by In Wales
Tue May 26th, 2009 at 07:18:58 AM EST
and other political things.
I spent last week in North Wales at the Wales Trades Union Congress Annual Conference. And finally I saw activity around the Euro elections, although this does now coincide with the campaign period, as I'm seeing manifesto leaflets come through my letterbox.
It was a good conference, with an excellent atmosphere, especially so given the challenging times the trade union movement is facing. A huge fight is going on to save jobs and protect workers, whilst membership is declining and unions themselves are needing to make redundancies as the affiliations decrease. It has been a high profile year for the movement.
WalesOnline - Business - Features - Wales TUC General Secretary Martin Mansfield on the challenges facing the Welsh economy
SINCE the last quarter of 2008 Wales has been in the grip of a recession which was initially predicted to affect the Welsh economy less severely than other parts of the UK.
These predictions could not have been more wrong. Figures released this month show that unemployment in Wales has reached 7.7% or 111,000 people, a higher unemployment rate than England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and most English regions. Claimants to vacancy figures, particularly in Heads of the Valleys communities where manufacturing predominates, reflect that picture, with among the highest rates in the UK.
Trades Union Congress - Wales TUC Annual Conference - Final Agenda Published
Post Office closures, the treatment of migrant workers, public services, affordable housing and public sector pay are just some of the issues contained in the agenda for this year's Wales TUC Annual Conference.
Other topics featured across over 60 motions to be debated in Llandudno include respect for shopworkers, the future of manufacturing in Wales, school funding and education and training.
I suppose I should start by giving people an overview of the Wales TUC and the annual conference. The blurb:
Trades Union Congress - In the regions
The Wales TUC is the voice of Wales at work. With almost 50 affiliated trade unions the Wales TUC represents nearly half a million workers. We campaign for a fair deal at work and for social justice at home and abroad.
The Wales TUC consists of a policy and campaigns team that deals with all policy, campaigns, press etc; an education team which provides training courses for union reps and a Learning Services Team which develops union learning reps and liaises to provide courses for trade union members (literacy, numeracy and basic skills).
Individual trade unions affiliate to the TUC at UK level and Wales receives a budget from this. The Annual Conference has the ability to set its own policy across most policy areas apart from international policy since this is mostly dealt with by the London base.
The conference consists of keynote speakers, motions debate to set policy based on motions submitted by individual unions, fringe meetings during lunchtime and after conference (run by external organisations to promote themselves or their causes), elections for committees, president and vice-president, Forum sessions to debate a particular policy area and of course much networking, talking and drinking late into the night.
The motions debate covers a range of areas, including education and skills, energy, employment rights, equality, transport, housing etc.
There were key speakers such as Rhodri Morgan, the First Minister of the National Assembly for Wales. He spoke of many things, but primarily pushed the need to concentrate on getting jobs back in Wales and providing training and support for those facing redundancy. The initiatives that have been set up in Wales through the economic summits in response to the financial crisis have really proved the worth of devolution and social partnership working for responding quickly with tailored solutions for our country. Following from this was a message from Rhodri to Welsh Labour members:
These are difficult times for hardworking Welsh families, that is why I am making a direct and personal plea to you to help me fight the European elections on Thurs, 4th June.
As I said to the Wales TUC meeting in Llandudno earlier today, social partnership can help Wales in good times as well as bad. I praised the work of the Wales TUC and the Wales CBI in helping us to tackle the recession and make it as short and shallow as possible in Wales.
I told the conference that the experience gained in recent economic summits will be used to bring a sharp focus to tackling the corrosive effects of youth unemployment in Wales. We must not repeat the mistakes of the Thatcher years. We must find ways of keeping young people active and near the labour market. We are actively working with the support of unions and employers in responding to this challenge.
'Ma de in Wales' schemes using devolution and social partnership, together with European money, are working to tackle employment and training issues across Wales.
The European election on Thursday, June 4th is about real issues. About how to create jobs, upgrade skills and boost the economy as we prepare for the upturn. Our big message - the economy - has never been more important.
Wales TUC Annual Conference is always a platform for politicians. They clamour for invitations to the pre conference dinner, to be present as fringe speakers or to just loiter about in the bar of the hotel that contains the biggest union delegations... there are always elections in the pipeline. I actually quite like the accessibility of our politicians here.
So what of elections? It was mentioned in various speeches at conference but in particular the fringes were the places to be for the more heavily politicised debates.
The Labour Party and to a lesser extent, Plaid Cymru had a presence at conference, and as usual the Socialist Workers Party through the medium of the Morning Star, free copies of which were given to delegates each day.
I attended a fringe looking at organising around the BNP, to expose the lies, and get the vote out. Any vote, any party, just not the BNP. Or UKIP. Discussion was around the really quite passive nature of the anti-far right campaign and the need to do more than petition or hand out leaflets. Information about petitions goes to those who have signed up to it and are not BNP supporters anyway. Handing out leaflets without actually stopping to discuss the issues will make little impact for people who just don't understand what all the fuss is about. So the conclusion - we need to go out their and talk to people. Have a dialogue about the BNP and far right politics. Encourage people to go and vote even if it is a protest vote for a small Party.
There was also quite a well organised presence for the No to EU (Yes to democracy) Party. I didn't go to their fringe since I was elsewhere but I saw the leaflets around the place and they seem to have the backing of the Morning Star. A number of key trade unionists are also involved, in particular Bob Crow of the RMT Union.
No to EU - Yes to Democracy
No2EU Yes to Democracy is an electoral platform. It is a trade union-backed alliance of political parties and campaigning groups. We believe the time is right to offer the peoples of Britain an alternative view of Europe.
The recent referendum in Ireland clearly demonstrates that the working people of Europe are not happy with the direction the EU is taking. The failure of the mainstream parties to represent this feeling has led to a political vacuum.
We will not sit in the European parliament in the event of winning any seats. Our candidates will only nominally hold the title MEP and will not board the notorious EU gravy train.
We want to see a Europe of independent, democratic states that value its public services and does not offer them to profiteers; a Europe that guarantees the rights of workers and does not put the interests of big business above that of ordinary people. We believe the current structures of the EU makes this impossible.
I don't know if this has anything to do with the People's Charter which has caused some controversy lately - there was a motion on this at the conference whcih was not supported by the General Council (elected body that oversees the Wales TUC) due to concerns that this is a forerunner to a new political party being set up, rather than just being a lobbying manifesto. Some large unions publicly signed up and then withdrew from the people's Charter so the issue is a little murky just now. I see Bob Crow in a picture on the People's Charter launch page.
The People's Charter
Government is spending billion of pounds of our money bailing the banks and big business out of their crisis. It's not right and we didn't vote for it. Those £billions are our money. And our children's. We want that money better spent. We have launched a People's Charter. It sets out what must be done to get out of this crisis and put the people first, before the interests of bankers and speculators.
I find both the People's Charter and the No to EU platform to be interesting developments. Protest parties do pop their heads up at each election, but none tend to do significantly well for a marginal party, UKIP being a possible exception. Is this a sign of upheaval that could create real change to our political structures and the party system?
Labour has plummetted but the Tories haven't significantly gained anybody's trust. The Lib Dems still don't show themselves to be a real alternative, so will votes being going to these marginal Parties instead, or will people register their disapproval by not voting again? Will we see the emergence of a new party that could constitute a real and long term challenge to New Labour? Or will this just fizzle out until the next new thing comes along?