastic and brimming with confidence for the coming year. This was reflected in the excellent fighting fund appeal which raised £811 as well as one visitor signing up to join at the end of conference.

Alec Thraves

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